But through it all, what’s persevered through all of those ebbs and flows over three decades is simple: their consistently excellent comfort food in an atmosphere that is steeped in the history of Mill Valley.
“We take pride in the food that we make here, as well as our friendly service and the community atmosphere,” says Phil Adams. “No matter where you travel, this is a unique, old-fashioned cafe that you just can’t find much of anymore.”
“I just love the food business,” he adds, and his history supports that claim. Adams moved to the Bay Area from his native Guyana in the 1960s, first to get his associate degree in business at Heald College, and then a degree in business administration from Lincoln University in Oakland before he garnered his master’s degree there.
As he progressed on his academic path, Adams also made sure he got plenty of real-world experience. He took a job as a dishwasher at Zim’s, “the chain of San Francisco burger joints founded by (Art Zimmerman), a hungry GI who daydreamed of hamburgers and milk shakes during World War II,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Over the course of 16 years at Zim’s, Adams worked his way up to breakfast cook, assistant manager and then general manager, playing an integral role in the chain’s growth. It had restaurants on a dozen San Francisco street corners as well as locations throughout the Bay Area, including Sacramento, Yuba City, Hayward, Woodside and several in Marin – Greenbrae, Corte Madera and Terra Linda. Zim’s closed its final three locations quietly in 1995, “beset by fast food giants and the city's changing palate.”
By that time, however, Phil and Lorraine Adams were already running their own pair of restaurants, having bought the Mill Valley Coffee Shop in 1986 and then opened Phil’s Place on Lincoln Ave. in San Rafael five years later. They owned Phil’s until four years ago when they decided to scale back and focus on the business that’s been a community gathering place in Mill Valley for at least 80 years.
Opened as the Locust Coffee Shop in the 1930s, the diner-cafe at 4 Locust Avenue has been a vital hub ever since, largely focusing on quality food that runs the gamut from pancakes and omelets to burgers and classic sandwiches, all with friendly service in a great atmosphere, Adams says.
A scan of Yelp reviews reveals Mill Valley Coffee Shop as exactly what Phil and Lorraine Adams have always sought to be:
Laura T.: “A breakfast place with heart, good food, generous and attentive staff. We love this place.”
Paul T.: “The MVCS is a true hidden gem. They are always glad to see you, the coffee is always hot, and the Eggs Benedict are AMAZING!”
Janie A.: “The service is down-home and just right. The food is always good. The curvy corner location is charming. It's an authentic, small-town coffee shop and Mill Valley should treasure it. We don't have many places with such a straight-up menu, where everything you order comes out just fine. I'm gonna go ahead and designate this one a hometown treasure. I hope they're here forever.”
The 411: Mill Valley Coffee Shop is at 4 Locust Avenue at Miller Avenue. It’s open 7 days a week, 6:30am-3:30pm. 415.388.6958. More info.