First, it was a toll gate, built during the Gold Rush to collect fees from passing fortune-seekers. Then, it was a relay station for weary travelers to rest their horses. As years passed and owners switched hands, 7 Mile House became a saloon, the site of an FBI raid, and even an arcade filled with rigged claw machines where angry truck drivers regularly punched through the glass just to win a stuffed lion.
The 7 Mile House has transformed many times over the course of its 162 years. It’s survived the 1906 earthquake, the 1918 influenza, and the Great Depression. And, under the leadership of owner Vanessa Garcia, it intends to weather the coronavirus pandemic.
“How do we survive?” Garcia asks. “We reinvent ourselves.”
In its present iteration, 7 Mile House is a restaurant, a sports bar, and a live music venue — at least it will be again once the pandemic is over. Like most Bay Area eateries, it is currently offering take-out and delivery only.
“My main priority was really to protect my mom, who is 72 years old,” Garcia says. Garcia’s mother, Cleo, bakes for 7 Mile House. She’s responsible for a lot of the restaurant’s decadent desserts, including a calamansi lime pie (a “Filipino version” of a key lime, Garcia says), the funky monkey (banana bread, sliced bananas, homemade salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream), and 7 Mile House’s infamous ube cheesecake — Garcia bills the purple dessert as the first of its kind in the Bay Area.
When they reopened for take-out on Apr. 29, the response was overwhelming — Garcia gets goosebumps just thinking about it. 7 Mile House’s regular customers flooded back — so much so that the few staff members Garcia had working couldn’t keep up with the demand.
“My daughter is 20. She was traumatized,” Garcia says, laughing. “It was so crazy.”
Garcia attributes the surge in support to the relationship she’s built with her customers over the past 15 years.
“We knew 90 percent of the people coming in, even if they were in masks,” Garcia says. “We recognized almost all of them.”
One of Garcia’s customers called 7 Mile House a “beacon of light in the community.” Garcia calls it a “symbol of resilience.” She’s acutely aware of the legacy 7 Mile House as an immigrant-owned business, formerly managed by Italian immigrants, German immigrants, and now “us Filipinos.”
“I feel such a connection with former owners that way,” Garcia says. “In order for you to survive, you have to be malleable, you have to be determined, and be able to do whatever it takes for you to succeed.”
In the interim, when 7 Mile House was closed, Garcia helped her employees file for unemployment insurance and sold T-shirts that said, “If you can read this you are too close,” in bold, all-caps script. The caption was actually suggested by her landlord, who halved her rent because of the pandemic. “I consider myself lucky,” Garcia says.
All of this recent history won’t be documented in her book, See You At The 7, which was published in 2018. See You At The 7 was a project Garcia and her late cousin, Regina Abuyuan — 7 Mile House’s unofficial historians. It was an International Book Awards finalist, and a National Indie Excellence award winner.
“Very few things intimidate me,” Garcia wrote in the book, before detailing the challenges she had in her own 7 Mile House origin story, well before the coronavirus threatened her health and her livelihood.
Nowadays, it’s the same sentiment. “I welcome change,” Garcia says. “I embrace it.”
7 Mile House, 2800 Bayshore Blvd, Brisbane. 7milehouse.com