If you’ve been in downtown Modesto recently you’ve no doubt walked past the large, attractive and closed storefront for the Cobblestone Bakery.
And you’ve no doubt craned your head to peek inside only to see its deserted dining space and bare display cases and wondered, “Hey, what’s up? Is this place closed for good?”
Well, maybe not. Owner Gerit Sand vows to bring the short-lived bakery back. After opening last August and then closing in December, Cobblestone has been an obtrusive absence along 11th Street since. Sand has maintained the restaurant’s large outdoor patio and inside the tables are still arranged neatly waiting for customers to fill them. But the front gate has remained firmly locked.
From my vantage point two doors down at The Bee’s offices, I’ve seen people walk by daily and look over to see what’s happening — or more like what isn’t happening.
On Tuesday Sand brought his business license with the City of Modesto into compliance – paying back fees. He said he is now focused on reopening – in possibly 30 to 60 days – but also remains open to selling the business. He said he still uses its kitchen to bake for his farmer’s market and catering businesses daily. His lease on the space runs through June 2020.
Last summer before the downtown site opened, Sand shuttered his other two area storefronts — the Cobblestone Bakery on Third Street in Riverbank and Country Market on Ladd Road in Modesto. While at the time he said they would both reopen, he now says they are closed for good and for sale.
Despite the consolidation, it’s been a rocky ride downtown. After saying he would open in July 2016, Sand took another year to complete what he said were interior renovations. Then it was going to open in early July 2017, but eventually opened in August. By December, it went dark.
Sand said staffing issues have been largely to blame for the closure, and that he opened prematurely and had rushed to meet demand without properly training his staff.
“I don’t think mistakes were made. I think (it was) my lack of understanding the restaurant front of the house industry,” Sand said. “It takes great customer service and fast service. That’s what employees downtown want.”
The downtown bakery’s Yelp ratings haven’t helped. Currently at 1.5 stars, Cobblestone has several complaints about its the quality of its service and food, and some about Sand specifically. Sand, in turn, responded online to a spate of reviews in late September and early October, arguing forcefully with more than half a dozen posters.
People who have identified themselves as former staff have posted about difficulties getting paid by Sand. He called some of those and other reviewers “fake and phony,” claiming they were either disgruntled ex-employees or representatives from nearby restaurants intent on sabotaging him.
Sand also swears his good Yelp reviews were being intentionally left out and believes his account was manipulated. Cobblestone’s Yelp page currently has 42 reviews up and has the shop accurately listed as “closed.”
Throughout Sand has continued to bake out of the site’s large commercial kitchen for the regional farmers markets he serves. For the past nine years, Sand has had booths at various Northern California farmers markets, largely in the East Bay, under the Cobblestone Bakery name. He is listed as a merchant for the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association and sells at its markets in Dublin, Martinez, Pleasant Hill and San Leandro. He does not sell at closer markets like Modesto or Turlock.
On Tuesday he showed off some freshly baked goods headed to Pleasant Hill. When Cobblestone opened in downtown Modesto, Sand said “everything is made from scratch on site,” but he now admits that some items like the turnovers are from premade, frozen dough which is baked off and finished in his ovens. In the kitchen and storage area, boxes from wholesale sellers like Orange Bakery and Artuso Pastry were visible on Tuesday. Still, he insists other things like the loaves of bread and cookies are from scratch.
He said he hopes to reopen Cobblestone no later than Aug. 1. If he does, expect a more scaled back menu. Before the eatery advertised everything from build-your-own sandwiches to pizza, paninis, quiches, soups, pasta salads and more than two dozen kinds of pastries and breads baked daily. He said he wants to focus on five to six varieties of sandwiches and salads each day, in addition to his pastry case selections.
He plans to be open for breakfast and lunch until 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and remain open later for small plate dinners Friday and Saturday nights.
The size of the space, 6,500 square feet with a capacity for 250 people, is another potential obstacle. For contrast, the nearby Fox Pub at the corner of 11th and I streets is about 4,700 square-feet. But Sand insists Cobblestone is “the perfect size for a bakery.”
So keep walking by and craning your neck and we’ll wait to see what bakes up.