Market owner killed in hit-and-run outside San Francisco produce warehouse

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The owner of Gus's Community Market was killed in San Francisco early Friday morning after he was struck by a car while was crossing the street to buy some produce for his family-owned groceries, according to friends and police.

Friends identified the victim as Gus Vardakastanis, the patriarch of the Greek family, who scrimped and saved enough money to begin opening up three organic markets in San Francisco starting in the 1980s. He leaves behind a wife, two children and a community of people who loved him.

"Everyone is shaken up," said Stanley Correa, who knew the Vardakastanis. "He was the nicest guy in the world."

Gary Camarda was visibly upset when he talked about how quickly his friend's life was taken. "He never knew what him him," he said, calling the death a horrible tragedy.

California Assemblyman David Chiu chimed in too. He tweeted, "Our condolences go out to the family and friends of Gus Vardakastanis...We will never forget you Gus." 

Vardakastanis was killed about 2 a.m. as he crossed Jerrold Avenue, outside The Produce Market.

Police said he was struck and died at the scene. The suspect vehicle sped off, police said. Investigators are looking for a silver sedan with windshield and front end damage. There was a shooting a few blocks away at the time, and police said they are looking to see if there are any links between the two events. Anyone with information should call the San Francisco police tip line at 415-575-4444 or text a tip to TIP 411.

Gus's Community Market is located on Harrison Street in San Francisco and has served the city for 30 years.

According to the market's website, the Vardakastanis first immigrated to California in 1974. "We started like anybody else – working in a few of San Francisco’s produce and grocery stores, learning what folks liked in their neighborhood," the website states.

In the early 1980s, Gus Vardakastanis saved enough money they needed to open the family's first store. Haight-Ashbury Produce opened in 1981 on 1615 Haight Street, and immediately became a neighborhood staple, the family says. Two other stores opened in the following years.

Two years ago, the family opened Gus’s Market, "named for the man who made those stores into all that they are today."

KTVU's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.