It’s been a rough week for fans of local restaurants. News that beloved Charlotte’s BakerEatery will close shocked its loyal customers and word continues to spread about the closures of California Wok and Big D’s Tri-Tip.
Closures like these sometimes inspire snide comments about how Fresno can’t support local restaurants.
Running a mom and pop restaurant is certainly a huge challenge. And not making enough money is probably the No. 1 reason they close.
But often there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes.
Charlotte’s is one example. In case you missed my story Friday, Charlotte’s is closing April 24 after 10 years in business. The owners of the Tower District bakery serving gluten-free goodies, soups and sandwiches want to retire.
Susan Rocha, 64, says she and her husband get up at 1 a.m. and put in 12-hour days at the bakery. Her husband, who is the baker, doesn’t really get any days off as he constantly deals with the 24-hour process it takes to make the sourdough bread.
“We don’t have to go out of business,” Rocha said last week. “We just chose this time because the opportunity was just right.”
Dusty Buns, the restaurant and food truck, hopes to take over the space Charlotte’s will leave behind.
It’s not clear why California Wok on West Shaw Avenue or Big D’s Tri-Tip closed.
The owner of California Wok, the restaurant that blended Asian cuisine with American food, could not be reached for comment. The restaurant near the Broadway Faire movie theater closed weeks ago, its booths and tables removed and granite countertops in a pile on the floor in recent days.
Rumors that the restaurant was moving to the northeast corner of Shaw and West avenues aren’t true, according to the landlord, who has another business in the works for the space in question. And other rumors haven’t turned out to be true either.
Big D’s was the downtown sandwich shop in the funky brick building on Divisadero Street with the tiny entrance that turned into a much bigger restaurant.
Not making enough money is always a big reason restaurants fail. But there are other reasons, too.
Sometimes it’s the messy dynamics of family and business. Divorces happen. Children don’t always want to take over the family business, or maybe the business just isn’t the same without the driving passion of the founder.
And leases coming up for renewal can prompt closures, says Roman Cota, president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association. Sometimes landlords jack up the rent too much.
“Or, it’s a time for you to say, ‘Do I really want to continue on for another 5 to 10 years? Hey, this is my out,’ ” he says.
Why not sell the business?
Sometimes there’s not all that much to sell — the name, maybe some equipment, Cota says. But couples who run small restaurants often have one half working as chef and the other working the front house. There’s not a heck of a lot of extra income coming in to make it appealing to a buyer, despite how much customers value the restaurant.
In Charlotte’s case, the couple will hang on to the name. They’re selling their gluten-free scones, muffins and other treats at the Vineyard Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at Blackstone and Shaw avenues. They’ll also start selling on Wednesday afternoons there soon.
And since we’re talking about closures, it doesn’t feel right not to mention the Silver Dollar Hofbrau. Fresno is still mourning this place, which closed in January after more than three decades in business.
You may have seen the story about owner Truman Campbell, who died peacefully in his sleep last month at age 86. His death came just two months after we sat in a booth at the hofbrau for an interview the morning after it closed.
He talked about the “great ride” the landmark restaurant had, but also how it didn’t quite fit into modern times. He was a delightful fellow with a lot to say and a life well lived. Fresno is lucky to have known him.
A “for lease” sign is up on the building, and I’ll keep you updated on what comes next for the space.
A few weeks ago I told you about the closure of Tailspin Tommy’s, the little cafe at Chandler Airport. The owners just couldn’t make it pencil out. They were in the process of finalizing a deal to sublease the space to a new owner/operator.
It turns out they didn’t have the right to do that since the restaurant is on public property. Instead, any restaurateur looking to lease the space needs to go through a formal bidding process with the city, which will choose the proposal it likes the best.
That process hasn’t started yet because the city is cleaning up the space, replacing the ketchup-stained carpet and some tile. But it will in a month or two, says Rick Duncan, interim public information officer for both of Fresno’s airports.
It’s an interesting look at a tricky — yet cool — location. Several restaurants have come and gone in the space. It’s probably the only place in town where you feel you’ve been transported to the 1940s and can watch planes take off and land.
But the same thing that makes it interesting makes it challenging. It’s off the beaten path and has a hard time attracting a dinner crowd, which may be why the previous tenants paid zero rent, Duncan says.
That doesn’t mean future tenants will have free rent, he notes. That all depends upon what’s in the proposal the city chooses.
“We’re hoping, and we’re going to keep fighting to get someone in there that can make it work,” he says. “Where else can you get pilots landing to go to your restaurant?”