Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
There's an awesome little six-lane bowling alley tucked into the heart of the Mission.
In this episode, we get to know Molly Bradshaw, owner of Mission Bowling Club. Molly traces her steps from coastal Mendocino to Citrus Heights when she was in second grade. She spent the rest of her youth in the Sacramento area, eventually going to punk shows in Sacto and at Gilman in Berkeley.
Molly's grandparents came to California in the Great Migration to work in Richmond. Some of her ancestors lived in Berkeley, some in East Oakland, and Molly would spend summers in the East Bay.
After high school, she wanted to go to college and be independent. She lived in what was then known as Squaw Valley (now Palisades Tahoe) for a summer, went to grad school from 1997 to 1999 in Seattle, then moved back to the Bay and started bartending.
Around 2007/2008, Molly opened Mini Bar with some friends. In Part 1, she speaks fondly of Divisadero and its history. She and her fellow owners of Mini Bar did lots of community outreach before opening, and we think the fact that the bar continues to be a popular meeting spot 15 years later speaks to those efforts.
In Part 2, we begin with the decision to open MBC. Molly had known her friend Sommer Peterson since high school, and Sommer had a long history in her family with bowling. The idea was hatched in 2010, and on Jan. 1, 2011, the two signed their lease. Molly acknowledges help they got from joints like Albany Bowl and Serra Bowl and we pay homage to Sea Bowl in Pacifica, which had announced its closing the day before we recorded.
They had looked at a couple other spots around The City before settling in the Mission. The location was formerly Centennial Electrical Distribution, and it needed lots of work right off the bat to get it ready to be a bowling alley. Molly is quick to acknowledge that the vision was there from the beginning, mostly from Sommer. From the outset, they paid special attention to service and detail, wanting people to feel that they didn't necessarily have to bowl to have a good time at MBC.
The kitchen was another new aspect of running a business for Molly, and they got Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese Food as a food partner early on. They opened their doors in March 2012, 14 months after signing the lease.
The conversation then touches on folks who've worked at MBC then gone on to open places of their own. The partial list includes: Victory Hall and Parlor, Casements (S3E47), Brass Tacks, North Light in Oakland, and Mothership.
Then we talk about the pandemic. Molly's background in public health helped, and they used time when they had to close to the public to clean and paint. Because MBC needs all four elements—food, drink, bowling, and events—to operate, they didn't fully reopen until March 2021. Molly credits her crew, who she says were great through it all.
We end this episode with a tease of something we're cooking up for late summer, and then Molly's thoughts on what a rebirth of San Francisco could look like.
We recorded this episode at Mission Bowling Club in March 2023.