If you want to meet some friends for brunch at My Garden Cafe, you’d better be specific — especially now.
The small, locally owned Central Valley-based chain of breakfast and lunch restaurants has just opened a new location in Turlock — it’s sixth overall. The mini-empire is helmed by Modesto resident Lisa Welch, whose family has a long history in restaurants in the region. It joins two My Garden Cafe sites in Modesto and one each in Ripon, Ceres and Sonora.
“I wish I could say I had this grand plan, but no I didn’t. I opened the first cafe and it was successful right out the gates. Then I found the other location in Modesto, and it just felt like it was a good fit. I feel like I have been really lucky in choosing the locations. And I thought the (Turlock) location was a good spot, this could work for us,” Welch said.
She opened her first My Garden Cafe on Main Street in Ripon in 2003 and it has expanded organically over the last 16 years. After that came the first restaurant in Modesto on Tully Road in 2007, then the Ceres spot on East Whitmore Avenue in 2009, next another Modesto spot on Oakdale Road in 2012, and Sonora on Mono Way in 2014.
The Turlock location opened in early May in a shopping center on the corner of Geer Road and Hawkeye Avenue, in the old Strings Italian Cafe space. The interior is now folksy and inviting, with signs and memorabilia hung on the walls. The menu is extensive and many of its most popular items, including the biscuits and homemade jams, are made from scratch daily.
Last summer Welch said she began looking into Turlock for a new location. Then Strings closed and by November they’d closed the deal on the approximately 3,000-square-foot corner space.
The Turlock location is also a homecoming of sorts for Welch, who graduated from Stanislaus State University with a business degree in 2003. While My Garden Cafe is her first restaurant, her grandparents and parents ran Welch’s Cafe, which moved from Salida to Modesto, when she was in grade school.
She decided to make her own restaurant a breakfast and lunch spot, like her family’s old place, because it makes scheduling and managing the kitchen easier for staff.
“I love it. We lock the doors at 2 o’clock and if you have kids they can go to school and you can be there for them. You can be home in the evening,” she said.
The menus at all the restaurants are identical, though the Oakdale Road site in Modesto has some grab-and-go and other specialty items because of its location inside the Five Minute Car Wash. The restaurants make their own corned beef, roasted turkey, tri-tip and more from scratch. They’re also known for their fresh-made strawberry and boysenberry jams, which they sell by the jar to take home if you just can’t get enough.
But their signature showstopper is the biscuits and chocolate gravy. Yes, you read that right, chocolate gravy. Welch says the recipe is one her family brought with them from Oklahoma. If the thought of eating a fluffy biscuit smothered in chocolate pudding with a healthy dollop of butter delights you, then you have found your happy place.
“People either love it or hate it,” she said.