Mission Loc@l: I noticed the sign being painted outside….
Ihab: Yes! This is my store! Come inside! Take a look around! It’s our grand opening soon! Tell me – what decorations would you recommend? More tables? I can’t put more tables in here without a rest room. The health department will only let you have four if you don’t have a restroom.
Look! I would like to introduce you to Victor! [Points to only other person in the store: a serene-looking young man holding a pushbroom, whose head is almost entirely enveloped in a Russian fur hat] Can you guess where Victor is from?
ML: El Salvador? [Victor beams]
Ihab: That’s right! You got it exactly right! Almost everyone guesses that Victor is a Mexican! But you got it right!
ML: What did you do before you opened this place?
Ihab: I had my own deli and grocery in New York. But I used to live in Burlingame. My uncle said, “Come to New York! Good money! Good money!” So I went to New York and…Don’t write that down! Don’t print that! Don’t print that!
Ihab: So I came back here. Things are going good! Right now people just come in for chip and a drink, chip and a drink. But I just got a coffee machine. And now everything will change since Pepsi is coming tomorrow. Coca-Cola has been pissing me off. Their machine has been out of order almost every day we’ve been open. Pepsi’s going to do a better job. They’re going to run the lines from the machine all the way to the bathroom, instead of just under the counter where it gets in my way.
ML: Your sandwich menu looks a little like…have you ever been to Ike’s?
Ihab: Ike? I know Ike. I know Ike for years. Small man, always in a very large raincoat. I knew Ike in Burlingame. He worked for my cousin at…No! Don’t print that! Don’t print that! It will upset my cousin! He is already mad enough at me. He says, “You start your own business! You take my employee!”
ML: You took his employee?
Ihab: Victor! Victor used to work for him. In Burlingame. Ike also used to work for my cousin. When Ike opened his restaurant, he copied the entire menu from my cousin. Oh, they have not spoken to each other in a long time.
ML: Are any of your sandwiches the same as the sandwiches at [REDACTED]?
Ihab: None of them!
[Victor doubles over with laughter, the earflaps on his fur hat bouncing with merriment]
Ihab: Some of them!
[Victor continues laughing, pointing at the sandwich board]
Ihab: Maybe one or two…
[Ihab leans in and scrutinizes the sandwich board with Victor.]
Ihab: Okay: three.
[The two continue to lean in together, pointing at the sandwich board and arguing amongst themselves.]
ML: [to sign painter who is carrying tin of paint back into the store] How does someone become a sign painter?
Sign Painter: I don’t know. I was living out of a van for two months. I was right about to leave San Francisco. And then I met my boss. So: fate. Or luck, maybe.