Biz Beat

A review of the year in Modesto business and look toward big new projects ahead

The new year will bring several new, high-profile projects to the Central Valley. Among them are the new Buckhorn BBQ (pictured) and Panera Bread restaurants at the Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto, Calif. Work has begun on both.
The new year will bring several new, high-profile projects to the Central Valley. Among them are the new Buckhorn BBQ (pictured) and Panera Bread restaurants at the Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto, Calif. Work has begun on both. mrowland@modbee.com

Nostalgia and new beginnings were king this year when it came to the valley’s biggest business developments.

Some longtime Modesto favorites were revived, while other prominent sites were reborn in 2017. And looking forward to 2018, some big new ventures are already being eagerly anticipated.

On the restaurant front vintage Modesto establishments like Smoky’s and Gervasoni’s both reopened recently after years away (in Smoky’s case after 14 years, and in Gervasoni’s after two). And so far both have been greeted with enthusiastic and grateful diners. Another venerable Modesto brand, St. Stan’s Brewery, made its own comeback. When it was first founded in 1984 the craft brewery was on the vanguard of the fledgling microbrew movement. But then the company and attached restaurant saw several ownership changes and it stopped brewing in 2013. Two new owners bought the brand, its recipes and brought it back to downtown Modesto this summer.

Even the Copper Rhino, a premiere nighttime hotspot in downtown Modesto in the early 2000s, returned as the CR2 bar in north Modesto this summer. Everything old is new again, it seems.

But not every new development was a sequel. Some high-profile spaces that had sat empty, some for years, also got new leases on life.

For 15 years the Fat Cat Music House & Lounge hosted some of the biggest names in entertainment in downtown Modesto before its closure in 2016. This fall it was given new purpose as the Heart & Soul Coffee shop, owned by The House Modesto church.

The downtown Modesto grocery void was finally filled with the opening of the new Smart & Final Extra! in August. The anchor spot in the Shops at Lincoln School center had been vacant for three years since the Save Mart on H Street closed. The new, larger Smart & Final replaced its old Ninth Street location and has bigger fresh produce, meat and deli sections for shoppers. The new grocery store was accompanied by new restaurants, too, including Bob’s Giant Burgers and the return of Round Table Pizza. The complex has been jam packed with cars and customers since.

And then there’s the new 29 Degrees Sports Bar & Grill, which opened this summer in a vacant J Street space with a colorful history. It was once Modesto’s Sports Bar & Grill and before that the Ibiza nightclub and before that The Blue Tattoo bar and before that the Christian bookstore Theopolis and before that the health club Downtown Fitness and before that the billiards hall Pockets.

Of course not every new business was a retread or a return. Turlock got its first Hobby Lobby, which opened in Monte Vista Crossings in September. Regional restaurant chains Dos Coyotes and the Habit Burger also opened this year in the popular Turlock shopping complex. In Modesto’s bustling Village One Plaza the Squeeze In made an immediate impression when it opened this summer. The breakfast and lunch spot is known for its eclectic decor and enormous menu. Speaking of enormous, their Bloody Mary with half a grilled cheese sandwich on top is not to be missed. Also new in Village One neighborhood is the new Rusty Red Grill from veteran Modesto restauranteur Jack Odicho, who founded Papachino’s.

With all these openings, there were some closures, too. Longtime area establishments shut their doors for the last time, including Landon’s in Riverbank after 70 years and Mitri’s Rugs in Modesto after 29 years. Ridgway’s restaurant owner and namesake Roy Ridgway sold his signature business after 37 years and is now enjoying a well-earned retirement.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sudden passing of Do Good Distillery founder and all-around good guy Jim Harrelson. In August the Modesto native and former sheriff’s deputy was felled by a heart attack. But his craft distillery lives on through his wife, Liz Harrelson, and family.

As we turn the page on an eventful 2017, the new year and all its new developments are already busting out.

A new Panera and a Buckhorn Grill California BBQ will be coming to Vintage Faire Mall. Work has begun on both and they should be open in early 2018. In Ceres the sleek new Blaker Brewing will open its craft beer taproom later this month. And in Turlock the long-planned and massive Ten Pin Fun Center is finally taking shape and set to open in the spring.

But when it comes to the very first new eatery of 2018, a little cinnamon-colored birdie has told me it’s gonna be crazy.

Sorry, make that krazy, as in Krazy Rolls. After some personnel issues caused a delay from its planned December opening, the new cinnamon roll bakery on 10th Street will open its doors Jan. 2. I will make it my New Year’s resolution to bring you a full preview of its sweet treats later this week. I know, 2018 is already looking up.

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