Posts tagged lifestyle
Asmbly Hall: Deep Roots, Strong Branches

“When we first opened up the shop, it was just a business to us. But we think it's evolved into something much greater than that.”


Posted at the register of their Fillmore Street storefront, its walls lined with local accolades, Tricia and Ron Benitez of Asmbly Hall (located at 1850 Fillmore Street) speak with a quiet confidence that reflects their steady approach to retail, and also helps maintain a mellow energy for their toddler daughter, Harlow. After six years in the upscale Fillmore shopping district, they’ve learned the importance of striking a balance between keeping it real and keeping it cool.

“This area of Fillmore Street has been kind of high-end and affluent. And I think we knew what kind of business that we wanted to open: something that was accessible, a little bit easier on the price point, somewhere we could see ourselves shopping, and we didn't see that in this neighborhood. So I think it was also trying to fill in a little niche that was missing. We felt like, 'We're young and we're hip and we don't want to break the bank, and we don't feel like there's a shop for us in this neighborhood, so why don't we just put one there?’” Tricia says.


With years of combined retail expertise between them, Ron and Tricia’s brainchild quickly blossomed into the space that is Asmbly Hall — a space specially curated to present local brands and rare, artisan-made products at prices that are friendly to everyone in the neighborhood. In this way, Asmbly Hall is a continuation of the legacy of small business ownership in Tricia’s family, former grocers in Vallejo and the South of Market.

“My grandparents owned a Filipino grocery store — Evangelista Grocery — in Vallejo, and then they expanded into South City and San Francisco, in the SOMA on 8th and Howard, which my dad took over in the '70s. We were one of the first Asian-American grocery stores here in the Bay Area, and we imported fish, fruit, and treats from The Philippines. So from a young age, when i was a child, my brother and I would be brought to the store -- we were shop kids. But I think the nice thing about that grocery store that we also see here at Asmbly Hall is that we see return customers, and then a lot of people who are customers become friends,” Tricia says


Continuing the legacy of business ownership is something that Ron and Tricia both feel is important not just for their own family, but for the Filipino-American community at large — especially as younger generations look more and more to less traditional career routes.

“My father was in the Navy and my mom was a nurse, so I had a pretty traditional upbringing, and that's probably what a lot of people might think of when they think of a Filipino family. And so being a small business owner is I think very empowering for this generation of Filipino-Americans to step out of the comfort zone and take risks and know that there are other career opportunities out there to help make a positive impact on your community and your neighborhood,” Ron says.


For Ron and Tricia, this means supporting an ever-growing roster of local vendors and Filipino-owned operations, reinforcing the values of community and cooperative competition that Asmbly Hall stands for.

“We’re proud to sell locally-made knits, neckties, and bow ties by Ronnie Escalante, accessories and textiles ranging from laptop cases and bags to rugs and footwear by Ilano, and of course, our own Asmbly Hall locally-made and printed tees and sweatshirts and cut & sew jackets. We’re also proud to present the work of local artists like Lee Queza and Jeramie Tolentino and Gem Mateo. It’s a diverse range of styles and we’re happy to be the spot where all these ideas can gather.”

With six years firmly under their belts, Asmbly Hall is doubling down on positively impacting their community, and they see Undiscovered SF as a key site for fostering the community and culture that will sustain future Filipino-American generations.


“I think Undiscovered is a great way for people of our generation and younger to see what kinds of avenues are out there for them to touch. So it's really a community, cultural experience -- we've met Filipino people from all over the Bay Area, from Canada, from Chicago, all parts of the United States, and it’s really encouraging to connect with them and see how inspired they are and enthusiastic they are about their own projects. Now that we have Harlow, to see a Filipino-American cultural district that's growing and will be there for the next generation, for her generation to have something and somewhere to feel her roots and see her identity, and go somewhere it's a distinct space for her culture, I think that's important for us to be a part of and help grow,” Tricia says.

Modern Filipino Vibe of The Family Room

“My grade-school niece designs the packaging for all the buttons we produce. We as a family voted on her designs, and she created eight designs of color with no text, and we picked the top three. And every time I see her, she asks if any buttons have sold. And that's what I want to pass along, because that's how I was put onto the scene here in the City.”



