Fresno Beehive

Hey, Alton Brown: Cafe Corazon lives on (sorta) in Valparaiso Cafe

Mario Vargas of Valparaiso Cafe & Roastery prepares a drink at his coffee shop inside Bitwise Stadium South in this file photo from December, 2016. Valparaiso is switching to a mobile coffee and food format.
Mario Vargas of Valparaiso Cafe & Roastery prepares a drink at his coffee shop inside Bitwise Stadium South in this file photo from December, 2016. Valparaiso is switching to a mobile coffee and food format. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Earlier this week, Food Network star Alton Brown told a Fresno Bee reporter he wanted to revisit three eateries in Fresno when he’s here for his next show – and two of them turned out to be closed.

They were Dusty Buns (which Fresno is still mourning) and Cafe Corazon in the Tower District. Thankfully, the third place, the Chicken Pie Shop, will probably be open until those green vinyl booths turn to dust.

But actually it’s more like one and a half closures because a bit of Cafe Corazon lives on. Several workers from Cafe Corazon are part of the new Valparaiso Cafe & Roastery that opened last summer inside the Bitwise Industries at 700 Van Ness Avenue in downtown Fresno.

And it’s not just workers. Think of it as a major organ transplant. Sure, the Cafe Corazon owner Leo Rios isn’t involved anymore, but three of his employees run Valparaiso. Owner Mario Vargas was a manager at Cafe Corazon, and baristas Omar Vargas and Connor Menges made the jump too. Omar still does all the roasting for the new place. They use the same suppliers and the same coffee.

“We are literally all the same people,” Mario Vargas says. “We have the same concept, the same roaster, literally the exact same thing.”

Except for one little thing: They don’t serve food.

During his visit last year, Brown had stopped into Cafe Corazon and ordered what he called “one heck of a cinnamon roll.”

There are no more cinnamon rolls, Alton.

The reason Valparaiso doesn’t serve food is because the little sandwich shop next to them does. Mabel’s Kitchen is tucked in behind the coffee shop, also inside Bitwise.

The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch on weekdays. Bread-baking fiend and owner Susan Valiant makes bierocks on Tuesdays, serves paninis with her pickled pepper French bread any day of the week, and continues to make a muffuletta sandwich stuffed with corned beef, roast beef, ham, mozzarella, pepper jack cheese and an “olive salad” spread.

Maybe Brown could go there and hit them both up.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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