The Dipsea Cafe: A Mill Valley Staple at a Crossroads
The Dipsea Cafe has always held a special place in my heart. I remember the excitement I felt each weekend as my family drove there for breakfast when I was little. I remember running across the parking lot into the restaurant, not wanting to wait for another second to get my coloring sheets and my pancakes. I loved laughing my brothers and playing tic-tac-toe with my parents at the Dipsea each weekend. I loved running through the restaurant to bring the check and my dad’s credit card to John Siotos, the owner, to talk to him as he rung up our meal. Some of my strongest memories of my childhood are at the Dipsea and all of them are also some of the best memories I have.
My story is not unique. It is not hard to find someone in Mill Valley who is connected to the Dipsea in some way or who has at least one fond memory of eating breakfast at the cafe. However, it’s currently at a crossroads. Originally opened in 1986 by Mr. Siotos and his wife Cori Siotos, the Dipsea had been run by the pair until Cori Siotos died of breast cancer in 2015. As medical marijuana was the only thing that gave Mrs. Siotos comfort towards the end of her life, Mr. Siotos sought to get one of the four licenses Marin County was offering to turn the Dipsea into a dispensary. None of the applications were accepted due to backlash from citizens of Marin, so Mr. Siotos must decide whether or not to keep the cafe open anyways. As he is “undecided” as to whether he will keep the Dipsea open, many in Mill Valley are reflecting on the impact the Dipsea has had on the Mill Valley community and its people since its opening 31 years ago.
Mr. Siotos explains the Cafe’s beginning, “We got married and we wanted to do a restaurant. That was our passion. We wanted to put a place together. We wanted to do breakfast. We put our family recipes together and that’s how it started.”
Born in Greece, Mr. Siotos is not a Mill Valley native, although he and his wife chose a name that would represent and honor a main aspect of Mill Valley’s history and identity: the iconic Dipsea trail and Dipsea race.
“The original thought, why we named it the Dipsea was because the Dipsea has been a part of this area for many, many years,” said Mr. Siotos. “We wanted it to be the name for the café to be the same thing. It’s a part of this area in Mill Valley, and it’s been here for 31 years now so it’s getting the same tradition. It’s a unique name for a special race and the Dipsea café should also be the same thing.”
The name also cemented the cafe’s place in the Mill Valley community for its customers.
“I always thought that that kind of reflected [John Siotos] and the kind of character of the restaurant,” said Dipsea Customer of 16 years Jan Gullet. “He is a community focused guy. I always thought that was a nice attribute of the character of the place.”
At the beginning, the cafe was a staple for runners, something Mill Valley resident Linda Spence remembers: “It felt like a neighborhood thing. All the runners went there. Everyone was in short pants and running shoes. It was part of the history. It was holding up the history of the Dipsea Race. People wore t-shirts from it and all that.”
However, it quickly grew out of its small downtown location and moved to a much larger location in Tam Junction, right off Highways 101 and 1. In this new location, the cafe changed to attract more than just runners. Despite the change, it continued to hold the feeling of community and Mill Valley history even in the much larger space. This happened through Mr. and Mrs. Siotos’ dedication to the cafe, friendly service, continuity in the staff, historical pictures of the Dipsea Race, and more.
Gullet reflects on why he chose the Dipsea: “They had great food and I loved sitting outside, especially in the great Mill Valley weather, and I just kind of loved the spirit of the place. Real estate is really expensive in the Bay Area and in a lot of restaurants you just feel like totally packed in. The Dipsea was big enough that you felt comfortable, you could bring your newspaper, you could read. In fact, that’s why I became such a Dispea fan really, a combination of the food and space.”
Gullet loved the restaurant so much that he became one of the most frequent customers ever.
“I had a men’s group that met Saturday at the Dipsea for about 13 years every Saturday,” said Gullet. “We’d do 51 Saturdays a year, there’d be four to five of us. It was nice because there was enough room for us as a group and the food was great and it was pretty centrally convenient with everybody close to Route 1. I must be close to one of their best all time costumers.”
The Dipsea also attracts many families, due to a combination of lots of space, a good location, good food, and a good atmosphere. MA senior Tatum Polite grew up going to the Dipsea with her family as well.
“I started going to the Dipsea with my family when I was very young, like seven or eight years old,” said Polite. “We went probably every four or five weeks. I used to always get the Mickey Mouse chocolate chip pancakes which I loved and my brother got the waffle. We went there a lot on Saturday mornings because there was always room for us and there was really good food.”
Dipsea customer and parent Jan McDougal also took advantage of the Dipsea to eat with her kids.
“It definitely was a great place for kid’s brunch,” said McDougal. “It’s where we went for brunch after fifth-grade graduation from Tam Valley Elementary School. Tam Valley Elementary graduation was always in the morning so there was always a big crowd of us who would go to the Dispea. That’s got some memories for us. It’s a nice place for that special occasion brunch after a school event.”
Mr. Siotos especially values the role families have played in his cafe over the past 31 years.
“Some is like a family,” said Mr. Siotos. “Some people come in, and I know them, I say hi to them at the door. I’ve seen their kids grow up, like yourself. It’s a good feeling to know people like what you have here and like coming here. It’s like, ‘hey I want to bring my family to a nice place in my town.’ I like being that place. It’s good for the community. It’s good for everybody.”
Whether a young child, a teenager, a parent, a member of a men’s group, a runner, or anyone else in Mill Valley and even Marin County, there is a place for anyone at the Dipsea. If Mr. Siotos decides to keep the Dipsea open, it will continue to be a meeting place for the community, a classic spot where every Mill Valley resident knows they can count on good food and good service. And if Mr. Siotos chooses to close the Dipsea Cafe’s doors for good, it will hold a place in Mill Valley’s history and the memories of Mill Valley residents, like myself, who will look back on it with happiness and nostalgia for years to come.