The owner of a landmark Modesto hamburger restaurant said Thursday that she has retired, and the business has been leased to new operators.
Cherry Fee, whose family has owned Scenic Drive-In for its 52-year existence, said she's run the popular restaurant long enough.
"I've been at it for 48 years, and I figure it's time," said Fee, who lives in Copperopolis. "I just didn't want to have to deal with it anymore."
The restaurant at 1151 Scenic Drive just east of downtown has been closed for more than a month, and Fee said in April that she planned to reopen after renovations.
Signs appeared at the restaurant this week that said it was for lease or rent, but those signs were gone Thursday.
Fee said that because she didn't own the property or the building, she wasn't sure about what was happening there.
"I can't answer too many questions right now," Fee said. The only signs at the business Thursday said that Scenic Drive-In was temporarily closed for repairs.
The property owner is listed as Juanita Besone, who, as Juanita Fee, founded Scenic Drive-In in 1956 with her husband, Jim Fee.
A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Besone said that a new tenant she did not identify was working with the owner to reopen the restaurant.
The woman said she would have the new tenant contact The Bee. That had not happened as of press time.
A worker at Modesto's business licenses office said the only active license for Scenic Drive-In was under Cherry Fee's name and that there was no application for a new license with that address.
Stanislaus County's Environmental Resources department records show that the restaurant did not have any health inspection issues that would mandate its closure.
News saddens Sno-White owner
The owner of another popular Modesto drive-in restaurant said he was sad to hear Scenic had closed. "It's like a brotherhood," said Adel Asumari, who owns the Sno-White Drive-In on Yosemite Boulevard. "There aren't too many like us left."
Asumari said Scenic Drive-In's building may need extensive renovations.
He said he'd approached the restaurant's ownership about taking over after it closed, but decided against it when the owners wanted any new tenant to make significant site upgrades and renovations.
"Whoever opens it back up, if they know what they're doing and they can make good hamburgers, they'll make a killing," Asumari said.
But it won't be easy, he added. Wholesale food prices have risen several times in the past year because of fuel prices, but he hasn't raised his prices to compensate.
"You get a truck of food out of Sacramento, that costs a lot," Asumari said. He added that he and Scenic had the same vendor.
Scenic Drive-In was well known for its big "Knockout" burger, topped with avocado, bacon, cheese and hot peppers.
The restaurant also served hot dogs, tacos, fries, milk shakes, malts, sundaes and a few breakfast items.
Fee's parents-in-law, Jim and Juanita Fee, opened the restaurant in 1956, then turned it over to their sons Raymond and George Fee in 1966.
Cherry Fee took over in the mid-1990s after her husband, George, died.
Readers reacted with sadness to a story on modbee.com Thursday about Cherry Fee's retirement and that the restaurant was closed, at least temporarily.
"I hope whoever takes over continues to have the best burgers in town," wrote Gary Hagen of Modesto. "I still live close by and am waiting patiently for its return."
Another reader, Tina Rogers, recalled trips to Scenic as a kid for ice cream cones.
"I will be so sad if Scenic Drive-in closes!" she wrote. "The place holds some of my fondest childhood memories!"
Scenic Drive-In was well regarded by many Modesto residents who recalled eating there as children and adults.
In 1996, Cherry Fee noted in a Bee story that Modesto's most famous native son, filmmaker George Lucas, ate there frequently when he attended John Muir Elementary School.
She recalled that Lucas was shy, but polite and friendly.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2331.