Sam Mogannam isn't in his own San Francisco store; he's at someone else's market in Brooklyn and spots a shopper nearby. "Have you tried that pasta yet?" he calls out before approaching the woman. "It's amazing. The vermicelli's cool, it's nice and thin, but the spaghetti? It's out of control." He rifles through the shelf, then places a $9 pasta in her basket. "That's my favorite cut. I use it all day long at home."
Bi-Rite is a single family-owned market with sales per square foot that exceed $4,000--Apple Stores stand alone in generating more than $5,000--and everyone from Walmart to Whole Foods has tried to learn from him. The lesson: "We've got this crazy rule for employees," Mogannam says. "If a guest is 10 feet away, make eye contact with them. If they're 4 feet away, engage them in conversation." And also, stay small. "The joke is that it's impossible to be more than 10 feet away from anyone in Bi-Rite," which has just 1,500 square feet of customer space.
The encounter in Brooklyn takes less than 20 seconds, but the shopper is enthused. Mogannam walks back, half shrugs, and says, "We love feeding people, man. We love teaching people how to feed themselves."