Established in 1858, 7 Mile House, located in Brisbane, California (just south of San Francisco), is one of the oldest standing restaurants in the country. However, this historic restaurant doesn’t serve any 19th century delicacies. Instead, 7 Mile House serves Filipino food. Yes…Filipino Food.
We get some answers about the Filipino connection to 7 Mile House from owner, Vanessa Garcia. Vanessa Garcia, originally from the Philippines, was a drummer, backup singer and original member of the Philippine-based all female pop-rock group ‘Prettier Than Pink’. Enjoy this interview!
As a Filipina immigrant & owner of a 161-year old establishment, how do you see 7 Mile House in the context of the San Francisco Bay Area Filipino American community?
It is rare that a Filipino immigrant is given the opportunity to preserve a historic establishment’s legacy and stories and I consider it an incredible honor to be the owner and guardian of the 7 Mile House.
Its original owners in the mid-1800s were immigrants from Italy — hard working families who wanted to survive in America by incorporating skills, experience and culture that they learned from their motherland and could apply to their livelihood in order to succeed in a foreign country. Over 150 years later, that story has not changed. As an immigrant from the Philippines, I share the same intentions and feel immense gratitude for the opportunity this country has handed me, which is one I will never take for granted.
Many Filipino-American immigrants share this same sentiment, which is why we work hard, seize opportunities and never forget where we came from.
Right now is an incredibly exciting moment for many Entrepinays (Filipina/Pinay entrepreneurs) not just in the SF Bay but around the country. What lessons can you share about the intersection of your experience in culture, food & entrepreneurship?
Nothing is impossible and there are no limits to what we as Entrepinays can do. I have never let anything or anyone stop me from reaching my goals and in return, have achieved what I once thought were impossible dreams: I run a landmark restaurant despite being an immigrant and not knowing how to cook. I published an award-winning book on its history, which took 13 years of data collection and only 7 months to write, design and publish. 7 Mile House has won numerous awards for various categories including our food, ambiance, live music and dog-friendliness, to name a few — all of which I never thought a little dive bar could ever achieve.
Dig deep down into your soul and figure out what you want to achieve. Do everything it takes. But do so in the name of kindness, honesty and sincerity. It is much more fulfilling to know that you do things because you have good intentions and people around you will see that and will treasure you for it.
Can you talk about the community 7 Mile has built in the neighborhood, particularly with Filipinos & Filipino Americans?
In 2004, when I purchased 7 Mile House, I was frustrated. More Filipinos lived in the Bay Area than other Asian groups like Thai and Vietnamese, yet the locals knew more about their food and culture. I thought, “How could one know more about Korean food when 30% of Daly City is comprised of Filipinos?”
Our very long history of colonization from Spain and the United States has made Filipinos quite invisible within this country. As a result, many in our community have internalized this invisibility and believed they were inferior.
Eventually, things aligned and Filipinos started getting noticed worldwide. Entertainers like Apl.de.ap and Bruno Mars, as well as the rags to riches story of Arnel Pineda touched many people’s lives. Comedians like Rex Navarrete seemed to give us permission to relax and laugh at who we are. And of course, there’s Manny Pacquiao, who really brought the most pride and limelight to the Filipinos as a fighter.
While all of this was happening, I was still fueled by the frustration that our cooking and culture was little known by others, so I set out to talk about our culture through their stomachs. My strategy was to lure my guests with something familiar — a really good burger. Then, sprinkle amazing Filipino food into a menu mostly comprised of American and Italian food. I wanted to offer people Filipino food that was familiar — adobo and lumpia — and then to introduce to something more interesting, such as pork sisig made with pig cheeks on a sizzling plate.
Back then, no one knew what sisig was. “Sig Sig?,” non-Filipinos would say. “Sing Sig?” No one even know how pronounce it. I was so determined to bring this particular dish to 7 Mile House because it is my all-time favorite when paired with a cold bottle of San Miguel beer. In addition to this, no one was doing it “right.” Restaurants at that time were simply cooking dishes that resembled pan-fried sliced beef and that frustrated me.
Like I said, I don’t cook. And when I discovered this little Filipino Restaurant in Alameda that actually did it right, I drove every few days to that restaurant just to buy their sisig and resell it at 7 Mile House. Once we figured out how to make it ourselves, our formula just kept getting better and better. Today our Sisig is one of the most popular items on the menu, along with lumpia, adobo and of course, the cheeseburger!
Through the years and through our tummies, my mom and I spread the word about our food and culture. We talked all day long about how beautiful the Philippines is to whoever wanted to listen. I even went as far as inviting everyone on a nice vacation to the Philippines with the idea that somehow someday they could come see the sights and rich culture.
Then, the Filipino Food Movement started to emerge. Young Filipino cooks started creating both traditional and fusion dishes. It became cool to sport the Philippine star on your shirt and even as a tattoo.
And as my Mom and I continued to spread the word about our heritage in our little restaurant, little did we know we would be a part of a Filipino American movement that would change how the world saw our culture and how we would see ourselves.
You came out with the book “See You at the 7” last year, a book that chronicles the buried history of 7 Mile. How do you think this contributes to the legacy of Filipinos & Filipino-Americans in San Francisco?
See You at the 7 along with books like Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong, help chronicle our contributions to this country. This book leaves an indelible mark on American history — throughout the book you will read stories of Filipino Americans, and how they are all connected to 7 Mile House, and the SF Bay Area. It also tells the story of a Filipino immigrant family that would become historians of a 161-year old establishment in California, and document it in the first book ever written about Bay Area mile houses. I hope this book inspires more people to document their history as Filipinos in the diaspora.
7 Mile House
2800 Bayshore Blvd
Brisbane, CA 94005