Pipes Cafe is a Cardiff morning mainstay

The Pipes Cafe team.
(Carley Fischer)

Pipes Cafe in Cardiff has been a neighborhood breakfast destination for almost 30 years. Since 1995, the funky beach cafe has served up essential egg burritos with coffee and camaraderie.

Cardiff locals and owners Karen and Tim Fischer started out with coffee first, running the Kono’s Coffee Cart on the deck of the popular Kono’s Cafe breakfast spot in Pacific Beach.

Kono’s owners Kathy and Steve Bettles offered the Fischers their basic menu and their blessing to take the concept up north. The previous business was going out of the Cardiff space and they decided to take the leap, “We were young and dumb,” Karen jokes of then newly married pair of 28-year-olds who opened up Pipes on a shoestring budget down the street from where they lived on Glasgow Avenue.

Karen worried no one would be able to find them because, at the time, nothing else was around, “It was like a ghost town in Cardiff.” It was so quiet that the day they opened, they decided anyone who showed up would get free food. People showed up.

“People were so stoked and it kind of just snowballed from there,” Karen said. “It took off.”

The Fischers not only expanded on the Kono’s menu but modeled a lot of what they do and how they treat their employees on Kathy and Steve. They so value their employees and it seems to have been successful—three members of the Pipes family have been with them for 25 years, another four have been there for 20 years. Manager Dana Trujillo— “She’s like the mayor”— has been at Pipes for 27 years and amazingly always remembers customers’ names and orders.

“Tim and I are still here every single day,” said Karen, who comes in the afternoon and Tim’s in first thing in the morning. They still live just up the street and can see the back door from their house. Even with their popularity, they never once thought about expanding to dinner service: “When it’s closed it’s peace of mind, we’re done for the day.” And doing things that way has been good for raising their family. “We feel very lucky and blessed.”

Pipes Cafe is known for their generous portions—as Fischer said, “You just get a ton of food.”

Their breakfast burritos are a favorite and have been described as “massive” (Karen says they are big enough for two people), the Seaside Scramblers come on a plate loaded with potatoes and an English muffin. You can get a Big Breakfast with pancakes or French toast—even the Little Breakfast is huge.

The menu hasn’t changed over the years although they did add one thing because Karen wanted it: breakfast tacos. You get three corn tortilla tacos stuffed with egg, bacon, avocado, onion, cilantro and homemade pico sauce. “They’re delicious,” she said.

Pipes also serves lunch items like burgers, grilled cheese , egg salad or BLT and avocado sandwiches.

The Cardiff community has grown up around them and Fischer said she’s seen a lot of things over the years, enough to write a book: In the 90’s Blink 182 did a shoot on their deck for MTV, the Rachael Ray Show stopped by one year and, in 2011, Prince Harry grabbed breakfast at Pipes. Twice.

But Fischer said the major highlight of all the years of running this business has been the customers. From the first surfers who wandered up hungry after a morning on the water, she has seen lifelong friendships form and regulars who come every single morning. A lot of teenagers that work there grew up as customers first. There are families who come to the San Elijo State Beach campground every year who never miss coming in for breakfast: “They become your family.”

“We try to get to know the people because they almost always come back,” she said. “It’s very comfortable, it’s casual, it’s like home. We want it to be like people’s home away from home.”

With nearly 30 years in the rear view, the Fischers have have just signed another 10-year lease, another decade of big breakfasts.

“It’s been a good ride,” said Fischer.

Pipes is located at 121 Liverpool Drive in Cardiff.