By Shea and Raan Parton
Photos by Jason Roque
We are privileged to release the San Francisco Market Bag, exclusively sold at Voyager. This is our 75th City Series Market Bag, connecting regional retailers with our global advocacy and helping to create consistent employment for artisans in rural Bangladesh (Watch: Bangladesh Co-op).
Over the past couple years we have enjoyed getting to know Robert Paterson, the proprietor of our favorite ramen restaurant, Ken Ken, and our San Francisco retail partner & exclusive location for our SF market bag, Voyager in the Mission & Revolver in Hayes Valley. Yesterday, July 30th, we spent the day in San Francisco catching up with Robert and preparing for our November Apolis: Nomad Market destination in San Francisco. Robert has a unique retail perspective for San Francisco’s community and humored us while we recorded our conversation over coffee at Four Barrel in the Mission. We asked Robert the following four questions to help all of us better understand the life of an entrepreneur in San Francisco:
What tips for an aspiring entrepreneur?
Work with other people, if you're a small brand attach to a bigger shop and make a mini shop first, to see how it goes. That's what we did with our restaurant, we started as a little pop-up inside another restaurant and we got popular. Also, be authentic to what you want to do, don't follow some trend, but find something you're passionate and loyal about. Some individuals just like to follow a certain trend and you can see right through them. If you want to open a skateboard shop, don't just start adding surf gear because everyone else following that trend. At our restaurant we only do Japanese ramen, it's a very narrow focus. It has been fun to watch how Apolis has simply started with just better sourced mens product and then gradually amplified from there.
If you were to fast forward 10 years from now, what do you think will be the most successful type of retail?
I think it's similar to what's going on right now, where people can shop around online, so the physical store has to be so perfect with it's service, offering, and experience and then you can match that with your online store. Physical stores are getting more important because people want to have a connection to people, not only the product itself, they want to have a whole ethos that they are buying into.
What's special to you about this community in San Francisco?
A few years ago when we opened, San Francisco was very lax, people were really open to experimental things, so you could kind of do whatever you wanted. Rent was cheap, so a lot of people could do interesting things. Well known local coffee companies originally opened their 8,000 square foot shops paying nothing in rent to be in the Mission, whereas nowadays the real estate prices throughout San Francisco have dramatically increased, comparable to many evolving metropolitian cities. I think I was really attracted to that early energy, I feel like other places have that energy now are locations like in the Dogpatch or Bayview. Our friends just opened Trouble Coffee in the Bayview, it's a pretty challenging neighborhood, but because rent is cheaper people can experiment and that's what attracted them to that energy. The artist go there, and wherever the artists go, people follow.
What got you to where you are today?
My mom's Chilean, my dad's Bermudian, and I grew up in Tokyo, Japan for 12 years. I came to California for college, at Berkeley and studied computer science. Then I started a company called Next Chemical, industrial chemicals for clean tech. I sold that company six years ago, to a larger German company. During evolution of the industrial chemical company we had a prinicple, similar to Google, called the 20% rule. All our staff would spend 20% of their work week working on creative outside projects to keep our team inspired. Revolver in Hayes Valley, started as one of those projects, we wanted to have something that was more creative and more community driven; when you're selling chemicals to steel mills, it's interesting and worthwhile, but you don't get to meet a lot of community. So we started Revolver, and suddenly that got big, and then we opened Voyager in the Mission.
TODAY ONLY (JULY 31, 2014), SAN FRANCISCO MARKET BAG GIVEAWAY: During yesterday’s tour through San Francisco we handpicked four local shops to introduce our first experiment of a city wide market bag giveaway, TODAY only (July 31st). The first 20 individuals to purchase anything (ie: coffee, magazine, candle, keychain) will be rewarded a FREE San Francisco market bag, first come first serve! Each location has a total of “5” San Francisco market bags, make your purchase and ask for the bag from the shop-keeper or barista! Starting NOW visit, follow Apolis' Instagram to learn more about locations and details.