Armando Bravo would like to emphasize that he is not an entrepreneur.
“I don’t put entrepreneurship on a pedestal,” he says.
The plant store owner and organizer of the upcoming Mercado SanJo event at Chromatic Coffee sits on a folding chair in the garage of his San Jose home, surrounded by flora of every shade of green, pink and purple.
“This is just something that I do,” he says as he opens containers of potting soil.
Bravo began connecting with other vendors at pop-up markets around San Jose and decided, in the spirit of bringing artists together, to organize his own. Mercado SanJo gathers 13 vendors with wares spanning beverages, clothing, design and art, jewelry, plants and more.
Sowing seeds of community was always the goal for Plant Cultura.
“I started Plant Cultura with the intention to plant culture. The idea of culture as ideas, as values and a certain way of being present in the community,” Bravo says.
Appropriately, Mercado SanJo’s vendors have less of the Bay Area’s typical side-hustle attitude.
Carlos Velazquez and his partner Alca Usan met Bravo at a pop-up market. They don’t introduce themselves as artists. With what could be humility or a hesitance to brand himself a “real” vinyl dealer and music aficionado, Velazquez says he’s just a guy who likes records.
Usan started making earrings for fun as a teenager, and uses colors and motifs from her Latina roots, creating classic big hoop earrings that are lightweight and one-of-a-kind.
When prompted about the event’s proceeds, Velasquez says, “I’ll probably just use it to buy more records. It’s kind of a cool opportunity for people to make extra bucks, but also connect with a bunch of people.”
Usan, a teacher by profession, has started a beading club at lunch with her 8th grade students. She plans to use her proceeds to purchase more beads, or to print copies of her coloring book Made in Mexico. The book is a collaboration with poet Scribe Sayar, and will also be available at the Mercado.
“It’s just fun to interact with whoever shows up,” Usan says. “Whether they buy anything or not, it’s a moment to have conversations with people you wouldn’t have talked to otherwise.”
The Mercado is a real family affair. Bravo’s son Felipe and his wife Wendy Neff run the award-winning Fox Tale Fermentation Project. Though they can’t sell their popular beers at the event, they’ve brought many of the other creations from their fermentation project. True to their name, they’re much more than just a brewery. With a full menu of “mock-tales,” fermented spreads, house-made salts, syrups and sugars, Fox Tale has something for just about everyone—including tee-totallers.
“We needed to establish ourselves as a place where not just beer drinkers could come. That’s very limiting,” Felipe Bravo says. “Why limit the diversity by just offering one product when we have the opportunity to offer so much more?”
“It is all about exploration,” says co-owner and chef Wendy Neff. “I enjoy making food that’s healthy and serves you in a way that after you eat, you’re not gonna feel bad about it.”
Like Felipe and Wendy at Fox Tale, Alfonso Gonzalez, owner of Fonzie’s Artisanal Goods, is remixing familiar ingredients and creating an entirely new experience. Gonzalez infuses the olfactory memories of his Mexican heritage, familiar cozy aromas like arroz con leche and horchata, into natural soy wax candles housed in handcrafted pottery made by artisans he collaborates with in Mexico.
“It’s just going back to my childhood and tradition and giving that a spotlight,” Gonzalez says.
He says this pop-up market has a laid-back vibe, and he’s looking forward to sharing conversation with fellow vendors.
“These smaller events are the ones where we actually get to interact with vendors and get to talk to one another. It’s one of my favorite things.”
During the day, the elder Bravo takes care of his plants until his wife and partner, Rosie, a dental assistant, comes home from work. Then, he cooks dinner for her.
“When Rosie retires,” he says, “I may retire for real.”
Until then, Bravo and his leafy companions continue to fertilize San Jose’s diverse arts community.
Sat, 10am-3pm, Free
Chromatic Coffee, San Jose