But the COVID-19 crisis, as we all know, is something completely – and frighteningly – different.
But the couple is nothing if not resilient, and the County of Marin’s shelter in place order in March, and the social distancing requirements that caused many restaurants like theirs to close, presented the Adams with an opportunity that didn’t expect. They seized the moment of the closure to set their doors and undergo a renovation that not only brightened up the Miller Ave. mainstay but also brought its operation – dining room, kitchen andcrucial additions like counter-long plexiglass in between – for the lingering pandemic.
They also went digital, creating a website that features their full menu with photos and allowing patrons to scan a QR code to access their menu online. , and ll of those improvements
Coupled with the ability to serve via outdoor dining and takeout per the County of Marin regulations, the digital, safety and aesthetic improvements, Mill Valley Coffee Shop is built for the long haul, Phil Adams says. “We take pride in the food that we make here, as well as our friendly service and the community atmosphere,” he says. “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.