Business / Economy

San Juan Bautista’s Mission Cafe closing Sept. 7

Popular breakfast diner loses lease after 15 years in business.
Margaret and Al Gonzalez. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Margaret and Al Gonzalez. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Mission Cafe, a breakfast destination for San Juan Bautista residents and tourists alike, has lost its lease and will be vacating in less than two months. It’s the final act in an on-again, off-again series of negotiations with the Barragan family, owners of Golden Memorial Insurance, a BenitoLink sponsor, which has been going on for over a year.

It was a sudden turnaround for owner Veronica Pirl, who said she was told in May that the business could continue operations.

“On May 24, I called Jason Noble, the real estate agent for the Barragan family,” Pirl said. “I asked him if he knew what they had decided. He said they had decided to go forward on our current terms.”

According to Pirl, she asked Noble when their last month might be and Noble said, “That will depend on whether you breach the agreement or if they give you notice of termination of tenancy in the future. For now, it is business as usual.’”

On June 2, Pirl said she asked for a long-term lease as security for her business and her employees. She said Noble replied that the rent would not be increased and would continue on a month-to-month basis.

Pirl received the 60-day lease termination notice on July 7 and was told she had to be out of the building by Sept. 7.

Perl said that she had been late with rent four times due to lack of business during the pandemic, and had paid a $200 penalty each time.  

“We were trying to survive,” she said, “and sometimes you just need more time. We had to put money into the parklets and to keep our employees. It was hard, but we did pay our rent every time.” 

COVID proved to be a serious challenge for the cafe and for the other restaurant that Pirl owned with her husband Bruce Pirl, Matxain Etxea Basque, also in San Juan. The Pirls closed the Basque restaurant in 2020, keeping the Mission Cafe open with assistance from the Great Plates Program, a state-funded food assistance program for senior citizens affected by the pandemic.

“We provided 150 meals every day for seniors who could not leave their homes,” Pirl said. “It was a nice way to help the community and still see some of the people we know here in town.”

Customers at the restaurant expressed regret at its pending closure.

“It is a place to see friends, to get good food, and just to be happy,” said local resident Sandra Davidson. “And I have never seen better employees. We are very sad it is not going to be here any more.”

Margaret Gonzalez, also from San Juan Bautista, said she has been coming here since Pirl took the business over 15 years ago.

“We like coming here and we don’t like it at all that they are closing,” she said. “The prices are great, the employees are friendly, and there is no other place in town to get breakfast. We have seen a lot of places in this town go in and out and this is one place that has always been here for us.”

When BenitoLink asked the Barragan family, through Noble, about the reasons for the termination and if there were plans for a new tenant, the family responded, “It is unfortunate that it didn’t work out.”

According to Wanda Guibert of the San Juan Bautista Historical Society, in an article in her recurring Mission Village Voice feature “Then… and Now,” the building housing the Mission Cafe was constructed in 1856 and served initially as a butcher shop. It went through various incarnations, including serving as a boot store, a beauty parlor and a barber shop before becoming a coffee shop over 80 years ago, its longest running use as a business.

Pirl is not sure what she and her husband will do after the closure, but they plan to remain in the food industry with either a restaurant at a new location or a catering business. 

 

Note: Golden Memorial is a BenitoLink sponsor. The Barragan family has made the Granada Theater in Hollister available to BenitoLink for nonpartisan, free community Election forums.

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink first approached me as a photographer. They were the ones to encourage me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.