A grocer that sells 600 piñatas a month. A downtown salon and spa that offers everything from couples’ massages to comfort tea. An events center that recently opened to cater to the needs of people looking to celebrate downtown. And a restaurant known for some of the best seafood in town.
My colleague Brian Clark and I got to visit these places recently after Maggie Mejia, a longtime area resident — and former Modesto Bee employee — called up and offered a tour of some of the latest developments among Latino-owned businesses in the area.
First up, Mercado y Dulceria Mexico. Located in the Tillie Lewis Business Park on Ninth Street, the business started as what it’s called — a candy store. Since brothers Jesus and Jorge Tovar opened the store in January 2016, it’s expanded once and is in the midst of another expansion. They are adding more refrigerated space and are bringing in American candy, too.
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Here, you can find everything from comals (griddles) to cowboy boots from Mexico to an R2-D2 piñata. And, of course, nearly every kind of Mexican candy you can imagine. I spotted tequila-filled chocolates that definitely merit a return trip.
“We want to be a one-stop shop,” Jesus Tovar said. The brothers had been looking to open a retail business after operating as wholesalers of Mexican candy for 20 years. They looked in other areas of Northern California, but settled on Modesto as a prime location. Now they bring in customers from Sacramento to Fresno.
Next, we moved on to the Erin Milan Salon. Owners Erin Sonia Bugarin and her husband, Sergio, have operated the salon in the DoubleTree hotel on Ninth Street for 2 1/2 years. They are soon expanding into the space next door and will be operating a hair extension bar in addition to services like hair coloring, manicures and pedicures.
“I love being downtown,” Sonia Bugarin said. “People feel like they’re in the city.”
With the connection to the hotel, “We see people from all over the world,” including traveling nurses and executives for Gallo winery who stay there.
For Sonia, the pull to go into the beauty industry came naturally. “I studied to be an accountant,” she said. But with her mother a longtime hairdresser, Sonia found herself in salons regularly. And she said she enjoys giving guests both a new look and a relaxing experience.
Our third stop was at the Red Event Center, operated in a former warehouse on Eighth Street. It is operated by Fernando and Berta Arredondo, who also own the Tacos Jessica taco trucks down the street. So you know the food that comes out of their kitchen is pretty good.
Since it opened in 2014, the event center has hosted weddings, quinceañeras and other celebrations and events. The Modesto Police Department recently conducted a three-day training there, Mejia said.
The site is convenient for people who are bringing in guests from out of town. The Arredondos said they are happy with how business is going. One change — though it is still called the Red Event Center, much of the red paint that originally accented the place is gone. It clashed with some of the wedding colors, Mejia said. The center is now mostly white, hung with draping fabric and walls that can be closed off to suit the needs of renters.
Finally, we visited Guayabitos on Kansas Avenue. Formerly the Café Orleans restaurant, Guayabitos is owned by Alejandra Muñoz of Livingston. She recently applied to the city to host live music once a month and karaoke weekly.
It’s great to see locally owned businesses in Modesto thriving and growing. My thanks to Maggie and to Marco Moreno, who took us on our tour.
Elsewhere around the Business Beat:
The Nestlé Toll House Café has opened at Vintage Faire Mall. As I reported earlier this year, the restaurant moved into the upper-level location formerly occupied by Gloria Jean’s coffee.
According to a press release, the café offers “freshly baked cookies, customized cookie cakes, a wide assortment of freshly baked confections, ice creams, smoothies and cold beverages. The café is also a delicious lunch option thanks to its wide array of savory offerings, including panini sandwiches, wraps and flatbreads.”
“I invite everyone from the local area to come by and see our beautiful new café,” franchisee Mohammad Bhuiyan said in the release. “We’ll be waiting with our signature, freshly baked treats and a warm, welcoming environment.”