The Mission eatery creates culinary masterpieces

by Allie Bidwell

From rich and sugary French toast for the diner with a sweet tooth to braised tofu and brown rice for the more health conscious eater, The Mission has it all. Operating on a philosophy of ‘everyone’s welcome and it’s all good,’ the restaurant has blossomed throughout the past 15 years and has attracted a loyal fan base.

Once a sole coffeehouse in Mission Beach catering largely to college students, the restaurant has expanded to three different locations — Mission Beach, North Park and Downtown — all of which have a variety of “simple, healthy, tasty food with a whimsical edge.” Chef Fay Nakanishi joined with owners Deborah Helm and Thomas Fitzpatrick to bring this idea to life.

If the food alone isn’t enough of an indication of their success, the bustling interior and congregation of patrons outside shows just how much of a local favorite the North Park location has become.

“You can get breakfast anywhere, but we try to make it a special experience, paired with great eclectic dishes … that are interesting and that you can’t get anywhere else,” said Jody Ritacco, the district manager who oversees all three locations.

Among the delectable treats on the menu are traditional favorites such as pancakes and French toast. The restaurant lives up to its mission in offering creative dishes such as the Zen Breakfast. For $9.95, this popular dish consists of scrambled egg whites, braised tofu, brown rice and grilled zucchini and squash, garnished with tomato and onion.

Customer favorites also include the soy chorizo specials, which cater to vegetarians and vegans. The plates feature combinations of eggs, black beans, scallions, an assortment of vegetables and of course, soy chorizo. All of the items on the diverse menu fall within a reasonable price range of $6 to $10, making the restaurant accessible to its original clientele — the broke college student.

While the atmosphere of the restaurant isn’t exactly conducive to studying, it makes a great hangout spot for students. Theenvironment is lively and uplifting,

with people from all different walks of life coming to enjoy a meal together. The mood is laid back and welcoming and the prices are reasonable, which is appealing to those of us with a limited income. In addition to the food, the décor and guiding principles of The Mission give it a unique vibe that could serve a diverse range of customers.

Aside from the creative array of grub, the restaurant establishes itself as a vibrant urban center with its display of work from local artists. At each location, pieces are hung on the walls and sold, with all of the proceeds going directly back to the artist. According to Ritacco, the idea came along with the inception of the restaurant.

“We’re fans of supporting the art community,” she said. “It gives us a new environment every six months or so. Not only the staff, but everyone looks forward to what’s next, and it gives local artists exposure.”

Another way the restaurant gives back to the community is in its effort to be environmentally friendly. Even though it creates a larger cost to use green products — such as biodegradable cups and natural cleaning products — Ritacco said the cost is worth contributing to the environment in a positive way.

Although the restaurant has branched out and become more family-oriented, Ritacco said she still feels it is a great place for students to come, hang out and enjoy a cup of coffee.

“Anybody can walk in,” Ritacco said. “We have something for everyone.”