Biz Beat

April 12, 2014

Business Beat: On art, wine and gourmet food trucks

Melinda Stephens has opened a business called VanGogh and Vino. It’s just what it sounds like – an evening of art and wine. But instead of viewing or appreciating the art, customers make it. And while they do, they have a glass of wine.

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One of the nifty things about this job is learning about all the new businesses coming to town. And I recently heard about one of the more intriguing ideas.

Melinda Stephens has opened Van Gogh and Vino. It’s just what it sounds like – an evening of art and wine. But instead of viewing or appreciating the art, customers make it. And while they do, they have a glass of wine.

Stephens, a longtime artist, doesn’t just give you the tools to make a painting; she walks you through it and, step by step, makes the same painting. I recently attended a session – Stephens has them every month or so at area restaurants – to see how it works. The evening I went, Van Gogh and Vino met at Greens in downtown Modesto.

Several of the women who signed up had artistic backgrounds, but Stephens insisted that isn’t necessary. One of her customers quickly agreed, saying she has no artistic ability but, by following along, has produced lovely paintings.

Stephens said it’s a nice way to spend an evening, a good alternative to dinner and a movie for a date night. She also does private events.

As I watched, each painting started to come into focus. They all looked a little different, but they all appeared, to my uneducated eye, very promising. And the wine looked pretty good, too.

Contact Stephens at (209) 402-7337 or check out her website,

Elsewhere around the Business Beat

• Dollar General continues its proliferation in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. The discount chain recently opened a store in Newman.

“Dollar General is committed to delivering a pleasant shopping experience that includes a convenient location, a wide assortment of merchandise and great prices on quality products,” Dan Nieser, Dollar General’s senior vice president of real estate and store development, said in a news release. “We hope our Newman customers will enjoy shopping at Dollar General’s new location.”

The company said each time it opens a store, it employs about 10 people. The new store is at 1930 N St.

• Coldwater Creek issued some bad news Friday to customers. The clothier, which has a store in the shops at Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and will begin the process of closing its stores. According to the company’s website, it’s business as usual for now; closing sales will be scheduled “at a later date.”
• Though he doesn’t get the ink that his Christmastime counterpart does, the Easter Bunny is cause for excitement when he shows up every year. And though Easter is still a week away, you can go see the Easter Bunny, and get a photo with him, at Vintage Faire Mall. The Easter Bunny has taken over a spot in Center Court, where he’ll be available for photos. Unlike Santa, the Easter Bunny doesn’t have elves, but he does have helpers who handle photo sales.
• And finally, I spoke this week with a caterer and instructor at the Institute of Technology culinary school in Modesto. Hank Olson is chasing a dream, and he wants some help. He’s turned to Kickstarter, an online fundraising tool, to gather investors for a gourmet food truck.

Olson said he started cooking at 15 for a Foster Farms restaurant on Coffee Road. And, through stints in Chicago and the Bay Area, he’s been cooking ever since. For the past six years, he’s worked at the Institute of Technology and had his own catering business.

Four days in, Olson had about 23 percent of his $18,000 goal. He has a month to get the rest.

You can find him at Search projects in Modesto and find the “Food Fix Truck.”

He envisions a gourmet food truck. “I’ll make everything from scratch,” he said. It’s been a growing trend, and Olson thinks it’s only beginning. As for latching onto the Kickstarter trend, he said “it’s not going to hurt to give it a shot.”

Looking at the food Olson makes, after a long morning with no lunch yet, left me famished. Sandwiches on homemade pretzel rolls, fresh chips, root beer pulled pork. I asked Olson to keep us posted on his progress. I, for one, could use a “fix.”

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