Editor’s note: This Q&A with Lamea Abuelrous—the owner of Temo’s Café, a coffee shop located on the corner of 24th and Harrison Streets in the heart of Mission District—is the third of a series where we aim to shed light on the day-to-day work experience of women in various walks of life. Abuelrous, who was born in Palestine, opened her shop on July 1, 2014, and runs it with her son Ash. 

What does your day look like before you begin work?

It’s hard because I wake up at 5:30 in the morning. I take a shower and get dressed and then come to work. Now, my son comes at 6:30 a.m. and I come in at 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. I don’t do anything before work because it’s too early. I stay here till 4:30-5 p.m. I do have two employees working, other than my son and myself. So you know, we are hoping to expand the business and then we will have two more. This way we will have more time for us to have a break and to have a day off. I want to give my son a vacation. We’ve been working seven days a week, no days off and maybe I’ll get a day off or my son will get half a day off.

On a traditional work day, what is usually the biggest obstacle you find yourself faced with?

I love my business. It’s been eight years and to be here for my community, it makes me feel like I want to keep going, no matter what I go through and the hard times I go through. I look at it this way. Life has to continue. I have to move on and I know that it is hard but at the same time, I feel like God always gives us the power to keep moving so for me, it was a hard time when my husband passed away and coming back to work, it was so hard. A lot of memories. He used to come and help me at the shop. He used to come and have breakfast every morning with me, drinking our coffee together, chit-chat for half an hour, and then he would go back to his work and then I would continue my work. We would meet together at home at night.

It’s hard. It’s not easy. But I always believe that if God wants somebody, he will take him. But he is still alive with us, he can see us and he can watch me and my son and my business growing everyday and I think that we built this business together and I’m going to continue working and working and making it more successful. And giving all my heart, that’s my motivation for my business. 

Where do you find meaning in your work?

The love from the customer and the community. You know, when people come to you every morning and you see them every morning, this means a lot. Recently, we had a customer, him and his wife. They came to my shop and got married two days ago. They came and shared their happiness and they told us about their story. This is how you become close to your customers. And people share when their babies are born, they share their happiness when they get married, their sadness when they lose someone in their family. I have a lady who is 100 years old. She comes every single day to my shop, she loves Mexican hot chocolate and we chit chat with her. And she says she loves being here. This is what makes me continue—the love and support that I see every single day from customers.

Homeless people walk in and they reach in a trash can for food. I say, ‘Don’t touch it. Come inside and I’ll give you food.’ Homeless people, when they come, they say ‘Can I have a cup of coffee?’ and I told my son, ‘Nobody comes to my shop that wants food and coffee and you say no. Always give them food, always. Whatever it is—give it to them.’ So, people around you surround you with love. If you give it to them, they will give it back to you even for people that don’t have money to come and spend.

Lamea Abuelrous poses for a portrait at her coffee shop, Temo’s Cafe, in San Francisco, on April 29, 2022. Photo: Benjamin Fanjoy

How has your gender influenced your work?

Being a woman who owns her own business is not easy. You do a lot of things but I’ll be honest with you—being a woman who owns a business with this community, it’s unbelievable. The support I see, the love. Honestly, I never compare myself to a man business owner. But, if you have a good, strong personality, this is what will make you the same as the male business owner. If customers walk in and because you are a lady, and he tries to look at you as if you’re a lady and you’re not that strong, no. Women are very smart. They know how to handle men. It depends on your personality. I never compare myself to men. I never let it be a boundary, absolutely not. I always, always, look at myself and know I have to be strong. 

What day does your day look like after you leave the workplace?

I go for a walk for two hours. I didn’t have time to do my exercise before. I walk for five miles every single day. I used to go swimming at the park but now it’s cold so I’ll go back at the end of April. And then, after I finish, I go home and take a shower and have dinner with my kids. Go to bed early. Chit chat with my friends and family back home because it’s day time over here when it’s nighttime over there, in Palestine; they are on the Gaza Strip. That’s why I am strong. I’m Palestinian. I grew up in Palestine and came here when I was 18 and a half. I didn’t have a perfect childhood. We had the First Intifada when I was in fifth grade so I did home school. I got engaged, got married, and came here. It was so hard but sacrificing all that I did and working as hard as I did paid off. 

Lamea Abuelrous poses for a portrait at her coffee shop, Temo’s Cafe, in San Francisco, on April 29, 2022. Photo: Benjamin Fanjoy