By Mike Kinney
They say timing is everything. And opening your restaurant just one week before the start of the pandemic is certainly not good timing. But in the case of Mely’s Cafe, time spent working on one’s craft is what matters most.
The San Pablo restaurant launched by restaurateurs Javier Valdivia and Juan Padilla opened right before COVID-19 prompted lockdowns that crippled small businesses in March 2020.
That certainly didn’t make Mely’s Café a simple venture. But the owners have several things going for them that makes survival possible.
One is a combined 40 years of experience in the industry. And then, of course, is the quality of their food – just check the online reviews. Yelp isn’t the only place where Mely’s has achieved roughly 4.5 out of 5 stars from dozens of diners.
Also, Valdivia and Padilla own Taqueria San Juan next door, making it a bit easier to manage both sites.
Still, the pandemic has made it difficult to establish regular clientele, since “nobody knew us yet” and few were heading out the door to try out new eateries, Valdivia said.
“For almost two years it was only us two working everyday all day,” Valdivia said.
The hope is all that effort will pay off despite troubled times.
So what is Mely’s Café? First, the restaurant serves American and Italian fare that its owners learned from years of working in similar ventures in downtown San Francisco.
The name “Mely’s” happens to be the nickname of Padilla’s wife.
“She’s a very nice and kind hearted personand many people in our community know her,” Valdivia said. “Also we wanted a name that would be easy to remember, something that could be pronounced the same in English andSpanish because this area has a high volume of Spanish speaking residents.”
The menu is extensive, with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Valdivia said the most popular dishes currently are the Benedicts, since there aren’t many spots serving them in the area, as well as the pasta dishes, as they use fresh pasta and every sauce is prepared by the order. In fact, all dishes are served from scratch with fresh ingredients, which complements a “relaxed atmosphere with attentive service,” Valdivia added.
Here are some examples of what one can order at Mely’s Café: the Blintz, which are crepes filled with cheese, with blueberry or apple sauce, served with fresh fruit; crepes with housemade caramel or Nutella; Croque Madame, which is grilled ham and cheese on French toast topped with over-easy eggs; Huevos Ranchero; and pico de gallo featuring homemade marinara sauce baked with jack cheese.
For a later-in-the-day meal, there’s Chicken Marsala with sautéed chicken breast with fresh mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce; grilled salmon fillet with fresh herbs served with fresh fruit and dill sauce; and plenty of pasta dishes, including Lobster Ravioli served with creamy tomato and shrimp sauce; three-cheese tortellini sautéed with garlic, tomatoes, black olives and herbs on crème sauce; and Pennette Roma sautéed with herbs and garlic in marinara sauce.
Mouth not watering yet? You can also order staples like wings, quesadillas, burgers, and much more.
The ultimate goal of Mely’s Café, said Valdivia, is creating a space for customers to “relax and enjoy a nice meal.”
But for the owners, it’s not all work, no play.
“Whenever we have a little time off, lately not very often as we would like, we like to visit and support local small businesses around the area, because we all need to help each other in the community,” Valdivia said.
Given the turbulence of our times, it’s a wise and helpful comment. And so we suggest to our readers that you, as well, consider trying out Mely’s Café.
Mely’s Cafe is located at 13501 San Pablo Avenue Suite B. at the intersection of Vale Road and near San Pablo Lytton Casino. It opens Tuesday through Sunday, with morning hours from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and evening hours from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call (510) 609-8212.