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Storied: San Francisco

Apr 9, 2024

This oh-so-San Francisco story begins with two brothers and a dairy farm at Noe and 29th Street.
Larry Mitchell and his older brother Jack opened Mitchell's Ice Cream in 1953. Five years earlier, the building that now houses the well-known ice cream shop was going to be torn down for the widening of San Jose Avenue. The Mitchell family fought those efforts and a compromise was reached—The City would turn and move the building. The old liquor store that had been on San Jose was no more.
That space sat empty for a couple years until Larry Mitchell decided that he wanted to do something with it. His parents had a small dairy farm on Noe and 29th Street. There was a parlor called Garrett's Ice Cream out on Ocean Avenue that was doing well. Larry and his brothers saw an opportunity.
A salesman from Foremost Dairy taught them how to make ice cream, which they sourced from Foremost. Larry, his brothers, their dad, and some friends built the store out and it opened on June 6, 1953.
Initially, it was a small operation. But in 1956, they built a bigger, newer freezer, and it just took off from there. Through the years, they've done their best to keep up with demand. The ice cream has always been made on-site.
Larry Mitchell's oldest daughter was already alive when the shop opened. His second daughter, Linda, who joined us for this episode, was born in 1954, a year after the store began operations. His youngest kid, Brian, who also appears in this episode, was born in 1961. Today, Linda Mitchell and Brian Mitchell are co-owners of Mitchell's Ice Cream.
Marlon Payumo, Mitchell's operations manager, is originally from the Philippines. He left his homeland with family in 1987, first landing in Guam, then on to San Francisco in 1988. Marlon had been in The City for two weeks when his friend came to visit him at his aunt's house, where he was staying. The friend brought some mango ice cream and a job application. Marlon interviewed, got the job, and has been with Mitchell's ever since. He was 19 when he started.
Mitchell's was already popular when Marlon came on. Linda, Brian, and Marlon all agree: The long lines were even worse then! We talk about the frozen yogurt craze of the Eighties and how they dabbled in it but let it go to refocus on their crown product—the ice cream.
Linda started working at the family business in 1991. By then, they were the only ice cream shop in the Mission, but their product wasn't in many stores just yet. Brian started back in 1979 after high school. He went to college on the Peninsula and worked at the shop on weekends. He got a degree in business management and came on full-time in the early Eighties.
Linda's story of how she ended up at the family business is that their Aunt Alice, who had been Mitchell's bookkeeper/customer service rep for some time, was retiring. Linda had worked in banking for a while, and she'd lived in Florida and Texas, but it was time to come home. Linda took over their aunt's job.
In the early Nineties, Mitchell's had about 30 employees. Today, that number isn't too much higher—they estimate it at around 40. They succumbed to the coffee/espresso craze of that decade. But that, too, didn't last long.
Check back next week for Part 2 and more on the legacy and history of Mitchell's Ice Cream with Linda, Brian, and Marlon.
We recorded this episode at Mitchell's Ice Cream in February 2024.
Photography by Jeff Hunt