Biz Beat

Mallard's swimming along fine in Modesto

It's business as usual at Mallard's Restaurant in Modesto. That's good news for fans of the longtime McHenry Avenue eatery and watering hole after the announcement late last week that the owners were closing its sister restaurant in Stockton.

Owner Richard J.K "Richie" Sang and family abruptly closed the eatery recently at 3409 Brookside Road in Stockton. They said the Stockton restaurant had been losing money almost from the day they bought it, and the Modesto Mallard's, in 2005. After continuing to operate the Stockton restaurant for a couple of years, the Sangs decided to cut their losses and close.

Sang told The Bee the Modesto Mallard's is doing fine and continues to conduct normal operations, including banquets, winemaker dinners, Sunday brunch and catering. Although the decision to close the Stockton Mallard's may have spooked Modesto diners who frequent the McHenry duck club, Sang insists they have nothing to worry about -- Stockton is Stockton and Modesto is a different duck, I guess.

The Sang family purchased both Mallard's Restaurants from high-powered Modesto entrepreneur Dan Costa. He founded Mallard's in 1986 with the opening of the McHenry restaurant and added the Stockton outlet in 1991. Costa sold a half-interest in the restaurants in 1999, but regained full control a year later because of concerns about how his baby ducks were being cared for. A few years later, he sold both restaurants to the Sangs.

He supposedly told the Sang family the Stockton outlet was having a tough time even then. Maybe, but Costa's renowned for his salesmanship and it's doubtful he would have undercut his own sales pitch. Besides, he's shown time and again the ability to make businesses go, including Velvet Creamery, Davis Lay Food Service, Mallard's Inn, Mallard's Foods, NorthPointe Shopping Center, Royal Robbins (yes, he once owned it) and 5.11 Tactical, the law enforcement clothing company he spun off from Royal Robbins.

When he opened Mallard's on McHenry, it was one of a handful of upscale, full-service restaurants in the city. It rivaled the now-defunct Sundial Lodge's restaurant as home of the power lunch and dinner. The restaurant was a place to see and be seen, packed from noontime to nighttime. Part of that was Costa's presence. He was usually around, directing staff, working the room and even helping in the kitchen. The place's success was built as much on the force of his personality as on the food and ambience.

But it's a different dining world in Motown, and probably Stockton, now. There are more restaurant options than there have ever been, making an already cutthroat business even more so. That means even longtime established restaurants such as Mallard's are having to fight for business. With the real estate slowdown, credit problems and shaky consumer confidence, the situation won't get any easier.

Perhaps Costa and his dynamic personality could have found a way to make Mallard's work even in Stockton. But perhaps not in today's restaurant and business climates. Mallard's fans can only hope the McHenry restaurant continues to attract enough people to keep it afloat -- as far as I'm concerned, that would be just ducky. See you there.

Elsewhere on the Business Beat:

What it is: Portico at 1700 McHenry Ave., Suite 27A, in Modesto is under new ownership. It's in McHenry Village. Phone, 544-2354.

What it does: Portico offers home accessories, furniture and design services. Products include art, artificial floral arrangements, artificial trees, candles, handmade pottery, clocks, rugs, tables, sofas, side chairs, bar stools, lamps and light fixtures. Portico's redesign program helps residential and commercial clients find the right flooring, painting, fabrics, furnishings and accessories.

Who owns it: Sarah Grover is a first-time business owner. She has been in the interior design business about seven years. Portico has been open 17 years; Grover took over the business Sept. 1. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

What makes it special: Portico is flexible and works with clients to make redecorating enjoyable and stress-free.

What is it: Valley Fire Place Inc. at 4524 Salida Blvd., in Salida. The nearest cross street is Pelandale Avenue. It moved recently from 4901 Cloutier Drive in Salida. Phone, 543-9800. Web site, www.valleyfp.com.

What it does: Valley Fire Place sells gas, wood, pellet and electric fireplaces as well as inserts, stoves, precast mantles, barbecues and smokers. It also has accessories for fireplaces, including screens and tool sets. Valley Fire Place can custom order fireplaces as well.

Who runs it: John and Jeanette King, a husband-and-wife team, are the owners. The Kings, who previously owned a wholesale business, have been in the fireplace business for 11 years. Valley Fire Place has been open seven years and moved about two months ago to its new location. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

What makes it special: Valley Fire Place is family owned and operated. It has its own crew to handle installations.

Have an item for Business Beat? Send it to David W. Hill, Business Editor, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352; or dhill@modbee.com.

COMPILED BY JILLIAN HANKS,

BEE NEWSROOM ASSISTANT

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