Bethany Clough

Another restaurant is closing in downtown Fresno, but two new cafes are moving in

CHARburger owner Catherine Heaney talks carbs and Taco Bell.

The owner of CHARburger in downtown Fresno and Visalia's former CHAR restaurant, Catherine Heaney, talks about her guilty pleasure foods.
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The owner of CHARburger in downtown Fresno and Visalia's former CHAR restaurant, Catherine Heaney, talks about her guilty pleasure foods.

Downtown restaurant CHARburger is closing its doors and saying goodbye on Saturday, but the space won’t be empty for long.

Another place to eat is already preparing to move into the spot, in the Hotel Virginia building on the leafy corner of Kern and L Streets. The empty space next door once occupied by Tree of Life Cafe also has a new restaurant getting ready to open.

Both the newcomers have familiar names that some Fresnans will recognize.

CHARburger opened in 2016. It’s a burger joint that also serves tater tots with a truffle-cheddar sauce and crispy Brussels sprouts with a Fresno chili hot honey sauce.

Owner Catherine Heaney also ran CHAR in downtown Visalia, which had a much more expansive and creative menu and closed last summer. Now she’s closing its sister restaurant in Fresno, too.

She spent the last seven months commuting to Fresno, trying to boost business.

“While the neighborhood is great and I love downtown Fresno, I just couldn’t seem to find the right formula for it to work,” she said in an email. “While we weren’t losing money, it just didn’t pencil out for me to keep coming up each day when we’re only open for such limited hours.”

CHARburger was typically open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, although Heaney tried staying open for dinner, weekends and breakfast, but “nothing seemed to stick,” she said.

And in an unusual step for a business owner, Heaney wrote a book about opening and closing her restaurants. “The Kitchen Sink,” with art by local artist Elowyn Dickerson is available on Amazon.com. Heaney talks about how she doesn’t view closing her businesses as a failure, but as choosing happiness over pride.

The book also has recipes and anecdotes, like Heaney’s first-person explanation of “snatiation,” the phenomenon of sneezing when one overeats.

Downtown dining

The CHARburger space and the one next to it – which Tree of Life left when it moved to 6640 North Blackstone Ave. near Herndon Avenue – already have new renters gearing up to move in.

Developer and building owner Will Dyck said he posted the CHARburger space for rent on Craigslist and had five applications within a week.

“They leased right out,” he said. “We got an interesting mix of food coming in.”

So who are they?

Tri-tip and burgers

The BoxCar Cafe is planning to open in the former CHARburger spot, at 901 L St. serving breakfast and lunch.

If the Boxcar name sounds familiar, it’s probably because of the little restaurant with that name painted to look like a boxcar on Hamilton Avenue. It chugged along over the years under several owners in an industrial neighborhood on the edge of downtown. Most recently it was Keith’s Boxcar Cafe, though that place closed years ago and he moved out of town.

Donna Willis, the restaurant owner planning to open the newest version of the BoxCar in the CHARburger spot, originally opened the BoxCar Cafe in 1996. She ran it for 11 years before selling it, when it then went through several owners.

As for the food, expect sandwiches, burgers, a “sourdough Joe, ” which is a burger served on sourdough bread, and a “nice tri-tip sandwich for lunch,” she said .

Breakfast at the cafe will include options like a breakfast quesadilla and bagels.

It’s a grab-and-go type of place. The owner is hoping to open by the second week of April.

“It just sort of popped up while I was looking at something else,” Willis said of the space. “I do like the downtown area. People are friendly.”

Mediterranean food

You may find the business moving into the space next door familiar too. GG’s Food Factory is a big red Mediterranean food truck that sometimes sells at Gazebo Gardens food truck and beer garden nights.

Owner Tigran Hovhannisyan plans to open a restaurant, perhaps called GG’s Pizza and Grill, and continue to run the food truck. He is hoping to open in late April.

The restaurant will feature Mediterranean food, like shish kebab, including lula kebab made from lamb, pilaf. Bread will be baked on site and other Mediterranean appetizers will be on the menu. Expect pizza, hamburgers and a large menu.

Many of the details are still being worked out. The restaurant will be open for lunch, possibly breakfast and it may try some dinnertime hours, he said.

Since the spot is sizable, Hovhannisyan said he also plans to rent it out for events that the restaurant would cater after lunchtime hours.

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Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.
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