At Budget Café, it’s as much about serving up a sense of family as it is about serving up good, hearty food.
The business originally opened its doors in the mid-1980s near downtown San Luis Obispo. However, it has spent more than two decades at its current location on lower Higuera in the strip mall with blue awnings across from the DMV.
Admittedly, there’s nothing fancy about this place.
It’s got the typical diner vibe — booths, tables, counter seating, handwritten specials boards, and never-empty cups of coffee. However, if you pay attention to who’s sitting around you, you’ll notice that they come from all walks of life, and that most of them know each other and the café staff.
“It really is a home away from home for most people, like family,” said manager Kathy Andoli, a born-and-bred local who’s been working at Budget Café for 20 years, twice as long as owner Rhonda Mayeda.
A former middle school teacher, Mayeda moved to the San Luis Obispo area with her husband following his retirement.
She was looking for a career change, and jumped at the chance to take over Budget Café, even with no restaurant experience. One of the first ground rules she established was that she was going to listen to her staff, especially to what they were hearing from patrons.
“It’s really rewarding having that support,” said Andoli. For Mayeda, it also just made sense because “that’s my connection to the customers.” Over the years, the regular Budget Café menu hasn’t changed, but Mayeda has added Asian dishes as daily weekday specials.
There’s Shanghai fried rice on Monday, followed by broccoli beef over rice, Loko Moko (a Hawaiian dish of a beef patty, fried egg and gravy over rice), chicken and vegetable chow mein with pan-fried noodles, and chicken teriyaki over rice on Fridays.
The rest of the Budget Café’s fare is what you’d expect from a neighborhood breakfast-and-lunch place (the entire menu is available all day).
Choose from three-egg omelets with crispy hash browns, eggs teamed up with all the usual breakfast meats, from-scratch buttermilk pancakes, house-made biscuits and gravy, or specials such as cinnamon French toast.
Lunch options run the gamut from burgers to BLTs, tuna melts to turkey sandwiches, a Chef Salad to a hot lunch of countryfried steak and mashed potatoes. There’s also house-made chili, a soup of the day, and soup-andsalad combos for lighter appetites.
Andoli noted that although Mayeda didn’t change the actual menu items when she took over Budget Café, “she did start trying to give people some healthier choices, and she started using a lot better ingredients.”
Case in point is the fresh fruit cup that’s available as a breakfast side. This really is fresh fruit, not canned, cut to order, and on any given day might include varieties such as pineapple, kiwi, mango, apple, pears, and so on.
"She also makes the effort to put the grapefruit and oranges on the bottom so their juice doesn’t get all over everything,” said Andoli. Though that may not seem at all important to most people, it’s a very much appreciated gesture for café patrons who are on medications that require them to completely avoid citrus.
“It’s really just the little things that count so much,” said Mayeda. “When I was a teacher, I wanted to make every child feel important. Now, that’s what I want to do with my customers. We want to be part of the community and to meet their needs as best we can.”