Before Armando Ramirez became the co-owner of Off Top, a hat store that opened in April at 2359 Mission Street, in the El Capitan building, he earned a six-figure salary as a mortgage lender in Sacramento, he said.  For two years he was working six days a week, and he had his own apartment, but the job left him unhappy.

“I got sad when I couldn’t help people get their home mortgage,” he said. “I found the business practices were against my ethic. I was burned out.”  

So in 2014, Ramirez left it all, and with his savings, began traveling — through the California Redwoods, to Mexico, to the Bahamas, and to Peru, where he visited his aunt and grandmother.

After returning from his travels in 2015, though, Ramirez headed for San Francisco. There, he lived out of his car on the Great Highway.

“I wanted to struggle. I wanted to learn gratitude,” he explained.

So he got a job at Gracias Madre, a vegan restaurant on Mission Street, between 18th and 19th, and an apartment not far from where he used to car camp. He said he fell in love with the Mission, where he found himself surrounded by other Latinos and a vibrant art scene.

Although disheartened by rampant gentrification, he is inspired by the local community.

Even now, it is a much livelier place than Woodland, the Sacramento suburb where he grew up and attended high school. His father, a native of Nochistlán, Zacatecas, Mexico, and his mother, a native of Seccia, Peru, moved the family there from East Los Angeles — where Ramirez was born in 1988 — anxious to raise their new son in a safer place.

Now, along with his business partner Daniel Reyes, he runs his own business in the neighborhood. Off Top’s hats are all from Bay Area teams, and he also uses the shop as a gallery space for paintings from local artists.

“I feel I can really be myself here,” he said.