The Nines, a Modesto restaurant with upscale aspirations, has been subtracted from the downtown dining scene.
The Nines promised to bring a touch of San Francisco culinary excellence and flashy Las Vegas style to Motown -- featuring fresh seafood, dry-aged steaks, specialty cocktails and eclectic decorator accents. But The Nines was never a "10" with enough diners to add up to success.
After just a few months of operation, the owner cut back operations to Friday and Saturday nights. Severely curtailing restaurant hours is never a good sign and makes it even tougher to attract new diners. The restaurant's closure a short time later almost went unnoticed.
Now some will say Modesto just wasn't ready for a restaurant like The Nines, but don't you believe it. The city is home to some excellent fine dining restaurants. So, if you're going to compete with them, you'd better be able to deliver on food quality and service. And you'd better be able to do it consistently.
Depending on who you talk to, The Nines was paying a premium in monthly rent for its prominent downtown site, which didn't leave much room for error. It seemed to get off to a good start, but then faded. Diners said food quality and service didn't live up to the hype, fatal flaws for a place charging those upscale prices. Whether it's Modesto or San Francisco, diners who pay a lot for a meal expect a lot -- seems fair. If a restaurant expects to keep folks coming back for more, the food quality and service had better justify the cost each and every time: consistency, consistency, consistency.
That was the key to success at Mallard's for all those years. If you ordered a Brook's Caesar salad in June, you could be sure it would be just as good when you went back in July. Of course, that changed at Mallard's when the Sang family took over. When those owners started cutting back on food quality and staffing, Mallard's future was in doubt.
It's a tribute to the Mallard's staff that it stayed afloat as long as it did. Unfortunately, it was those dedicated employees who got hammered because business as usual under the Sangs was no way to do business. The good news is there's still a strong market for good restaurant employees in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere.
Don't be surprised to see a national chain take over Mallard's McHenry Village site, although the building might have to be razed because, as Dan Costa has said, it's too big for today's restaurant formats.
As for the vacant Nines spot, it likely will attract plenty of interest. After all, its 10th and J streets location anchors one end of Tenth Street Plaza. But it has been home to Sharkey's Crab Shack, The (no shark) Crab Shack and Taqueria El Compadre. None of them had any more success than The Nines.
Let's hope the site doesn't end up like the old Big Yellow House restaurant on McHenry Avenue. After that business failed in the 1990s, the building became a restaurant graveyard: J.R. Maxwell's, Daily's Dining Emporium, Rock 'n' Roll Diner, Kodiak Inn, Charlie's and Sweetriver Saloon. Then in 2000, El Palomar moved in and made a go of it there.
If another restaurant moves into the not-so-hot Nines spot, it had better be the right concept, at the right price point, with a tenant-friendly lease -- given today's economy, anything less won't add up to success, either.
For pet lovers, Skraps in McHenry Village was a source of special treats for their animals, not mere lunch or dinner leftovers. Now they will have to go elsewhere to get such goodies because the business has closed.
The independently owned and operated shop opened in 2003 as a canine boutique and bakery. It was known for its freshly baked treats, featuring ingredients such as peanut butter, apple and cinnamon. They were made to look like cupcakes, cookies and other types of pet-friendly people food. The store also carried all kinds of canine products, from leashes, collars and toys to tiny sweaters, beds and dishes.
No word on what happened or whether it will resurface elsewhere at some point. But one thing is certain, the skraps some pets are getting these days aren't nearly so tasty -- that's probably why my spoiled mutt, Toby, is whining. Or maybe its because I won't turn on his electric blanket. Don't ask.
Washington Mutual recently opened a new branch at
3430 Tully Road in Modesto.
A national banking chain, WaMu, as it's often called, offers a full line of business and personal services, from checking and lending to ATM and online banking. Other services include free checking, cash back for debit card purchases, low-balance alerts and ID theft services.
The new Modesto office features WaMu's retail store concept, with staff stationed at "teller towers" -- an open, circular layout designed to promote more personal service and make bankers more approachable.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 236-1280 or go to www.wamu.com.
Have an item for Business Beat? Send it to David W. Hill, Business Editor, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352; or firstname.lastname@example.org.