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A west Santa Rosa neighborhood's transformation from what was the seedy Lower Fourth to a bustling Railroad Square is often credited to a spunky entrepreneur, Nan Taylor Mishkin.

With no experience owning and running a restaurant, or any business for that matter, Mishkin opened the Omelette Express in 1977.

The breakfast joint was a quick success, allowing Mishkin to expand what she'd imagined as a take out place into a full restaurant, said her son, Don Taylor, who with his wife Laura took over running the business in 1987.

"What I'm proud of is that she went into it fairly blind and decided that if she worked hard, she'd have a chance," Taylor said. "It turns out that in 1977 there just weren't enough places to have breakfast."

Mishkin was traveling with a son, Jeff Taylor, when she died Dec. 4 in Mumbai, India from pulmonary fibrosis. She was 72.

She was born Oct. 15, 1938 in Stevens, Va. She grew up on her family's apple orchard and shortly after high school married an Air Force pilot, Don Taylor, who grew up in the same Virginia town.

Mishkin moved from her husband's Georgia military base to the Bay Area after Taylor was deployed to Vietnam. The couple, who later divorced, had three sons.

With stints in Virginia, Georgia, Hawaii, the Bay Area and other places, Mishkin and her family landed in Tiburon after she married Don Burke, who had been a 49ers linebacker in the 1950s, Taylor said.

Mishkin's brother bought her share of the family's Virginia property in the 1970s, giving her a small inheritance that was just enough to start a business.

She took a gamble when she bought Evans Market on Fourth Street, a small bodega where the neighborhood drunks could buy "crackers, cheese spread, Ripple and Alka Seltzer," according to a 1999 article by Press Democrat Columnist Gaye LeBaron .

She opened the restaurant about a year later, though one of the market's regulars would wander in each day expecting to get a nip of Ripple, and be surprised daily that the market was now a restaurant, Taylor said.

"In 1977, Railroad Square was a pretty rough little neighborhood," Taylor said. "My mother came up with what would arguably be considered a hair-brained idea at the time."

The restaurant's success brought other businesses to the burgeoning area. La Gare French Restaurant opened in 1979. Soon after, Paul Quatrocchi opened Old Town Furniture. Others followed.

"Once there was a successful restaurant there, it was easy for someone to say, &‘I'll take a chance,'" Taylor said. "Railroad Square is extremely successful now, and there are a lot of people who had a lot to do with that, but my mother certainly played her part."

In 1985, Mishkin married Archie Mishkin, who owned and renovated the Great Bombay Trading Company building on Fourth Street east of Highway 101.

After about a decade running from the kitchen to the front, greeting customers and doing about every job the business required, Mishkin and her husband moved to Sun Valley, Idaho and handed the restaurant over to her son.

"That's the secret to any successful business: if you don't enjoy what you do, it won't work," Taylor said. "She loved meeting people, she loved running the place, she'd get back there in the kitchen and make sandwiches."

Mishkin's family held memorial services Saturday where she was buried not too far from Ernest Hemingway at the Ketchum Cemetery District in Hailey, Idaho, her son said.

In addition to her son, Mishkin is survived by her husband, Archie Mishkin of Sun Valley, Idaho; sons Frank Taylor of Santa Rosa and Jeff Taylor of Seattle, Wash.; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

- Julie Johnson