Modesto, prepare your pie orders. Marie Callender’s is coming back.
When the longtime north Modesto restaurant and bakery was abruptly closed in early August because of its parent company’s bankruptcy, many loyal customers and fans of the chain’s famous pies were left bereft. And its 40 to 60 employees were left suddenly without a job.
But now, a new franchisee has stepped forward to reopen the Modesto location, bringing back the same look, menu and — of course — pies to the region. The national chain restaurant is set to return to the same Sylvan Avenue building, just off Coffee Road.
Jim Nelson, former Western states regional manager for Marie Callender’s, took over the Modesto franchise and another in Salt Lake City. He left the corporate side of the company to become a franchise owner, focusing on reopening restaurants that had been profitable before their shutdown.
The building is undergoing some repairs, mostly in the kitchen and back-of-house areas, and then should open to the public in about two weeks. Pie orders, Nelson said, could start as early as the end of next week.
“Most people who come through the door won’t even notice a difference,” he said. “I think some people who maybe didn’t know we closed will come in and eat and never even know. Why change what isn’t broke? The people loved it, and we’re going to keep it that way.”
The restaurant has already begun hiring staff, and is looking for more. Former Citrus Heights Marie Callender’s manager Luis Pinon, a 35-year veteran with the chain, was brought on board as manager. Job seekers are encouraged to stop by the site to apply between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. They plan to hire another two dozen employees for the restaurant’s regular crew, with 25 more brought on board for the busy holiday rush.
Inside the restaurant, it’s as if time stopped. The chairs and tables are all still there. Glassware hangs unused above the bar. The pie board still touts all the favorites, from lemon meringue to chocolate cream and pumpkin. Pinon said the food menu will be essentially the same, with a few less popular items pared back.
While the dining room will reopen mid-November, Nelson said, it will be a little longer for the bar to come back. The restaurant’s liquor license should come through by late November, early December.
Nelson was adamant that the restaurant and bakery reopen before the holiday season. The online ordering system for pies and the holiday feast may not be up and running by the time the restaurant reopens. But he said people can always place their orders in person or by phone instead.
After closing 19 Marie Callender’s sites in August, the parent company still has 22 locations across the country. Another restaurant in Bakersfield also reopened earlier this month.
A 45-year veteran with the Marie Callender’s company, Nelson worked with Don Callender, who founded the restaurant chain with his namesake mother, Marie. He has been with it through all of its owners and CEOs, and was the manager in charge of shutting down the Modesto location in August.
Now, he said, he is thrilled to be part of its rebirth in Modesto and across the country.
“(The Modesto site) never should have closed, and the company realizes it never should have closed,” he said. “A lot was done in haste when under the gun and the clock with bankruptcy. I almost ended it and retired, but this has been in my blood my whole life.”
Nelson has signed a long-term, 10-year lease with Joe Muratore, whose Graceada Partners owns the building. Marie Callender’s first opened in the site in 1983.
The large 10,500-square-foot building has three separate dining rooms and a bar, which can fit a total of about 275 people. Nelson said part of the reason he picked the Modesto location was that its interior had undergone a remodel about a year ago, much like his Salt Lake City location, which opens this week.
He said Marie Callender’s is looking into reopening more closed locations in California, and launching new satellite sites from Elk Grove to Merced that would only sell its beloved pies.
But for now, he said he is excited to reintroduce the restaurant and bakery to the region.
“Marie Callender’s has been a family tradition in Modesto for so long,” he said. “Modesto is that kind of city where people are loyal, loyal customers and have made that location a success. I’m looking forward to not letting them down.”