On the 5900 block of Mission Street, where San Francisco becomes San Mateo County, signs notify the change in jurisdiction, as do business names like County Line Cleaners laundromat, and now Mission Edge Café.
While seeming San Franciscan with its Four Barrel coffee, organic grass-fed hamburger and tasteful décor, it is actually located just over the border in the Daly City.
Javier Canales, who has lived off Mission Street at the San Mateo border for 25 years, opened Mission Edge Café in April.
“I live around here, but I could never eat around here,” Canales said, because there was no place to eat before Mission Edge Cafe. The sleepiness of the surrounding area was not a worry to Canales. “Everything is possible here” from the point of view of his business, Canales said. “The rent, the bureaucracy of San Francisco” were not things he wanted to deal with.
What’s more, Canales found that there were more residents in his neighborhood than he had previously known. Now, the residents of the condos and apartments on Templeton Avenue form his loyal customer base.
Canales makes an effort to keep his prices fair for the working class neighborhood, though his high standards for quality ingredients preclude especially low prices. When he opened, many doubted that locals would go for his $11 organic, grass-fed burger.
“We keep things simple. We don’t freeze anything. We season with just salt and pepper,” and dishes are often complemented by fresh fruits and vegetables.
The formula has worked. “I’m aware that most businesses take six months to a year to break even, but we broke even since the first month,” Canales said. He also gets regular help from his daughter and son, though he has recently hired four more people.
Canales is also proud that he composts and that “everything is 100% biodegradable” from cups to takeout containers—rightly so, because Daly City has no compost program and he had to request specially that Allied Waste take the compost from his restaurant.
Not only is composting an environmentally friendly practice, Canales said, it “saves money. I wish everybody did the same.”
Bill Betts, an associate pastor at San Francisco Christian Center just up Mission Street from Mission Edge, is a grateful regular who “prayed for a coffee shop” to open nearby. “I’m a big Four Barrel fan,” Betts said. That Canales sells Four Barrel and adheres to the coffee company’s rigorous preparation criteria won Betts’ business straight away.
Betts and his fellow pastors come to Mission Edge for meetings. “Great quality food that’s healthy and tasty,” Betts said, adding that he saw the business doing “admirably well.”
“My only concern is neighborhood support,” Betts said. “Javier is going against the grain here.”
A more self-conscious business owner might share that concern, but Canales tackles problems with calm logic. The interior of Mission Edge Café is tasteful and open, a dramatic change from the previous business, Canales said. “I had to throw everything in the garbage—the cooktop, the refrigerators—I had to re-do the plumbing and electrical.”
The exterior of the business on the Templeton Avenue side features a striking mural by a local artist. Canales commissioned it to beautify his business and abate graffiti.
He also allows non-customers to use his restroom, but simply lets them know that he doesn’t want graffiti in his bathroom, telling them “If you want to write in there, I’ll give you a piece of paper.”
Canales went to New York City from Peru. In New York he worked as a mechanic, but he fell in love with his sister’s roommate, which took him to San Francisco in 1990. He started in the restaurant business at the Slow Club in Potrero as a dishwasher, where he honed his business acumen.
“One day I said to my boss, ‘How about we make flyers?’” Canales recalled. They put flyers for the restaurant on car windshields around the neighborhood. “After that it got busy.”
Canales worked his way up to running the concession café at the Exploratorium when the attraction was still located at the Palace of Fine Arts. In 1996, he oversaw the implementation of an organic foods program that was only supposed to last five years but instead lasted until he retired in 2012.
After his retirement, Canales “spent seven or eight months hiking,” including a trip to
Mount Everest in 2013. A dramatic picture that Canales took of a sunset illuminating the peak hangs on the wall of Mission Edge Café.
“The top of a mountain is my five star hotel,” Canales said. He is not a man of conventional motivations.
A customer in his twenties was disappointed that Canales didn’t offer more traditional greasy-spoon fare, instead faced with a menu full of fresh vegetables and fruits. He told Canales that if he served greasy comfort food, he would make much more money.
“What’s the money going to give you?” Canales reflected. “You can’t work for money, you’ve got to make it work for you. I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve when I came here from Peru. My family is here—” including both his parents—“I have my own house, I sent my kids to good colleges, and now I have this place. As long as I break even, I’m fine. What else do I need? What would I do at home, watch TV?”
Mission Edge Cafe is located at 5999 Mission St. in Daly City.