Photography by Jeff Hunt and Michelle Kilfeather
In this episode, we kick off the new year by resuming our series on San Francisco co-ops.
This one is all about Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. To guide us, we'll meet Cody Frost, a marketing and creative strategist at Rainbow for the last three-and-a-half years. Cody has been a worker/owner at Rainbow for almost 16 years.
He grew up in Carmichael, California, just outside of Sacramento, in the 1980s and '90s. He pursued art in his early twenties and had friends in Sacto, where he moved around 2004/2005. Then he heard about an effort to make a new art space in The City in 2005 and moved here in 2006. That space turned out to be the Secret Alley, a place near and dear to our hearts.
Cody first got a job at Bi-Rite, where he worked for a year before landing the gig at Rainbow.
At this point in the recording, we dive more deeply into Rainbow history. It starts with a faith-based group that used food for community support and political activism in 1970s, the People's Warehouse. Many co-ops, including some that are still around today, were created out of that group.
Rainbow's original location, which first opened its doors in 1975, was on 16th Street between Guerrero and Valencia in the Mission. Back then, groceries and a general store were at separate addresses. They moved in the '80s to 15th and Mission and combined stores. Then, outgrowing that space, Rainbow found its current location in 1995 and opened the next year following renovations.
We end Part 1 talking about the co-op's incredible bulk-food section.
In Part 2, we pick up our conversation with Cody about Rainbow's bulk section. There's even talk of "The Bulk Section at Rainbow" as a spinoff podcast. Then we move on to the cheese department.
Gordon Edgar is a name you should know if you even remotely tolerate cheese. With Gordon at the helm, Rainbow has won many, many awards for its cheese department. If you're anything like me, you know exactly why this is true.
The rest of the podcast includes our talk about how Cody worked at a health food store in Sacramento before moving to San Francisco in 2006. In 2007, he started at Rainbow in the package department. We go over what it takes for Rainbow employees to become worker/owners as well as the decision-making process at the 200-ish-employee store.
As with Other Avenues and Arizmendi, Rainbow offers its worker/owners flexible time-off and vacations and generally a very positive work/life balance. Cody speaks to the idea of Rainbow expanding to other towns, but says the feeling is that communities should create the thing they need. To that end, Rainbow has been known to seed-fund new co-ops.
We end with perhaps my favorite Cody quote, one that I believe sums up our series on co-ops in San Francisco: "Collective effort makes change."
We recorded this episode at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in November 2022.