June 3, 2008

Scrambl'z restaurants close unexpectedly

Scrambl'z Kountry Kitchen, a pair of restaurants in Modesto and Turlock, have closed with no warning to customers or employees.

Imitiaz Ahmad, owner of both restaurants, said slow sales were to blame for the closures, which went into effect Monday.

"I've lost about $1 million on everything," said Ahmad, of Fremont. "I feel bad, spending all that time and effort for nothing."

Vehicle after vehicle filled with would-be patrons Monday morning turned away after seeing a sign on the front door that said Scrambl'z Kountry Kitchen in Modesto was closed until further notice. There was a lock on the door of the restaurant at 1445 McHenry Ave.

Both Scrambl'z outlets are former Lyon's restaurants. Ahmad bought them in 2002 and eventually converted them to Scrambl'z.

At Scrambl'z in Modesto, busboy Rudy Reynoso was surprised by the closure.

"I worked yesterday, nobody told me we would be closed," said Reynoso, who worked at Scrambl'z in Modesto throughout its three-year existence. "The business is good. I think it will be okay."

Erik Vikjord, the restaurant's head server, said he worked during the closing shift Sunday and worried that the restaurant might close.

Though he said business had been strong lately, Scrambl'z wasn't getting its regular shipments, and employees in Turlock were behind on paychecks.

"All of us employees, we're very tight with one another," said Vikjord, who'd worked at Scrambl'z about a year. "We're very sad for each other."

Vikjord and other employees said they're owed about two weeks' pay.

Ahmad, who said he plans to file for bankruptcy protection, said he was unsure whether Scrambl'z employees would receive final paychecks and other compensation.

"We'll see what the attorneys say," he said.

A regular Modesto customer said traffic appeared to be slow the last time she'd visited, two weeks ago.

"I think we were one of about three families in the place," said Jodi Reynosa, 34, of Modesto. She and her daughter had planned to eat breakfast at Scrambl'z on Monday.

"It's kind of a little tradition for us," she said, adding that she went there about twice a month.

The Modesto restaurant was converted to a Scrambl'z in 2005 and had about 20 employees. The Turlock restaurant, at 1601 W. Main St., became a Scrambl'z in late 2006 and employed about 15.

The Modesto Scrambl'z is the third restaurant on that stretch of McHenry Avenue to close within the past year, after Mallard's in McHenry Village and Acapulco Restaurant south of Orangeburg Avenue.

The co-owner of El Faro, a Mexican restaurant a block south of Scrambl'z, said she's seeing hard times as well.

"It's terrible. I think everybody is just living off their credit card," said Deo Oliveira. "I've advertised and done coupons, and I don't see those coupons coming in."

Oliveira said slow business is compounded by food prices rising across the board. When she recently left for three weeks, she said, the price for a bag of beans rose by $6.

"You can't pay the bills, and you have to cut your labor," she said. "And we're closing earlier because the customers aren't there."

The closure of Scrambl'z came the same day the city of Modesto announced that the restaurant was being honored along with others for participation in a pilot food waste recycling program.

Other restaurants on that list include Aqua Shi, which closed last month.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at or 578-2331.

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