Jeff Jardine

Gervasoni’s eatery: Iffy courthouse project’s collateral damage

The former sportsmen’s club on North McHenry Avenue in Modesto will become home to Gervasoni’s Restaurant, forced to close downtown due to the new courthouse project that is now in jeopardy due to funding woes.
The former sportsmen’s club on North McHenry Avenue in Modesto will become home to Gervasoni’s Restaurant, forced to close downtown due to the new courthouse project that is now in jeopardy due to funding woes.

Rosalie Clark’s reaction, you might say, was priceless.

“Crazy!” she posted on The Modesto Bee’s Facebook page Tuesday after reading that the funding for the proposed $267 million new Stanislaus County Superior Courthouse and other courthouse projects throughout the state is in jeopardy.

Crazy, because the restaurant Clark and her daughter, Serena Sisson, own represents probably the most significant collateral damage of the Modesto courthouse project.

Priceless, because they refuse to even guess how much income they’ve lost over the last eight months since closing their downtown restaurant to make way for the new justice center. The Judicial Council of California could shed some light on the status of the Modesto courthouse and the other projects next month.

Clark and Sisson bought Gervasoni’s Restaurant – the business only, not the building at 712 Ninth St. – from Gary and Myrna Gervasoni in October 2012. Shortly thereafter, city officials locked in on the block bordered by Ninth, 10th, G and H streets as the site for the new courthouse.

Clark, who worked for the Gervasonis as their chef until she bought the business, knew all along the building might be in the city’s courthouse crosshairs and that she might have to move. She didn’t think things would move so quickly, though.

In 2014, the city – which negotiated in secrecy with five property owners – finally went public with its intentions and began purchasing the properties and then sold them as well as the ones it owned on the block to the state for $5.45 million. The city paid the Gervasonis $492,000.

Clark and Sisson initially began looking for a new place downtown, hoping to retain the restaurant’s longtime clientele. The city gave them $100,000 toward relocation costs as part of the deal.

“We couldn’t find anything downtown that had parking,” said Clark, who ultimately determined the restaurant would benefit from a change of scenery.

Gregory Reed, who sold his office building in the courthouse deal, also owns a building at 10th and J streets in the heart of downtown. He offered it to Clark and Sisson. They declined.

“They said they didn’t think the downtown would fit their needs anymore,” Reed said, who then leased the space for what is now Ralston’s Goat restaurant.

So much for a seamless transition from one downtown space to another for Clark and Sisson, who are keeping the Gervasoni’s brand. Even before they closed the Ninth Street eatery in December 2015, their business began to suffer because customers assumed they, like other businesses on the block, already had closed.

Their regulars were left hoping and waiting for them to reopen somewhere else. They finally settled on leasing an old sportsmen’s club more than six miles away at 5801 McHenry Ave., north of Kiernan Avenue. Virtually all of the $100,000 from the city will go toward renovating the club into a restaurant. The building is outside of the city limits and will generate no tax revenue for Modesto.

“We’re well over $300,000 already,” Sisson said. “New flooring, bringing an old building into compliance with (the Americans with Disabilities Act), new drywall … it is very expensive.”

Out of pocket, too, though the state will reimburse them for some of the work. Neither the city nor the state covers their lost revenue, nor their lost paychecks during the downtime.

“I couldn’t go to work for anybody in the meantime,” Clark said. “I mean, who would hire me knowing I was going to be opening another restaurant? And that’s not even talking about the employees who had to find other jobs when their unemployment ran out.”

Some might return when she reopens in the fall, but there are no guarantees.

Sisson found work serving at P. Wexford’s Pub, also on McHenry Avenue, to make ends meet until Gervasoni’s is back in business.

“I was lucky to get that position,” Sisson said. “I mean, I wouldn’t hire anyone if I knew they were going to open another restaurant in a few months… .”

Reed, their former neighbor downtown, is one of those regulars who can’t wait until they reopen out north.

“When they were next door, we used to call Gervasoni’s our ‘south office,’” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll reopen in October or November. We want to have our Christmas party there.”

In the meantime, the old restaurant and other buildings on the downtown block are boarded up and fenced in. Milkweeds stand several feet tall. Old window awnings are in tatters.

Clark could only shake her head when she read about the courthouse’s financing woes.

“Another eyesore,” she said. “What did they create? Another eyesore.”

Crazy, and at a price she can’t bring herself to estimate.