Food & Drink

Eating Out: Little Fresno barbecue restaurant Watts gets new owner

Watts Family Grill is tucked away among auto parts stores and used car lots on Blackstone Avenue just south of McKinley. It has a new owner, who plans to keep the food, but better market the restaurant.
Watts Family Grill is tucked away among auto parts stores and used car lots on Blackstone Avenue just south of McKinley. It has a new owner, who plans to keep the food, but better market the restaurant. bclough@fresnobee.com

Mention Watts Family Grill in this town and people have one of two reactions: “Where?” or “Oh my gosh, I love that place.”

This little barbecue and soul food place at 1448 N. Blackstone Ave. is tucked away south of McKinley Avenue among auto parts stores and used car lots.

The 6-year-old restaurant has had some bumps over the years – a temporary closure, a short-lived new owner with a new name – and has always operated a bit under the radar.

But the food made by the Watts family has always had a following and strong reviews on Yelp.com. And now the restaurant has a new owner with plans to beef up the restaurant’s profile.

Owner Landon Green says he’s keeping the family recipes and the staff. He’s not part of the Watts family, though he jokes they made him an “honorary cousin.”

“We have the same food, same cooks and whatnot,” Green says. “We kept all of the stuff that was great about the place and we got rid of some of the negatives.”

The restaurant is still using the same barbecue sauce on its ribs, pulled pork and other meats. Chicken and waffles is still on the menu and Green says he’d like to eventually stay open til 2 a.m. on weekends.

The restaurant has already changed its hours to be open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

He’s bringing back candied yams and wants to improve some of the sides.

But the peach cobbler? That’s staying the same.

“Our peach cobbler is still made by Mama Watts and it’s to die for,” he says.

Green’s big goal is to raise the profile of the restaurant. With a background in marketing, including for seven cell phone stores in the Bay Area, he’s planning a bigger social media presence and website. He also wants to create an app for ordering food and do family-style dining events.

Part of the marketing campaign is letting customers know that, despite appearances, the restaurant has more than just a tiny parking lot in front – a common complaint of customers. Now there’s a sign directing them to the big parking lot behind the building, Green notes.

“Now this hidden treasure is not going to be a secret anymore,” he says.

Tower liquor licenses

There’s about to be a few more places to get a drink in the Tower District, but none of them are new bars.

First, Casa de Tamales restaurant at 609 E. Olive Ave. got its liquor license and will begin serving beer and wine any day now. Expect creative sangrias, flavored mimosas and possibly a Champagne brunch, the owners say.

Across the street, Mia Cuppa Caffe has applied for a liquor license. If all goes well, in 90 days the coffee shop will add a handful of new drinks to the menu. Think beer and wine, and maybe a wine-based margarita.

Mia Cuppa is doing more events in its large back room and would like to serve drinks at them – like the paint nights it is planning to hold, says Mark DeRaud, who owns the place with his wife, Wendy.

They are not turning into a bar, he says.

“We are a community meeting place that emphasizes the arts,” DeRaud says. “Our very loyal guests are not heavy drinkers, but they would like to have a beer or two.”

In the meantime, they’ve changed up the coffee side of things by serving Lanna Coffee.

The locally roasted coffee sends a quarter of its profits back to farmers’ villages in Thailand.

Fuzion 876

Ever had a hankering for Jamaican food? If you have, keep your eye on Fuzion 876.

The owners call it an Internet-based restaurant, essentially a small catering company that makes Jamaican food and is looking for a restaurant space or food truck.

Right now, the trio with Jamaican roots are taking call-in orders that they deliver. The menu is on their website at www.fuzion876.com and info is available by calling (916) 544-8627. It includes Jamaican food like jerk chicken and curry chicken and goat, which some twists on the traditional food.

In case you’re wondering, 876 is the area code for Jamaica.

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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