Biz Beat

Biz Beat: Mel’s Original Diner is coming back to the valley

The diner made famous in “American Graffiti” is opening up shop less than 30 miles away. What’s more, there’s a chance you could be rolling in to order a Melburger and a malt right here in Modesto in the not-too-distant future.

David Ghaben, who owns a number of restaurants, said he hopes to open his newest Original Mel’s Diner franchise on Grant Line Road in Tracy on Aug. 24. “We’re in the process of hiring staff right now and finishing up construction,” he said.

What makes Mel’s special is the “very, very fun environment,” in addition to the homemade comfort food, Ghaben said. The diners have a retro feel, and are decorated with scenes from the movie “American Graffiti” (you may have heard of it) and the television show “Alice” (which centered around a diner run by a gent named Mel).

Original Mel’s has a number of locations in Northern California and Nevada.

“We’re open late at night, we serve breakfast, lunch and dinner all day,” Ghaben said. “I think the community of Tracy is the right fit for us now.”

When I spoke with Ghaben, the question naturally arose: What about putting in an Original Mel’s at the original inspiration for “American Graffiti”?

The Tracy location could well be a first step in that direction, he said.

“This is the first one for us in the valley,” he said. “It’s always best for us to have multiple locations in an area ... we’re always looking for the next city.”

Modesto, he added, “is definitely in the running. It is the home of ‘American Graffiti.’”

In the meantime, Original Mel’s in Tracy is hiring about 80 people. Jobs are available as cooks, servers, busboys, hosts and management. Résumés may be sent to

ELSEWHERE AROUND THE BUSINESS BEAT: Raley’s announced last week that its customers helped the company raise $100,000 for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay while a loved one is receiving treatment. The money came through “nickelAid,” a program in which the grocer donated 5 cents every time a shopper used a reusable grocery bag at any of its Raley’s, Bel Air, Nob Hill Foods or Food Source locations.

▪ Reader Jerry Lutterman emailed in to ask about the fate of Phat Hogs restaurant in Oakdale. It was his family’s favorite restaurant, but when they returned from a vacation, the Luttermans found it had closed.

I have good news for Mr. Lutterman, and other fans of Phat Hogs.

The restaurant Phat Hogs lost its lease and closed at the end of June. Its owners decided to retire.

But Mary Beth Fullerton, their daughter, is opening up a new spot – Mary Beth’s Corner Store and Deli – in Escalon. Fullerton has a pretty ambitious plan. In addition to serving the best of Phat Hogs’ barbecue menu, she’s also operating a bakery and deli. Oh, and a store where you can pick up everything from camping gear to boutique items.

A soft opening was Saturday. Find the new restaurant at 29250 Highway 120. Call 209-505-8126.