Solo behind the immaculate white counter at The Family Room on Hyde Street, Andy Alvarado reaches over a cup of black pour-over coffee to indicate a pegboard hook hung with small rectangles of white cardstock, each printed with striking bands of color done in a child’s hand. The hand-crafted buttons represent just one of The Family Room’s large selection of small-run products and publications; the vibe of the space reflects Andy’s understanding of the aesthetic and experience of a modern Filipino family room.

“It’s my take on the Filipino family rooms I grew up in. We keep the traditional sculpture of Mother Mary in the corner, incognito, a white piece on a white wall, blessing people as they enter and leave, but we’ve also created a more modern grotto around her. Growing up, the family room at my house was the place where everybody kicked it after school. And thats what I wanted The Family Room to be — a part of the community where people can chill and check out the things we’ve made and the things I’ve seen that I like, and share a good cup of coffee.”


Andy says that the coffee bar element of The Family Room is just as important to the experience of the space as the wares and décor, emphasizing a feeling of quality in simplicity: a cozy, comfortable setting that welcomes creative thinking.

“The inspiration of the store, being very small, was the Japanese idea of a one-man shop, but I wanted to have a Hawaiian, chill vibe, and also bring the Filipino culture that I had grown up with. I use Spam cans as my planters in the window, and of course I serve the fifty-cent Pan de Sal. In this neighborhood, everyone lines up to buy the Cronuts, and pays lots of money for expensive donuts. I wanted to showcase a simple bakery good for a good price that represented a powerful childhood memory for me. And it goes well with the coffee I serve -- and the coffee I serve is always, always black. Paired with the Pan de Sal, it’s like an Asian-American version of tea and crackers.”

Creating lasting experiences of design — where elements of food, style, and art intersect — has been, Andy says, a primary challenge of The Family Room since it opened in December 2015, and something he stresses is only truly achievable through the development and upkeep of a physical space.

“I get a lot of inspiration from Benny Gold right now. When he moved to his store in the Mission, he talked about the importance of having a brick-and-mortar store because it's not just the products, it's the relationships you build through being a place where people hang out. So, us being The Family Room in the Tenderloin, we're trying to be that entertainment space for the people around here who have small apartments. They can come chill and have a drink, check out the goods, and see one of the art shows we have hanging, or peep the newest issue of Franchise and have a conversation.”



The Family Room’s Tenderloin location keeps it plugged in with other destination boutiques like Handsome Oxford and Hero Shop, as well as the art crowds spilling out of the galleries on Larkin. Andy says that local skaters bombing Hyde hill often stop in for coffee, but that he also gets visitors from around the globe — something he enjoys not just as a businessman, but as a person trying to grow community around good quality design.

“I don’t want to be one of those online-only, Instagram brands. Handsome Oxford is a great example of that, just up the street from us -- people from Japan fly into the City, and Handsome Oxford is their first stop off the plane. I want that to be a thing here at The Family Room. Once, a customer flew in from Korea. She had followed us on Instagram, and she said we were her first stop once she checked into her hotel. A space like this is cool because it is so small that you get to meet the creator, you get to meet the designer, and get the story of how it came about. It’s important to recognize that it’s a hard thing to have a small store, to maintain and to do all the things it requires, and as a customer about. It’s important to recognize that it’s a hard thing to have a small store, to maintain and to do all the things it requires, and as a customer you get to see that up close. Sometimes, I feel like my mom, always trying to clean and fix things! But it's a great joy. My wife and I have met a lot of people through this physical store that we just could not meet online -- bar owners, restaurant owners, artists, and without this store, we might not have made those relationships.”


Andy’s personal emphasis on relationships and conversations is something he’s proud to present through The Family Room, and something he sees blossoming through the tremendous network of Filipino creators gathering each month at Undiscovered SF.

“I think things are looking up for Filipinos in the City right now. With this new push through Undiscovered SF and SOMA Pilipinas, we’re seeing younger Filipinos want to get engaged and help create a future for Filipinos in the City. We’re seeing more and more Filipino-owned restaurants and more Filipino-owned shops, and I'm so glad that Undiscovered is providing those opportunities for all of us to be seen as vendors, as chefs, as artists, and as tastemakers.”