Perched atop San Francisco’s Nob Hill, Le Beau Market is sandwiched between ultra-cool Tahona Mercado and trendy Hilltop General Store on Leavenworth Street. A mural sprawls across the market’s exterior wall featuring oceanic and aerial oddities: white dolphins swimming across the same blue background as a colony of pink insect-people flying above the city skyline. Open since 1984, Le Beau was one of the first markets in the neighborhood to offer the kind of high-end produce that’s since become synonymous with California’s seasonal sensibilities.
Based on looks alone, the market might seem like just another of the countless corner stores strewn around San Francisco. But owner Joseph Omran’s story is almost as wild as the street art on the side of the corner building — a tale of migration, family, and risk-taking. Le Beau is also more than just a market; it’s a culmination of both Omran’s efforts and his life, a nexus for Nob Hill residents to purchase anything from organic cherry tomatoes to rotating lunch specials (Thursdays mean the Cali Cheese Steak sandwich starring grilled tri-tip with grilled onions and guacamole, while Tuesday means a full-on take-home rib meal.) In August, Omran plans to throw a blow out barbecue bash for the neighborhood. “People have always loved the market,” he says. “I want to show a little of that love back.”
Le Beau Market’s origins, however, go even further back than Omran. It really starts with his dad. During the winter of 1951 in Buffalo, New York, Joseph Omran’s father, George Omran, took $250 dollars and hopped on a Greyhound bus to San Francisco. He had a few cousins in California, and his wife soon followed, emigrating from Palestine to meet him in the Bay Area. The couple went on to launch Sunrise Grocery on 16th and Sanchez, with the help of John Sabatte, founder of the now-defunct East Bay dairy Berkeley Farms, who coached them and financed the business. “They were willing to work long hours,” Omran recalls of his parents. Plus, the partnership was advantageous to Sabatte, as the shops became tent poles for his milk business in the city.
Several years later, Omran and his brother were born. Omran grew up, attended City College, then University of San Francisco, and worked at a small corner store in Glen Park to put himself through school. After graduating, he found himself working for Merrill-Lynch in the early 1980s. His older brother worked there too, but after a little while, neither could stomach it any longer. “It was all about sales at any price,” Omran says. When his brother’s wife told him about an available storefront in Nob Hill, he was intrigued. Back then, the hilltop building was called Leroy Market. “It had a history going back to the ’40s,” Omran says. “When I first saw it, I didn’t even want to think about [buying] it.”
But the shop, which almost looks like it grew right out of the hill it sits upon, had the right location and the right price. So in 1984, the two Omran brothers became partners and bought the spot, renaming it Le Beau Market. The name change was both in honor of the original Leroy’s, but also a nod toward French comic chef Louis LeBeau from Hogan’s Heroes, one of the brothers’ favorite shows. “The market used to be called Leroy Market because it was a small market on Leroy right off of Sacramento,” Omran says. “It relocated to the current property. They kept the name, so when my brother and I bought it we wanted to keep it similar, since customers knew it that way for years and years.”
More than thirty-five years since opening, Joseph’s own sons are now involved in the business. About 10 years ago his eldest son got in league with dad, and just a year and a half ago his younger son did too. While Omran loves having his sons in the shop with him, he acknowledges markets are still often born out of necessity. It’s tough to turn a dollar into two, especially with competition from delivery apps and large chain stores, he says. “Small business challenges are harder than they used to be,” he says. “Most people want to stay at home and wait for their goods.” Still Omran prides himself on the service and relationships of his family-run market. “Food is an incredibly personal thing,” he says.