Historic Mum's Cafe in San Francisco's Japantown closing after 40 years

After four decades in business, the Tam family is calling it quits.

ByAnser Hassan KGO logo
Sunday, April 2, 2023
Historic Mum's Cafe in SF's Japantown closing after 40 years
The iconic Mums Restaurant in San Francisco's Japantown is closing its doors after four decades.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If people like Rohit Singh, who lives in Berkeley, are already planning for Sunday breakfast at Mum's Café in San Francisco's Japantown, it's likely going a big day for restaurant's closing.

"I'm coming here for breakfast tomorrow morning," explains Sigh, standing in front of the restaurant Saturday evening. "When I was told about the place I said, 'Let's join the closing history at least.'"

After 40 years in business, the Tam family is calling it quits.

"My first job there was... making coffee in the back, at age 12," shares Winnie Tam, with a laugh.

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The beloved Reverie Cafe, which first opened in 2002 in San Francisco, is closing its doors on Sunday.

Tam and her three sisters worked alongside their father, Isidore, growing up.

Isidore Tam came to the U.S. in the 1981 from Hong Kong. He worked his way up from dishwasher to owner. Winnie says she is proud of her father's accomplishments, and the restaurant's place in the community.

"I think being in Japantown and growing up there, and seeing everybody grow old with us, grow with us as a family, too," says Winnie. "All of my sisters and I, we were pregnant and we were still working there. We really grew with the restaurant."

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She says the restaurant's signature dish - shabu shabu - which is like a Japanese hot pot, started a Bay Area trend.

"There is a lot of memories with shabu shabu. I think that's what people will miss us for the most. And, I think we were one of the first people to do it in the Bay Area. We were a lot of people's first experience with shabu shabu," says Winnie.

The reason for closing? Winnie says her dad is 73-year-old, and ready to retire. But admits, the decision was sped up in part by the pandemic. Plus, changing consumer habits, like food delivery apps, which add to the competing pressures many restaurants face.

"I think Japantown overall has taken a hit since the pandemic, too," Winnie says.

"I am sad to know that it's their last. It's just awful. I mean we are here on (my husband's) 81st birthday trip. And so, we need to have things to go. Not end," jokes Rosie Conner, who lives in Denver. She and her husband, Jett, are staying in Japantown during their visit.

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Through life's milestones, from birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and even a few funerals, Winnie says this has truly been a community effort.

She is glad her dad is going out strong.

"It is bittersweet. But, we had the great, long run and not a lot of businesses can't last this long. And maybe - it won't be the end of us. I don't know," says Winnie.

The restaurant will be open for the final time from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sunday.

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