Like many others in our Outer Sunset community, I was stunned and saddened to hear of our friend JB’s passing. I worked alongside him for over a decade at the store we both loved, Other Avenues Grocery Cooperative. What I will remember most about him is his generosity in teaching me and so many others about the all the many things he was passionate about. Whether it was the nuances of the flavor profile of a wheel of stinky cheese (Greyson!), or the proper way to make a gorgeous produce display out of unusual, hand-sourced exotic fruits, JB always found a way to make food seem like the most exciting thing in the world. I came to the coop as a youngster at 22, when JB was already a seasoned hand. He took me under his wing and trained me on the finer points of cheese mongering, always enthusiastic about imparting a new find, endlessly supportive and patient in the training process, and quick to find the humor in challenging situations.
One of the most inspiring things about JB were his visioning skills—whether we were dreaming up banal store improvement projects, or whether he was thinking of ways to be part of the bicycling zeitgeist by creating and hosting cheese tours (his famous “Tour de Fromage,” which ran for several very successful and fun years), or whether he was effectively petitioning the rest of us on the OA board that we needed something called a “parklet” to energize our street presence and create a welcoming space for our community to congregate, he was never afraid to dream big and, even more impactfully, he’d do the work to make things happen. I’ll always remember many delirious and jolly late nights with JB, doing nutty deep-cleaning or painting projects and listening to our pumping jams deep into the wee hours (Ladytron, anyone? It was the 2000s, after all…). He made work feel valuable and empowering, and led by example with his tireless work ethic and keenly aesthetic eye. There is no doubt that JB brought our cooperative into a more sustainable present via his amazing commitment to keeping the rest of us au courant and keyed-in to the newest trends and developments in food culture.
During our shared time at OA, JB married his lady Annora (whom he met in these very aisles) and eventually became a father to Huxley. The patience and kindness I observed and experienced from him as a new worker multiplied ten-fold when he had Huxley— he was, as others have said, a doting daddy. It was not unusual to see them come in on game days, wearing matching Oakland A’s or Giants hats and jerseys as they did their shopping for the week, Huxley’s cheerful voice ringing out “Daddy!” as he helped JB select the veggies and, of course, the perfect cheese for dinner.
When JB left Other Avenues after 14 productive and inspiring years, he went on to work in various capacities as a cheese monger throughout San Francisco (even placing in the fabulous and competitive Cheese Monger Invitational more than once). He also continued his inventive catering business, “Velo Fromage,” which he dreamed up as a CSA-style curated cheese delivery service. In recent years I always looked forward to seeing JB at the store or around town, and as we’d catch up in the chip aisle or in Golden Gate park, he’d fill me in on all the neat new things he was up to.
The news of JB’s death has left many of us reeling. I have spent the last few days remembering his wry sense of humor, his incredible aesthetic sensibilities, “fancy hat Fridays,” and his appreciation for poetry and challenging avant-garde jazz. I experienced JB as a generous and supportive co-owner and friend, as someone who was always seeking and striving and trying to challenge himself to learn more about himself and his relationship to the world. I’m still stunned at the news of his death. Our community is a little dimmer, the fog a little heavier, without him here. –Tulasi Johnson
If you can, please consider donating to JB’s memorial fund, https://www.gofundme.com/jb-rumburg-scholarship-fund