Modesto’s Marie Callender’s restaurant closes abruptly; customers, employees shocked

After more than 36 years as a staple of northeast Modesto, Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery has closed its doors for good as its parent company filed for bankruptcy Monday.

A morning call to the Modesto restaurant, at Sylvan Avenue and Coffee Road, confirmed that as of Monday the eatery has shut down permanently. Perkins & Marie Callender’s Holding LLC, which operated the two national casual dining chains, has filed for Chapter 11 bank protection. According to Reuters, the company plans to sell off most of its assets.

By lunchtime Monday, people were being turned away at the restaurant’s door. Former staff members were on site, and handed out some of the last pies baked in its kitchen. Employees said they’d been notified Monday morning about the closure and loss of their jobs.

“I woke up to the call at 8 a.m. that all corporate buildings had been closed,” said cashier and hostess Dakota Wallers, who has worked at the Modesto restaurant for three years. “None of us were expecting this.”

She estimates that the location, which opened in March 1983, has between 40 to 60 employees, who have all been let go. Wallers said some of the employees have been working at the restaurant for 30 years, almost as long as it has been open.

Employees have been told that they will be paid through the end of the week and can then apply for unemployment benefits.

A few of her co-workers were called in by the Memphis-based company to clean up the restaurant, and several others showed up on their own, like Wallers, as a sign of moral support. The restaurant had a healthy brunch and lunch crowd, Wallers said, with many regulars who came back weekly.

She and other employees who had volunteered were breaking the news to customers as a steady stream of people walked up to the doors Monday.

“Most of our clients are older and regulars,” she said. “It’s been heartbreaking turning them away.”

The large restaurant had a capacity for 306, and sits in the Sylvan Square Shopping Center next to a Walgreens.

According to a statement released by the company, it was closing 19 Marie Callender’s locations and 10 Perkins sites, a family restaurant chain that largely serves the Midwest and East Coast, which were all “underperforming” as part of the restructuring and sale.

In the court declaration, Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Warne said the closures were due to rising costs, declining sales and both shortages of labor and high labor costs.

The chain now has 355 Perkins restaurants and 28 Marie Callender’s restaurants remaining, according to Reuters.

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Marijke Rowland writes about new business, restaurant and retail developments. She has been with The Modesto Bee since 1997 covering a variety of topics including arts and entertainment. Her Business Beat column runs midweek and Sundays. And it’s pronounced Mar-eye-ke.
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