Meet the man behind Cafe de la Mission

Alberto Campos delivers a drink at Cafe de la Mission ( Photo by Niko Plagakis)
Alberto Campos delivers a drink at Cafe de la Mission (Photo by Niko Plagakis)

By Calindra Revier

The Guardsman

Alberto Campos stands alone when it comes to feeding students and providing a late-night jolt at City College’s Mission Center, but he also retains a position as a community man.

Campos, 45, is the owner of Cafe de la Mission, which can be found near the Bartlett Street entrance of the Mission Center, adjacent to the outside stairs.

Working alone on a busy school night, Campos dashes between helping the seven customers surrounding his stand, grabbing coffee for one, putting hot sauce on a tamale for another.

A sign reading “cash only” signals the quick exchange of dollars and cents that will soon rush between hands, as Campos rushes to get all of his customers orders handled as quickly as possible.

Underneath a red awning, he sells everything a tired student needs to last through a long class — empanadas, homemade tamales, pupusas, carrot and orange juice, sandwiches, churros, and rellenos with sweet cream. He also sells his vampiro juice which contains carrot, orange, beets and celery.

He makes the juice fresh on the spot. The flan is homemade, as well as the tamales, which come as vegetable, chicken or pork complete with mole sauce.

In the morning, Campos offers breakfast burritos, containing chorizo, potato, cheese and egg, as well as the recent popular item — bagels with turkey or ham.

Campos says developing the menu is a long process and requires input from the community.

“The customers will let you know little by little what to add,” he says.

Campos owns this cafe but it is certainly a family affair. His wife Veronica Campos can be found most nights working by his side as well as his son Jose Campos.

Originally from San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico, Campos left when he was just 14 to come to the states and work in the food industry. From Oklahoma to San Francisco and back to Mexico he kept his dream of owning his own restaurant alive.

Years later after returning to his hometown in Mexico, Campos says, “I realized that I needed to come back to San Francisco.”

He returned to San Francisco in ‘85.

“I helped my brother start La Corneta in 1985,” Campos says. “We started in a small place, a little tiny place. It was only for 10 people.”

After seven years of working and helping his brother with the highly successful La Corneta, he ventured out on his own to begin Cafe de la Mission.

“Hey Orlando!,” Campos yelled out to a man passing by. Orlando Tolbert, who is in charge of Budget Analyses at Mission Mental Health, located between 23rd and 24th on Mission Street, attended City College before going on to earning his degree in business management.

“I met Alberto before he started his business here. He was over there on Mission,” Tolbert explained how he was running a mental health clinic and he would work with Campos at La Corneta to provide hot meals for his patients via a coupon system.

“It really turned out to be successful thing. Without these coupons, our patients who are some of the most severely mentally ill in the city, could never hold onto their money.” Orlando continued “but if they had this coupon, they would go to the restaurant and use that there.”

Once Campos opened Cafe de la Mission, they continued a similar practice, where Campos provides catered meals from time to time. “He’s been a real asset to the community,” Tolbert said.

“I always had that dream and I think it has come true to open up a restaurant,” Campos said. He now looks to the future and hopes to open a seafood restaurant, but he admits it’s getting tougher-and-tougher as the Mission continues on its path of gentrification.

Campos attributes some of his success to a great staff at the Mission Center and an excellent custodial staff whose dedication seems to be unparalleled.

“These little places, it’s where you want to go and get all the information you know. It’s like a bazaar,” Campos said.

For now, Campos remains under his stand inside the cafeteria room, but dreams to get a bigger space with a full kitchen so he can provide better service to City College students. Until that day, you will see him at the CCSF Mission Center providing excellent service to this community.

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