You'd drive a country mile for the rich, authentic, one-of-a-kind ice cream perfection that is Baskin & Robbins, right? Neither would we. But this B&R in a strip mall near the Sunnyvale/Mountain View border is perhaps unique: it's not a Denny's, it's not a Lyon's or Carrow's, but it's open LATE.
If you know Silicon Valley you know it locks up around 10:00pm every night. Even on a Saturday all you'll find open are liquor stores and Sevens Eleven, or the occasional teen-packed Friday's. We believe it's a result of intense labor costs: no one can afford even minimum wage workers to capture the unpredictable late-night market. Fast food is a casualty as well, with Taco Bell your only recourse (and Wells won't eat there for all the tea in China).
One night, driving home from San Francisco past midnight after sushi, desperate for a milkshake, we were steering towards the supermarket for fixings, when an otherwise unremarkable B&R in Sunnyvale glowed under the light of its OPEN sign. "It must be a mistake," we thought, but no: inside were two folks sitting at a table enjoying ice cream. We were so astonished we forgot how little we liked Baskin & Robbins ice cream.
The owner started scooping Burke's sundae and explained the mystery behind his innacurate "Closes at 10:00pm" sign. A refugee from Vietnam years ago, he remembers having terrible hunger and almost no money. Once, three minutes before a place closed, they slammed the door on him. Standing beside the locked door, he vowed someday he'd own his own place, and he'd never turn away a customer just because it was closing time.
So here he is, the only ice cream parlor open past midnight north of San Jose and south of San Francisco International, spooning out calories to tireless engineers, bleary sysadmins and the rest of the computer world's nocturnal menagerie. "I've had a customer as late as 4:30am once," he says. "I do sometimes close at 10:00 like I should, but it's just my wife and me here, so 85% of the time we keep it open as long as we're awake. If the sign is lit, just bang on the door until we come out."
All we ask for in a restaurant is a bit of caring, that touch of thoughtfulness that reveals a deeper philosophy. In a chain like Baskin & Robbins you can't really control the quality. By marrying less-than-perfect ice cream to friendly, convenient service, by taking the extra step, this B&R becomes one of the brightest spots on El Camino Real, and a Burke & Wells recommendation.
A Burke and Wells review
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