The restaurant has a bit of a retro feel to it — powder blue booths at the windows, swivel stools at the counters. A wall of cork boards bears the photos of the most “famous” regulars, and a yellow and white sign lets hungry customers know they’ve arrived at Bobbi’s Coffee Shop.
While Bobbi’s can no longer welcome dine-in customers due to Santa Clara County’s shutdown order in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases, the eatery is upping its retro game by offering car hop service for takeout orders.
Tracy James, who owns Bobbi’s along with his wife, Toya Yamagami, points out that the car hop model allows customers to eat in their vehicles and so is in compliance with the current COVID-19 restrictions, particularly since they’re using disposable utensils and flat.
“Bobbi’s was originally opened in the late ’50s, and that’s where we drew our inspiration,” James said.
The eatery has stood in its current location on South De Anza Boulevard, near the border of Cupertino and San Jose, for decades. And while the menu has remained largely the same over the years, the business has changed hands several times, most recently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September, Yamagami and James brought the restaurant back to life after the pandemic forced it to shutter months prior. Yamagami is the landlord for the property, but her connection to Bobbi’s is much more than financial.
When Yamagami’s dad moved to the Bay Area about 80 years ago, he bought a plot of land in Cupertino for $ 30,000. It had been a peach orchard, but he reimagined it as one of the region’s very first strip malls. Soon after, his friend Bobbi Thorne opened up her coffee shop on the property. Yamagami grew up with the restaurant and surrounding businesses as her second home.
“Yamagami’s Garden Center used to be my play yard,” Yamagami said. “I’d go from one little shop to the next little shop to Bobbi’s Coffee Shop.”
Thorne ran Bobbi’s for more than 20 years then passed it on to her two main waitresses, who then passed it onto their main waitress. At that point, the business was struggling a bit financially, and Yamagami began to receive requests from chain businesses that wanted to take over the property.
“But I just couldn’t imagine Bobbi not having a coffee shop,” Yamagami said.
So Yamagami did the unthinkable in the Bay Area real estate market: She gave the business away for free, to people she knew would keep the spirit of Bobbi’s Coffee Shop alive. And the new owners ran the coffee shop until this year, when business faltered as people stayed home to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.
But again, Yamagami couldn’t fathom the coffee shop closing its doors for good. So, she and her husband took it in hand to revamp and reopen the restaurant. They kept the same staff, including their stalwart chef Ruben Garcia, who trained under the original chef at the restaurant more than 30 years ago. The Ibarra family, the members of which make up a good portion of the staff, also stayed on for the reopening.
“The staff was the one key ingredient that has been the same,” Yamagami said. “They really make the place, and they know the customers so well.”
The restaurant has always been a family affair. All of Thorne’s children spent time working at Bobbi’s, cooking, busing tables and waiting on customers. Now, Yamagami’s 16-year-old daughter Olivia works there on weekends.
Another thing that’s stayed the same is the food. Yamagami said she’s still serving up “quarts and quarts” of Thorne’s famous cabbage soup, her biscuits and gravy and classic sandwiches. She adds that the cooks still use Thorne’s original recipes, which she got from her mother. Since opening the doors to customers again, Yamagami said she’s having the time of her life.
“I just love it. I just absolutely love every single moment of it, ”she said. “People that even knew me when I was little are like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re Toya Yamagami that used to run around here with Bobbi chasing after you when you were little!’”
Now Yamagami is watching her 5-year-old daughter Tomiko have the same childhood experiences.
“I see her running around the nursery and the coffee shop just like I did when I was little, and it’s very nostalgic for me,” Yamagami said.
Bobbi’s Coffee Shop is located at 1361 S. De Anza Blvd. Hours are Wednesday, 6 am-2 pm and 5-9 pm; Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 7 am-2pm; and Friday, 6 am-2pm 408-418-3856; https://www.facebook.com/BobbisCafe