At 8:30 in the morning, Whitney Houston’s voice brings everyone to church. It’s not a typical church, though there is a priest sitting at the counter drinking coffee. Haight Street’s Pork Store Cafe, a destination diner since 1979, offers a different kind of communion to its community — and that includes Lynn Fischer, a server of eight years who’s been running the show. Coming from Luxembourg in 2013, she learned to read English from the restaurant’s butter-stained menus. In the years since then, she’s become a legend in San Francisco’s service scene. “It was absolute culture shock,” Fischer said. “It was like Coyote Ugly. The other women were like, ‘She’s not gonna make it.’”
Now, as omicron cases dwindle and diners return to restaurants, Fischer can say she’s made it. Alternating between a 16-ounce paper cup of coffee and an apple, the San Francisco industry vet takes to-go orders over the phone while writing down staples she’ll order for the restaurant before closing. But this triumphant feeling, one of confidence and family, has been hard-earned for Fischer.
Haight has been under pressure during the last few months: A number of shootings, one fatal, happened just a half block from Fischer’s place of work. About a month ago a man harassed Fischer just outside Pork Store’s enormous glass windows. She said a customer intervened and scared the assailant away. “I love this place because a homeless person can sit next to a priest,” Fischer said. “But people should know how bad it can be.”
She remembers her first days in San Francisco, arriving when she was 22 after a friend encouraged her to drop her bartending job in their home country and join him. She’d lived in Germany and Belgium, but her English was too poor to get any kind of support to go abroad. It was a tough go from the beginning. “It was wishful thinking,” Fischer said. Though she had a background studying women and gender studies, all she could find for work was a job at one of Haight’s many clothing stores. She got paid eight bucks an hour — no tips.
After getting a year of retail under her belt, one of the longtime Pork Store workers visited her at the clothes shop to offer her a job. The staff there knew she was interested, and, after seeing her hold the retail gig for a year, decided to give her a shot.
Many of the Pork Store’s staff had worked at the legendary diner for more than 10 years, and Fischer was intimidated about joining the crew. It’s well known that before the pandemic, Pork Store was slammed every day. “Back home, people are less demanding,” Fischer said. “Here, it’s everything. You’re a psychologist. You’re a friend. A bad day is not tolerated.” As if on cue, a man with a coppery beard opens the door and proclaims that it’s been a full day. “It’s only 8:30 in the morning,” Lynn points out. He says he knows, but that he’s just got back to California from living in Georgia. He has been coming to Pork Store for 26 years, and he’s glad to be back.
Though there is another Pork Store in the Mission, it's the Haight location that attracts swarms of San Francisco’s most ardent breakfast fanatics. In the open space, customers can smell potatoes brown, hear eggs sizzle, and watch their breakfast alchemize from the comfort of their barstools. The grill, Fischer pointed out, has accumulated years of salt and oil, imbuing all the food it produces with depth of flavor.
Fischer has been enrolled at San Francisco State University since she landed in the Bay, entering her ninth year of study. She will graduate with a Master of Arts in International Relations in May. She’d like to go into research someday, or to work for a big company. “I want to work a job where I can be sick and still get paid,” Fischer said. “I want health insurance.” She’s lived in the Outer Sunset all her time in California and is known in the industry for darting around the city on her red bike. She’s been known to surf at Ocean Beach here and there, too.
For now, Fischer is the Pork Store’s hostess, waitress, busser, and floor manager six days a week. She’s pulled stints at other city favorites including Underdogs, Beretta on Divisadero, and Noc Noc, all while holding down her job at Pork Store, too. The owners did just hire two more servers, though. She’d love to have her own breakfast place one day. But the rent, in her opinion, is just too damn high. Even Pork Store has had to shorten its hours to save a bit of money, just to get by. “We’re scraping every dime,” Fischer said. “People don’t think about that.”
She’s in no rush, anyway. The only hurry is refilling sleepy patrons’ empty cups with Bunn-warmed coffee, and, even this act of hospitality, she seems to do in her own time. As Lauryn Hill comes to life on the speakers, that sense of washing away the past fills the diner again, chatter filling the room. She checks in with a customer knee-deep in his omelette.
“Are you happy?” she asks.
“I’m happy,” he answers.