Here’s a list of things I thought I would see when my plane touched down in San Francisco this summer:
- A girl spin dancing to the music in her head
- Steve Jobs
- Punch Buggies
- A guy with a guitar case and an army jacket</li>
- Jerry Garcia
The San Francisco in my head, as it turned out, is an amalgam of things I saw on the Grateful Dead Behind the Music and heard on the Fillmore West tapes I listened to in college, and, shockingly, the 60’s are over, airport security frowns upon loiterers these days, the Apple campus is like a zillion miles away from downtown San Francisco, and Jerry left us back in the 90’s. Left in their absence is an interesting mix of iPhones, German tourists, fog, hills, Priuses (Priui?) and, hands down, the greatest breakfast on the face of this great earth.
Tucked in to a tiny corner storefront on Washington Square is Mama’s, a place where locals and tourists alike wait hours to sit down and enjoy home-cooked pancakes, omelettes, and French toast on a Tuesday morning. Maybe it was the fact that the omelette was made with freshly caught crab and local avocados that tasted better than any avocado I’ve ever had, or maybe it was the fact that as you wait you see people voraciously chow their food and subconsciously want to like the food as much as they do. Either way, it was a delicious meal, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the city.
On the side of the table, however, sat the Onething. A delicious mix of fresh Olallieberries (what?), sugar, and some unknown addictive agent that has frankly ruined my former love of Smucker’s Strawberry Jam. Olallieberry Jam – it doesn’t exactly roll off of your tongue when you say it, but I guess the tongue is kind of irrelevant anyway when you’re essentially drinking the stuff by the gallonful; your tongue doesn’t even get a chance to savor it. Here’s the best part: they give it to you free with your breakfast. It calls to be put on bread, pancakes, or toast. The Austrian tourists next to us gladly paid extra for more baguette just so they could have more jam.
The question, though, is can something be a Onething just by being good? I loved the fresh squeezed orange juice my dad would make from our trees in Florida – it might be the best thing that has passed my digestive system – but Dad’s not getting a Onething for it. It was just really great juice. This is also the biggest Onething tiger trap of them all: business owners will say they don’t need to do anything different or unique because their food is so good, or their product is so much better than everyone elses, that because, according to them, they have the best mousetrap, they will attract the most mice. And most of the time, it doesn’t work that way. (Sidebar: when a business owner tells you they have the best whatever, be wary. Trust the people, not the source). Mama’s does all of the right things to bring the line that wraps around the building: their food is great, their location is small and cozy to match the food, it’s cheap enough, they move people quickly without making you feel rushed, and their servers are equally hip and knowledgeable. If any of these things weren’t up to par, there wouldn’t be a line. So while it’s always about being the best, being the best isn’t good enough to bring people to you.
Mama’s serves an excellent breakfast – that’s undeniable. I can’t say, however, that there was anything especially different about it that would make me say it was a unique dining experience. But the idea of jam is so much more than what it tastes like. Jam is a time harkener, an acknowledgment that great things take time, and the jam-maker knows that in Jamistry, perfection only comes after many, many years of perfecting. Anyone with the patience and dedication to make a great jam can surely throw together fluffy pancakes and silky omelettes. Mama’s on Washington Square is no exception. Their Onething may not bring in a ton of customers, and it’s not at the center of the Mama’s dining experience per se, but I will say this: a jam that good isn’t making any enemies, and in every review I’ve read of the place while preparing for this post, I’ve seen mention of the fresh jam on the table.
San Francisco may not be what I thought it was, but Mama’s helped me prepare a new narrative. I still think I’ll see Steve Jobs walking around some day. Or at least Merlin Mann.
1 Seth Godin’s Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable