You’ll still be able to find good food, good friends and good spirits at Ridgway’s, but you won’t be able to meet its owner Roy Ridgway there much longer.
After 37 years, Ridgway has sold his namesake diner in east Modesto’s Century Center. The 24-hour restaurant and lounge has been a signature Modesto stop since it opened in 1980. Known as much for its all-day food service as its faithful karaoke crowd, the eatery has become a local institution. You can practically test your Modesto longevity on your ability to recite its “Meet me at Ridgway’s” slogan verbatim.
But with his 10-year lease on the building up next spring, Ridgway said he realized he didn’t have another decade behind the cash register in him. So he is retiring and has sold the business to the former longtime owners of Sandy’s Sweet Shop on Coffee Road. He said the new owners have pledged to keep the name, staff and menu the same.
“It’s been emotional, I’ve been here 37 years. I was 30 when I came here,” Ridgway said. “It’s a very successful business so I didn’t want someone to come in and make wholesale changes. But there’s always something someone can do to make it better.”
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Ridgway’s has been a ritual for countless regulars — many who come in almost every day for breakfast, coffee and a chat with the long-serving waitstaff. It’s not uncommon to see three generations tucked around the table in one of the booths. Ask some of the servers, many who have been there for over 20 years, about Ridgway’s impending retirement and you might find a few tears.
“We’re upset because we’ll miss him because he has been a good boss,” said waitress Cathy Crisp, who has worked at Ridgway’s for 17 years. “But we’re also happy for him. We’re like a family here, the staff and the customers, were all intermingled in people’s lives.”
Diners have offered Ridgway a seemingly non-stop parade of shoulder pats and “We’ll miss yous.” The one thing comforting many of them is the new owner’s promise to keep things largely the same.
“I’m happy the won’t do major changes. I come here for the free coffee (something offered to all seniors with a meal order) just about every day,” said 85-year-old Modesto resident Lenvil McBrayer. “All of us with the gang here, a lot of old regulars and friends, we’re close friends with Roy. We used to hang out in the bar, but we don’t do that anymore.”
The bar, which Ridgway built out along with the current dining room and attached banquet room more than 30 years ago, has remained a solid attraction. Take a right from the entryway instead of a left and you are transported to a darkened karaoke paradise seven nights a week. The same two deejays have been running the show for close to 20 years. The bar holds about 50 and a group of some 20 to 30 diehards comes nearly every night.
In fact, chances are over the last 20 years if you’ve ever had a spur-of-the moment urge to do some karaoke during a night out on the town you wound up either at Ridgway’s or its Century Center neighbor Torii Japanese Steakhouse.
Just as consistent as its karaoke has been its menu. While Ridgway’s has ventured into healthier fare like fresh salmon, it is comfort food staples like biscuits and gravy and chicken fried steak, made from scratch, that are perennial favorites.
Back in 1999, Ridgway expanded out to Oakdale with a second restaurant. That lasted about eight years before closing. Through it all Ridgway has been a consistent presence, greeting customers by name. When he began looking around for a buyer about a year and a half ago, Ridgway said some people wanted to turn it into a sports bar or even tear it down. But then he found Meng Liev and her daughter Barbara Pang, who had run Sandy’s Sweet Shop for more than 30 years.
“They’re a family with Modesto roots and customers have known them for many years as well,” Ridgway said. “So that’s good to hear.”
The final sale is still pending and the liquor license is in the process of being transferred to the new owners. Ridgway expects everything to go through by mid-to-late September. And then he plans to stick around for a few weeks to help with the transition.
After that he will retire to the Monterey area with his wife, Claudia. But they’re also keeping a house in Modesto so they can visit their combined 13 grandkids and other family still in the area.
“I sure hope (Ridgway’s) continues and I know I’ll be here in town and want to enjoy it as a customer now,” Ridgway said. “I don’t think there are any strangers here.”