This week, Mission Heirloom owners Yrmis Barroeta and Bobby Chang had some big news. In an email sent to the eatery’s newsletter subscribers on Wednesday, the couple announced that they were putting their café on the market:
“We have come to the decision to find a buyer for Mission Heirloom. As you can imagine, after four years of serving our community, coming to this decision has not been easy.”
In a phone conversation with Nosh, Barroeta said they made the decision to sell their business a week ago, after their operations manager disappeared on them.
“We really want to move on and find someone that cares,” said Barroeta. “The mission and the team is extremely important to us.”
The couple, who recently welcomed a baby into their family, did not originally come from a food background. They got into “clean food” after Barroeta was diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders, and her husband Chang, was experiencing digestive issues (Read more about their background in this Nosh article from 2014). They both found relief when they started eating a paleo diet (free of gluten, grains, legumes, soy, refined sugars or oils) and decided they wanted to start a business to share the concept of clean eating with their greater community. They opened Mission Heirloom Café Garden (2085 Vine St., Berkeley), a hybrid restaurant and retail market, in 2014 in the Gourmet Ghetto, where it has become a favorite amongst area diners with dietary sensitivities, especially those who abide by paleo, gluten-free or other diets.
But because they don’t have a background in restaurants, they’ve relied on “partnerships” to keep their business going. In their recent missive, they explained further:
“At the conception of Mission Heirloom, we envisioned finding an operating partner for the day to day management. We knew from the beginning we were not restaurant operators, but problem-solving people that wanted to contribute to the clean food (gluten, grain and toxic-chemical free, AIP) movement. This contribution was realized after successfully launching and growing the commercial kitchen and the cafe.
As the years have gone by, and after testing a few partnerships (all of them failing), it is clear to us that the old saying ‘a restaurant needs the owner there every day’ proved to be absolutely true. Unfortunately, now that we have our baby with us, this is not possible for our little family.”
Mission Heirloom makes all of its to-go offerings and café menu in a commercial kitchen at Berkeley Kitchens, which has been outfitted with high-end food-safe kitchen technology to ensure its fare is chemical-free. Originally, they intended to use this kitchen as a hub for not just the café-store, but other clean food businesses they had hoped to one day open.
Mission Heirloom’s concept of clean food means they source organic, hormone-free meats from farms that treat their animals humanely, and organic, non-GMO produce from farms that do not use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Its website lists the vendors it works with, and the ingredients it uses in its recipes.
At the café, its menu denotes dishes that follow AIP, vegan or vegetarian diets, or ones that contain nuts, dairy, alliums or nightshades. Offerings include “bulletproof” drinks (coffee, matcha, turmeric and ginger tea, yerba mate, etc.) made with grass-fed butter, ghee or coconut oil; a Brazilian breakfast plate with pao de quiejo (cheese bread) waffles, sous vide eggs, coconut curry sauce, guacamole and leafy greens; and a meatball patty melt made with grass fed beef, onion and tallow.
Barroeta and Chang are currently looking for a new buyer to take over the business “to continue with what has been built so far.” Their hope is that they’ll find someone to take over in the next couple of weeks, so they can help with the transition and avoid closing the café. Barroeta told Nosh that they had received more than 30 texts from customers who received their newsletter, who wanted to send their support to the couple. And, she said they’ve already heard from an interested buyer, although it’s too early to say how serious the person is just yet. But, Barroeta is hopeful.
“We believe whoever wants to take over will want to keep it, and we’re more than happy to pass on the knowledge and recipes to keep it going, and hopefully, they can even improve it,” she said.
The listing for Mission Heirloom Café Garden includes the physical assets (including a 2000 sq. ft. patio garden), kitchen equipment, type 41 ABC beer and wine license and lease. The production kitchen in South Berkeley is listed separately because the café can operate without the commercial kitchen. However, if a buyer is interested in both, the sale “could be negotiated together,” said Barroeta.
As for what’s next for Barroeta and Chang, they’re still figuring it out, (“We’re still going through all the emotions. We’re moving forward,” said Barroeta), but they plan to focus on their successful Yucan Crunch crackers and other consumer products, including dried soups and other yuca products. The family is considering moving outside of California, maybe even Puerto Rico, to start their next business, but they’d be leaving a lot in the Bay Area: “Our family is in the Bay Area. Our hearts are here.”