Heath Ceramics: A New Model for Urban Manufacturing in San Francisco
SFMade helped Heath’s owners create a new, experiential model of what a manufacturing factory could be in the City.
When Robin Petravic, co-owner of Heath Ceramics, contacted SFMade for help finding a building for manufacturing ceramic tile, it became a lot more than a real estate transaction. Heath’s move resulted in the creation of a new, experiential model for manufacturing and a destination for people who love beautiful artisan products.
Petravic and his wife, company co-owner Catherine Bailey, bought Heath in 2003 and continued operations at its existing Sausalito factory. By 2010, however, business was growing for their well-known line of dinnerware, their tile business was taking off, and they needed more space. They thought San Francisco, where Edith Heath founded the company in 1948, would be the ideal place to locate, not only because it was Heath’s birthplace but also because they felt San Francisco was a good fit for the type of factory they had in mind.
They wanted to break the mold by building a factory in a neighborhood where people lived and worked, and they wanted to open a retail space in the building, so potential customers could see the manufacturing process up close. They also wanted to expose younger generations to careers based on craftsmanship and creativity.
“I don’t think you can discount the impact one can have by making things visible and putting things in front of people,” said Petravic. “There is nothing to replace experiencing something in real life. When you bring school groups into the factory, you never know how you might spark somebody’s interest in something they never knew existed, to realize that people actually design products, that it’s a job.”
Although Petravic had a clear vision of how they would activate their new space, less obvious was how to find a location that would be both conducive to shopping and zoned for industrial activity. He knew it was not going to be easy, so he called Kate Sofis, CEO of SFMade. Enthusiastic about the project and its potential, Sofis introduced Petravic to landlords who would be open to his way of thinking.
“Real estate is extremely important when you are doing manufacturing,” said Petravic. “The right space, the cost, having a good landlord, all of these things are really important, and they are all better when you’ve got good relationships. Relationships like that don’t necessarily happen if you are going purely through a commercial broker.”
With SFMade’s help, Petravic found a 60,000-square-foot building—a former commercial laundry facility—on the edge of the Mission District. The location was ideal, and it was zoned for PDR (Production, Distribution, and Repair), but to realize their full vision which included ground floor “accessory retail” and the ability to sublease upper floors to smaller manufacturers, Heath needed help with permitting and zoning interpretation.
“SFMade teed up our vision for this project and got it in front of the right people in the City who could see that they could make something really great happen,” said Petravic.
“Together, the partnership of Heath, SFMade, and San Francisco’s Planning Department and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development brought the vision to fruition,” said Sofis. “And beyond that, Heath Ceramics became the first of several new manufacturing developments in the City, providing the Mission District and San Francisco as a whole with a very tangible model for modern, forward-thinking urban manufacturing.”
The Heath Ceramics factory opened in 2012 and has since become an international destination. Consumers flock to the factory to shop for Heath’s well-crafted products and to visit the building’s other tenants: a restaurant, a newsstand, a Japanese pop-up boutique, a printer’s shop, and a jewelry studio.
“We understand very well the importance of good affordable space,” said Petravic. “Creativity doesn’t happen when real estate is expensive—it creates too much pressure when the financial burden is too great. We always had a vision of slowly building out our building while also providing space to other small-scale makers. We can’t imagine the building without other people in it who are aligned with our level of craftmanship and design.”
Just as Petravic provides opportunities for fellow artisans and manufacturers in the Heath building, he credits SFMade with performing that duty on a large scale by changing the perception of manufacturing in San Francisco and shining a spotlight on makers and manufacturers.
“Manufacturing on a small or large scale in San Francisco and the Bay Area would not have the visibility, cachet, and respect locally and nationally if it weren’t for SFMade,” he said. “We are incredibly fortunate that SFMade exists. It’s important to have those advocates.