We recently visited the boutique, Pot + Pantry, owned by the lovely Donna Suh Wageman. We were excited to find her windows adorned with handwritten quotes from Julia Childs. Pot + Pantry is in the heart of the Mission District of San Francisco and is part of a vibrant block of local businesses including, Bi-Rite Market and the Tartine Bakery. Donna made us feel right at home in her cozy shop filled with new and “gently” used kitchenware. Her selection of vintage cooking utensils is particularly intriguing and you’ll be hard pressed not to leave without wanting one. Make sure to stop by and say hello to Donna. If you have any used kitchware you have been wanting to sell or trade, or are simply in the market from some unique new kitchen items, Pot + Pantry is a must visit.
Please introduce yourself and your company
My name is Donna and I’m the owner of Pot + Pantry. It’s a small boutique in the Mission that buys, sells and trades new and gently used kitchenware. Pot + Pantry also plays host to a series of free workshops and other fun events like food art shows and book launch parties.
When did you begin Pot + Pantry?
I opened Pot + Pantry in November 2010
How did the decision to start this business come about?
I’m a big fan of thrifting and always have been. I love the notion of used clothing stores, bookstores, and furniture/housewares shops, and I thought it might be worthwhile to have a shop solely dedicated to the kitchen. Coming from a background in kitchenware retail, I knew how expensive (but worth it!) nice kitchenware could be, and how much precious space it can take up in city kitchens. So a buy, sell, trade venue for kitchenware seemed like a good idea, both to give people a place to sell their nice used things, and for others to buy nice things more affordably since they’re secondhand.
Your slogan is new and gently used kitchenware. What do you find interesting about offering second hand cooking supplies?
In general, secondhand cooking supplies are great since people can benefit from getting good quality merchandise for less cost, since it’s been used. But what really gets me excited is the vintage items that come in (and go out) of my door. Unique, finely crafted goods like old hand-coiled whisks, manual eggbeaters, vintage/antique serveware, embroidered linens…all of these pieces tell a story, not to mention they’re so well-made that they’ve lasted 40+ years! From a design perspective, it’s fascinating how older products are so beautifully utilitarian.
You have a fantastic location, what do you love about your space?
I love everything about it! The proximity to Tartine, Bi-Rite and Dolores Park is great for foot traffic. The space itself is perfect – just big enough for what I want to do in terms of merchandise and store events. And I love the warmth of the wood floor, the kitchen in the back, the spiral staircase I had put in that leads to the storage loft; all of it lends to a homey vibe that makes it a place people like to be in (not to mention it makes it easier for me to spend most of my time here!).
If you could choose a favorite item of the moment in your shop, what would it be?
This is tough, as I love all my products equally as I would love my children. But if I had to pick, I’d say it is currently these vintage brass ice tongs shaped like chicken feet. A little strange, a little creepy, but so unique in only the way vintage pieces can be.
Your Skill Exchange board has become pretty popular. Could you tell us a bit about this aspect of your business?
I was approached to collaborate on the Skill Exchanges by Kate Koeppel, who is a local graphic designer. She studied this idea of skill sharing while getting her Masters at CCA. What she concluded was that certain basic life skills (such as knowing how to chop an onion, or sewing on a button) shouldn’t cost money for people to acquire. She had this idea to set up free workshops in different venues to make these skills available to people, and approached me to collaborate with her and host food and cooking-related workshops in my shop. It’s been a tremendously valuable way to connect with other local business owners in the food arena (whether it be knife sharpeners, jam makers, or butchers).
Being an active member of the community seems to be a large motivation for your business. Could you expand upon why you think local businesses are key to strong communities?
There’s no denying that the scope of brick-and-mortar retail stores has changed now that online shopping is so prevalent, but that’s not to say that people don’t enjoy the personal interaction that physical stores offer. As a local business owner, it’s to my advantage to involve myself in the community for a myriad of reasons. For one, the best part of my job, hands-down, is meeting neighbors, other business owners and visitors, so of course I want to develop these relationships further. Furthermore, collaborating with other local businesses like Natalie B Floral Design and Kate Koeppel Design not only challenge me to push the boundaries of what Pot + Pantry can offer from a retail standpoint, but also widens the gap between online retailers and brick-and-mortar. I don’t think a shop can thrive without being involved in the community, and vice versa. It’s the good kind of co-dependency.
What are your future plans? Do you have any significant milestones you could share with us?
Ah, I dream big! But patience is one of the tougher things I’m having to learn, so I don’t have much to share yet. My most recent milestone was celebrating the shop’s one-year anniversary–by moving the store from a tiny 180 sq ft space to it’s current 300 sq ft location (moving on up!). It’s been a little over 4 months in the new space, and it’s like a different world. Almost like starting Pot + Pantry all over again!
Pot + Pantry
593 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110