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Angel's Deli--A Market That's All About Family
By Kate Volkman
It's 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon at Angel's Deli Market--supposedly the store's slow hour. But the place is bustling with activity. Neighborhood kids zip in to buy Cheetos and Twix candy bars, a local drugstore employee picks up an orange, a woman who grew up two blocks away stops for a soda, and one of the owners, Alice Sacca, has just arrived laden with fresh fruits and vegetables with which to re-stock the produce bins. Her son, John, 24, stops stocking the shelves with Juice Squeeze drinks in order to help her unload the car.
Like most Mom and Pop stores in Noe Valley, Angel's Market carries a variety of household basics, from milk and bread to toilet paper and cleaning supplies. In John's words, "We've got every different food part you'd see at a supermarket, but a little bit less."
Angel's also prides itself on its deli items. Today, the big deli case just inside the front door has platters of meat lasagna, chicken parmesan, chicken thighs in a lemon sauce, meatloaf, rice, piroshkis, pastas, and deli meats and cheeses. "And on a beautiful day like this, you've got to have fruit salad," Alice proclaims. Then there are the homemade cookies, tempting customers at the cash register. "People just know that we deliver good food. And they keep coming back, so we must be doing something right," laughs Alice.
But what makes Angel's Market a magnet for neighborhood residents is much more than the food and the convenience a corner grocery provides.
"[There are] good people here, really good people," says Jeannie Sundling, a loyal customer who lives on Clipper Street. "I come here a few times a week--sometimes just to say hi, or to chitchat with my friend Alice, one of the owners."
The Sacca family--Alice, her husband George, and their son John--have owned Angel's Market for nine years. John says he thinks that the store has been around since before the 1906 earthquake. It sits on the sunny northeast corner of Castro and 26th streets, occupying the first floor of a building recently painted a cheery blue.
George, who is 56, bought the store as a vehicle to financial independence. He says, "I'm fiercely independent. And I like food. I like the people also. And that gave me the opportunity to interact with many people, to make friends with many people."
Alice, 59, sports red-tinged spiky brown hair, and is known as an upbeat philosopher. "You want to know what happens in these small busineses?" she asks. "It's called work. And if these politicians had their own business, you wouldn't have the waste and nonsense that goes on in the political arena.
"People are afraid of work, [but] that's what it takes to have a country like America. It's not just us--it's anybody who has the freedom of their own business. There's freedom with it, but you have to know the responsibility of that freedom. Hi, Carlos!" She interrupts herself and calls to a neighbor walking by, while "Big Girls Don't Cry" plays on the radio.
"We're servants of the community. You don't buy for yourself, you buy for the community," Alice continues. "And it's just a wonderful neighborhood, a wonderful tapestry of people who live here. You don't just take, you give back. You have to give back. And you will live and your business will live, and the community at large will benefit from it all."
One rainy morning about eight years ago, Alice and George went to open the store and found a homeless man sleeping in the entryway. They took him in and Alice helped him find a room to rent nearby. He is Robert Nygard, 49. Now he volunteers at a senior center in Bernal Heights and works at the store every afternoon.
Nygard does stock work, helps in the kitchen with dishes, mops the floor, and throws out the trash. He also plays his guitar, of which he is very proud. "I play mostly on Sundays. And sometimes during the weekdays when I have time. I entertain the people outside. And they all seem to like it," he reports.
"The store is not the store without Robert. He's the main one. He's the headliner, so to speak," Alice says with a warm smile. John chimes in, "He's the only angel at Angel's Market."
Even though the Saccas don't live in Noe Valley (they live in the Sunset), they put their hearts into the community. Alice says, "Sometimes I think of the neighborhood as, they're all my children. And I'm the mother."
George describes his commitment this way, "We are not there just for money. We are there to be part of the community in Noe Valley. Alice and I, that business provided us with satisfaction. Although it's hard work, long hours, and a very demanding type of operation, it is rewarding because you help people. You know their kids, their families, their happiness, sadnesses, their problems at work, sometimes their problems at home. It makes you feel good what you can offer."
On Sundays, Angel's Market offers a special treat: cookies baked by 14-year-old Nicholas Lee, who lives across the street. He makes lemon coconut bars, oatmeal raisin cookies, or English toffee.
Nicholas tells how he got started. "I love to bake, and they're always selling their baking here, and I just thought it would be really interesting if I could make money off it. So I asked them if I could bring it over here and they could sell it at their counter. And they said that would be a really great idea. And I get all the profits and they get the business. People come in, they love the stuff, so it works out for the best for everyone."
Alice beams like a proud mamma. "It's been such a tremendous compliment to have Nick on Sundays. He's almost gourmet," she says. "And I love to incorporate the community, especially the children, if they're willing. Isn't that wonderful?!" She takes a deep breath, then smiles again: "Our extended family. It's our extended family."
Editor's Note: In addition to running Angel's Market, George Sacca is an associate professor of finance at San Francisco State Univeristy. If you haven't seen him around lately, it's because he's currently on teaching assignment at the University of Higher Technology for Women, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Lebkuchen German Spice Cookies
Alice Sacca of Angel's Market would like to share this recipe for spice cookies. These are the cookies she usually makes around the holidays.
1 cup honey
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups flour
1 cup walnuts, chopped
Grated zest from 1 small orange
1-1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
5 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a large bowl, mix first 10 ingredients and 1-1/2 cups of flour. Mix well with wooden spoon, stir in walnuts, orange zest, and rest of flour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cookie sheets. Drop heaping tablespoon, 1/2 inch apart. Bake 20 minutes, or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Remove and cool. In a small bowl, mix confectioner's sugar, water, and vanilla. Brush cookies when dry. Store in container.