Noe Valley Voice September 2000

Mikey and Tom Will Stay On

By Heidi Anderson

The rumor was made fact in June when the sign went up in the Mikeytom Market window: The business had been sold.

Owners Tom Maravilla and Mike Meischke, the sign said, were planning to stick around for a month to help with the transition, and then they were off to other adventures.

But now, much to the delight of Mikeytom's patrons -- and to Maravilla and Meischke themselves -- the deal is off. Mikey and Tom will stay put and continue to operate their popular market.

The midsize grocery, which has held forth since late 1993 at the corner of Day and Church streets, sells organic produce, dry goods, flowers, fresh coffee, and sundries. It is known for its friendly counter staff, the colorful paintings on the walls by neighborhood artists, a spacious and brightly lit interior, and a mix of quality health foods and, shall we say, comfort food for customers with a taste for nostalgia.

As for the sale, at the beginning of the summer the partners were all set to pack their bags. "Everything was signed. The deal was in escrow," said Maravilla. "But there were too many things that didn't feel right to me." The final negotiated price and some other details nagged at Maravilla.

Maravilla then took stock of what the store meant to him and Meischke. "At first, I was dazzled by the money offered us," he said. "Then I started to look at what I would really gain in the end."

Maravilla figured that the money would take care of some personal and business debts and maybe allow him to take a couple months of vacation. "But then what would I do," he asked, "get a job?"

Even to open another store would have been a sticky issue. A "no-competition" clause in their contract with the new owner would have kept Maravilla and Meischke from opening a competing grocery within five miles of the Church Street site for five years.

At that point, he said, lease negotiations fell apart between the landlord and new buyer.

For Maravilla, who claims to run his business by trusting his heart, this was the wake-up call he needed. He cancelled the entire deal.

He said he also learned something important: Mikeytom's customers valued not just the store, but the people who owned it. "People kept saying, 'Oh, you're selling and moving on, good for you,' but no one complained, 'Oh, this is horrible for me.'" And then one day a customer asked bluntly, why after seven years' work to build a grocery store with such good neighborhood rapport would they hand over their creation to someone else?

"I realized we're a part of this community just like we'd hoped," Maravilla says. "I also realized we have a great core staff. So now we're motivated to stay."

Maravilla had claimed, in the July/August issue of this paper, that the high cost of paying his staff a living wage -- a San Francisco living wage -- was one of the reasons he had decided to sell the business. And now?

"Well," he sighs, "yeah, that's a good question. I guess we're going to have to dig down and pay the staff more. And hopefully we'll beat the bushes here in the neighborhood for kids and older adults to help."

Ann, who works half a block from the store and describes herself as a daily Mikeytom patron, stopped by one afternoon to chat with Maravilla as he took a break outside at one of the store's wind-bustled yet sunny tables. She thanked him energetically for staying on.

"Thank God! We didn't want you to go!" she exclaimed. "You've made a civilized place with beautiful flowers and good food and cheerful people." Maravilla demurred. But Ann insisted, "No, I mean it, you spread good karma!"

And the karma may indeed spread. Free from the "no-competition" clause and rejuvenated in their mission to provide good groceries in pleasant surroundings, Mikeytom owners have renewed their efforts to open a second Mikeytom Market in Glen Park. Stay tuned.