Bring up the long-gone The Lunch Pail to certain folks and they’ll probably get a far-off look and mutter something about pie crusts.
But now fans of the former north Modesto restaurant, which closed eight years ago, don’t have to just dream about those pie crusts, they can come and get them fresh at chef/owner Bryan Ehrenholm’s new place. The man behind The Lunch Pail is back with The Stop Cafe on McHenry Avenue.
The new restaurant on the American Chevrolet car lot (I know, it’s odd, but go with it) is serving up baked treats, sandwiches, soups and more. The Stop Cafe opened at the start of August in the space of old The Pit Stop, a long-running restaurant owned by the dealership primarily for its customers and employees.
Now Ehrenholm is the chef and owner of the small spot, which serves scratch-made breakfast and lunch items to the public six days a week. While about one-sixth the size of his former Bangs Avenue space (which is now home to Smoky’s Neighborhood Grill), The Stop Cafe is already doing brisk business thanks to Ehrenholm’s reputation in the region and, you know, the food.
The Oakdale native learned to cook watching his grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Then in junior high, a few transposed numbers during class registration cemented his fate, as he was placed in home economics instead of wood shop.
His Lunch Pail, which was open from 2003 to 2011, sold some 80,000 pies a year. Before that, he ran Oakdale’s Bloomingcamp Ranch — so the man definitely knows his way around a crust. But after struggling through the Great Recession, he was finally forced to close his Modesto restaurant. He next spent seven years as executive chef for the Manteca Unified School District, and also taught at its vocational institute.
But his love for cooking directly for people never went away, and about a year ago, he started looking into reopening a place. Then, through a friend, he heard that the space at American Chevrolet might become available near his old stomping grounds.
“I just missed the restaurant business, and it was time to go back,” he said. “People had a lot of fond memories from The Lunch Pail.”
Ehrenholm and his five-person staff deliver on The Stop’s slogan, “Grab & Go Goodness,” with quick service and tasty offerings. You’ll find fresh scones, cookies, quiches, cinnamon rolls and more in the pastry case. There are also salads ($7.50), sandwiches ($7.50 to $9.99), soup of the day and a weekly Chef’s Choice special. And on Saturday’s only, you can come and get Ehrenholm’s hearty Biscuits & City Gravy ($6.50). Expect the menu to change seasonally.
The menu is simple by design in order to get people on their lunch break in and out in a flash. Just about everything is made in-house in the cafe’s 400-square-foot kitchen, except the sandwich bread, which is sourced from Genova Bakery in Stockton. The dining room has space for 25, with an additional eight seats outdoors.
Located in a separate building from the main dealership showroom and service building, The Stop Cafe is easily identifiable from its bright-red sign. Customers can even order inside the dealership from a kiosk. By the end of the month, the restaurant will also offer delivery through FoodJets.
While The Lunch Pail was famous for its homemade pies, Ehrenholm doesn’t have the room to make pies in his tiny kitchen. But he is selling fruit-pie turnovers and — wait for it — those pie crust crispies. At The Lunch Pail, he sold about 100 bags of the cinnamon-and-sugar slathered crunchies a day. You can buy them again by the bag for $5.25, and wow are they addictive.
The other thing The Lunch Pail was famous for was the hundreds and hundreds of vintage lunch boxes that adorned its walls. A few of them have made it into the new spot, as well as assorted personal memorabilia and cookbooks. The other 600 boxes are still in his garage. Another carryover from The Lunch Pail is the life-sized Betty Boop statue where you can find the menus.
But, for his longtime fans, the best part of The Stop Cafe is just having Ehrenholm back.
“People come here for the food, but he’s even better,” said Modesto resident Lynda Soares.
The Stop Cafe, 4742 McHenry Ave. in Modesto, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 209-338-3354 or visit www.facebook.com/TheStopCafeModesto.