RIPON — It's a virtual institution in Ripon and a longtime favorite for hungry travelers on Highway 99, but the Barnwood Restaurant will close for good this month after 33 years.
"It's my baby, and it hurts to close it, but I can't do my job anymore," explained owner and chef John Mangelos.
Mangelos permanently injured his right shoulder in a fall last October, and this year he ripped his left shoulder's tendons. Now he can't lift anything, which makes it just about impossible to run his restaurant and catering service.
"I physically cannot handle the rigors of the day," the 58-year-old Ripon native said. "As a chef, I care about the food I serve. It's my name going out on every plate, and the food has to be correct."
So, rather than compromise, he'll close the 175-seat restaurant May 31. He promises to help his remaining 12 or so employees find jobs elsewhere.
Back when he was healthy and his sideline catering business was booming, Mangelos said, he had up to 125 employees.
Boarding up the Barnwood will be a big transition for him. Mangelos was fresh out of college when he (with his family's help) built and opened the place in 1980.
"I was supposed to go to law school, but I thought being an attorney would be really boring. I liked working in a restaurant," Mangelos recalled. So he got culinary training and pursued his passion.
He built the Barnwood out of just that: wood from old, wind-damaged barns that he had helped tear down during his youth. Those boards now line the restaurant's 12,000-square-foot interior.
Antiques and collectibles adorn the place, which is just off the east side of the highway at 338 E. Main St. in Ripon.
Visitors have described the decor as eclectic and quirky, and it's been known to display Mangelos' extensive collection of PEZ candy dispensers.
The menu, too, is a broad mix of American diner favorites, Greek entrees and specialties such as tempura pickles.
Mangelos knows the Barnwood has served thousands of breakfasts, lunches and dinners, but he's never added them all up.
His catering service, too, has fed thousands of diners, including many in exotic and ritzy places. That includes meals for parties during the Olympics in Athens, Salt Lake City and Turin, Italy, and at a turn-of-the-century New Year's Eve bash hosted by actors Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow in New York.
"I've had a lot of fun," Mangelos assured. "Now I'm looking to take the next step in my career. I'm too young to just sit at home or work in my garden."
Mangelos would like to use his culinary and restaurateur knowledge to start a consulting service. He's done a bit of that in the past, but he wants to do more.
As for the Barnwood building, Mangelos plans to lease it out: "I hope someone will be interested in opening a dinner house here."
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com.