Biz Beat

An end for a Modesto landmark; holiday season brings more jobs

Server Jenifer McGaffee takes an order from members of the Scarbough and Modares families at Farmer’s Catfish House in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.
Server Jenifer McGaffee takes an order from members of the Scarbough and Modares families at Farmer’s Catfish House in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. aalfaro@modbee.com

It’s not often someone comes in to tell me he is closing his business.

But that’s what happened recently, when Tom Watkins stopped by to talk about his 35 years of running Farmer’s Catfish House on Beckwith Road in Modesto. He wanted to be sure his customers got the news in time to visit one last time before the closure Oct. 30.

“I want to tell them it was nice working with them and serving them,” said Watkins, who has run the restaurant with his wife, Dolores. Farmer’s Catfish House truly was a family affair, with the Watkins’ children and grandchildren also working there over the years.

“We won’t make it for the great-grandchildren,” Watkins said with a smile.

Watkins said he never actually intended to get into the restaurant business. “We signed a note for my brother-in-law,” he said. “One Friday, he packed up and went back to Mississippi.”

That left Watkins and his wife to learn how to run a restaurant; something they obviously did quickly, given the continued success of the place over the years.

With its off-the-beaten-path location and homespun look, Farmer’s Catfish House is a bit of a throwback. The restaurant doesn’t even have a Facebook page, not that it needs it. Reviews on Yelp are overwhelmingly positive, with folks commenting on the charm of the restaurant, the warmth of the owners and the quality of the food.

Says one: “Oh my gosh, I just returned from this restaurant and I ate my weight in catfish, spicy shrimp and a crawdad enchilada.”

I asked Watkins why he is closing now. He said he planned on doing it earlier, actually. “We sold the property two years ago,” he said. “The new owner gave us two years’ free rent.”

Watkins said as he approaches his 80th birthday, the time has come to close – not that he is planning on slowing down much. He has talked with a local pastor about creating a program to help feed the homeless.

“I can’t just sit there and watch that TV,” he said.

For the rest of the month, find Farmer’s Catfish House at 4937 Beckwith Road, Modesto. Call 209-526-0969. The restaurant is open from 3 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.


Elsewhere around the Business Beat:

With my background in retail, of course I was aware that the holiday seasonal hiring season has started – I wrote about it last month.

But it’s not just the people who sell electronics, toys and such who are gearing up for their busy season. My colleague John Holland, who writes about all things agriculture for The Modesto Bee, confirmed that turkey processing season is about to kick into high gear – Thanksgiving being just around the corner.

To that end. Foster Farms is hiring at its Turlock plant. A hiring fair will be held Friday at the plant, 500 F St., from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 6 p.m. Candidates will be interviewed on the spot; positions are open on all shifts. For more information, call 209-656-5601.

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