Oakland at work: Wholesale produce at Jack London Square

Van Lam is a wholesale produce seller near Jack London Square.

It’s 4 am in Oakland, and Franklin Street is buzzing with the sound of forklifts, shouting and trucks in reverse. At one storefront, Van Lam checks produce prices on a computer and enters them using a handheld mobile device. Though restaurant owners and shopkeepers are just starting to filter into the wholesale produce stall, Lam’s been there since 2 a.m. He’s there nearly every morning at the same time.

Lam owns West Coast Produce, one of many wholesale produce sellers along Franklin Street near Jack London Square. Before the sun rises, Lam and his wholesale produce team are already working to stock grocery store shelves, small shops and local restaurants with fresh fruits and vegetables.

He’s been in business for about 17 years, but has worked in the produce industry since he was a young man.

“This business is very, very fast paced and very challenging,” he said. “Every day is a different day.”

Lam stocks a variety of produce, ranging from his own favorite tropical fruits to bell peppers and tomatoes. They come from places like Salinas, Hawaii and Mexico. And they end up at small Asian stores around the city, local markets like Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market and restaurants in both the East Bay and San Francisco.

Picking up last year’s Oakland at work series, this video is the first of four that will document workers who physically keep the city running. Next week, we’ll meet an AC Transit bus operator who drives the morning 1-R route.


  1. zippo

    Thanks Samantha for your interesting article your willingness to do this story before sunrise. It has helped initiate a lively discussion at Chowhound.com about food distribution. Would there be any way to set up an early morning tour if some chowhounders or others are interested in seeing where our food comes from?


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  4. Sherry

    I recently purchased a 1934 Plymouth. While restoring the car, I found an old pencil inside. It is from P. & N. Produce Co. Wholesale Fruit & Produce. TWinoaks 3-2363- Phones -TWinoaks 3-2364 301 Franklin St. Oakland 7, California.

    Is anyone interested in this pencil for historical reasons?

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