Anyone who asks to use the phone at Minnie's will be pointed in the direction of a rotary dial telephone in a corner.
That, co-owner Peter Mah said, is part of the point, that stepping into Minnie today is the same experience as it was nearly 60 years ago when his parents and their partners opened the Chinese restaurant on McHenry Avenue.
"We've kept the same atmosphere and the same menu," said Mah, 52. "Well, we have made a few additions over the years."
Customers seem to share his view. Reviewers online appreciate the restaurant's history, inexpensive tropical drinks and dark feel, though a couple complain about service that can be brusque and say it's a better place for a night out with friends than a family restaurant.
Mah disagrees with the last part of that assessment.
"We have families who have been coming here for years," he said. "Now their children and grandchildren are coming here and the babies are running around."
Mah and his brother Stuart took over the restaurant in the 1970s, when their father died. He said it has been a labor of love to operate the longest-running family-owned restaurant in Modesto.
Though the Mahs were young when they started, the restaurant came with an experienced staff.
"There's no turnover here," said Mah. "Some of the employees were with my dad for over 20 years."
That's still the case. Diane Marcuerquiaga has served drinks in the Minnie's bar for 20 years. The first 14 were as part-time help.
"It's like a big family here," she said. "People come in and you know what they want to drink."
A few regulars lined the bar on a recent weekday afternoon. As each came in, the others would greet him or her by name.
"It's a different place here during the day than on weekend nights," Marcuerquiaga said.
Mah agreed. For years, Minnie's has been packed on Friday and Saturday nights.
Although he cultivates the sense of history, Mah has added amenities to keep up with customer desires. Among them are a Web site and Facebook presence and a patio with a tiki bar.
Mah said he originally envisioned the patio as a building addition, but any structural work on Minnie's, a converted 100-year-old house, would require installing fire sprinklers and other work to bring the building up to current codes.
"The patio's been great," he said. "It's a nice place to sit and have a drink."
Like most restaurants, Minnie's has suffered with the recession. Mah said he sees the big difference on weekday nights.
"It seems like people are saving up to do things on the weekend more than during the week," he said. "Everybody's looking for a bargain."
The building is paid for, so the Mahs can absorb the ups and downs of business more than restaurateurs who have to pay a lease or mortgage. Mah said he's proud that Minnie's pays the bills for the 20 or so people who work there.
He's been trying some ideas recently, such as a brunch the last Sunday of the month, to retain customers and draw new ones. A trip to AT&T Park to see the San Francisco Giants play -- and check out the garlic fries -- resulted in new garlic shrimp and calamari dishes on the menu.
Mah said he remains happy at what he does, and he's developed a good partnership with his brother and strong relationships with longtime employees and customers.
"There are a lot of good feelings here," Mah said. "A lot of heart here."
On the Net:
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2343.