Last Black-Owned Business of its Kind in SF: Miyako Ice Cream

Last Black-Owned Business of its Kind in SF: Miyako Ice Cream

miyako ice cream family owned business sf

Photo posted with permission from @yegampic on Instagram.

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Based on a report by USF Gellert Family Business Center students Derek Nakata, Gillian Torres, Mya Bui, & Sonja Angst.

Miyako: Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shop

Bright orange and green letters read “Miyako: Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shop.” Signs in the window sport old school calligraphy, advertising Coney Island Hot Dogs and Fresh Cookies. This black-owned business is a place where neighbors know they can always visit for a friendly conversation and a very affordable scoop of ice cream.

Tom Bennett, now 83, opened Miyako in 1993. Today he still owns and manages the store with his daughter Teresa. His shop is the last black-owned business of its kind in San Francisco. And it’s survived 30 years in the Fillmore District, through the great recession and now a pandemic. Regulars will tell you it’s because of the Bennett family’s commitment to personal service and low prices.

Setting up Shop in San Francisco

Bennett originally hails from Philadelphia where he worked double in the modeling business and running a seafood restaurant. But he says he got tired of the cold weather, so he decided to move his family to San Francisco. Apparently, he liked the weather better because he set up shop and never left.

Bennett knew he wanted to open an ice cream store and had come to California with a plan, so he was able to start right away. The space in the Fillmore District he rents today is the same one he started at in 1993. It was one of the first available spaces he found when he arrived in San Francisco.

A Black-Owned Business for the Asian Community

But how did this black-owned business end up with a Japanese name? Bennett says it was an invitation to the Asian community. Fillmore had once been home to many Japanese and Asian families until they were forcibly displaced during Japanese internment in the 1940s. In the 90s, there were still very few Asian-Americans living or working there. Bennett chose the name Miyako in hopes of attracting more diverse customers to the area.

Now, of course, the neighborhood is again a multicultural hub in San Francisco with a large Asian population, though mostly of Korean descent.

A Family-Run, Black-Owned Business

Teresa, Tom Bennett’s daughter has been working with her dad since she was a kid. Growing up she’d balance school with the time she spent working at Miyako. Today, she’s all in as co-owner of the store. Tom’s other daughter, Bonita, also joins in to help out when things get busy.

When asked why he never expanded the business to multiple locations or a bigger space, Tom said he preferred to keep things small and in the family. He’d rather run the business on his own than hire outside help. Plus, he feels strongly that hiring in the family means better customer service. It’s hard to hire people who want to develop genuine relationships with customers. Hiring family members means knowing his team is there to develop personal relationships with the people who come in.

That’s the power of family business!

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