SAN MATEO -- In the very same structure where her father once locked horns with Big Oil, Cathy Oyster may soon be handing out espressos and smoothies.

Oyster and her husband, Carlos Lopez, are seeking the city of San Mateo's approval to expand Espresso Lane, their Redwood City drive-through coffee business, to a property on El Camino Real that formerly housed a gas station run by her father. Bob Oyster shuttered the station four years ago after clashing with Shell Oil over the company's rent hikes.

The coffee kiosk would be the first of its kind in San Mateo and a new beginning for the Oysters, who reached an agreement with Shell two years ago to buy the lot. It sits on a 20th Avenue corner, just south of Highway 92 and less than half a mile from City Hall and Serra High School.

"It's just kind of a key location in San Mateo," said Cathy Oyster, who envisions a steady demand for frozen yogurt and smoothies from students at Serra as well as two nearby public high schools. "The site could not be better."

Her father thinks it will be a good spot for snaring commuters getting on and off Highway 92. It was a nice place for a gas station, too, until Shell more than tripled Bob Oyster's rent. So he jacked up his gas prices, both to make ends meet and protest the rent increase. He was known for having some of the highest prices in the Bay Area.

The elder Oyster is now retired, and he prefers not to rehash the dispute. He's more interested in his daughter's growing career as a businesswoman.


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"It did end on a sour note, and now it's coming back as something I can enjoy again," said Bob Oyster, 73. "I'm so happy that what was my mine for almost 30 years is now my daughter's, and I'm looking forward to seeing her flourish there."

Besides the original Espresso Lane, Cathy Oyster and her husband also own Young's Ice Cream & Candy Bar in downtown Redwood City. But before they can open a second coffee kiosk, they will need to secure a special-use permit from the San Mateo Planning Commission.

The drive-through is not a perfect fit with the city's long-term plan for El Camino Real, which envisions a pedestrian-friendly corridor lined with multistory buildings that combine retail and housing. Still, the project received a mostly favorable response from the commission at a preliminary review Jan. 23.

"Does it really do what we're hoping to see in the grand picture of the El Camino?" asked Commissioner Rick Bonilla. "Not exactly. But I don't think that all of El Camino, every single lot, is really going to conform to that anyway, maybe not for 100 years."

Drive-through coffee is a rarity in the San Mateo area, but it's taken hold in Redwood City and other spots on the Peninsula. It's an alluring option, Cathy Oyster said, for multitaskers or parents with kids strapped into car seats.

"We have tons of customers who are listening to something going on in their life, a phone call or music or a radio show, and we let them do two things at once," said Cathy. "Our idea is you have your own symphony to life -- we don't alter your rhythm at all."

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.