Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

DIY: Cake push pops

push pop

The summers of my childhood are defined by scorched feet, icy swimming pools, gulps of sweet water from the garden hose, salty potato chips and the barest, whimsical tinkling of what could be — wait, might be — is that music? YES. RUN FOR IT: the ice cream truck. And my favorite treat? The push pop: tangy frozen yogurt served in a plastic container that I continued to slurp on long after the icy confection had disappeared. 

Fast forward to now, and the pleasant discovery that empty push pop containers are available in the baking aisles of most craft stores. And these days, home bakers fill the adorable (and reusable) contraptions will all kinds of clever desserts: layered fruit and yogurt; pudding and whipped cream; and, as I recently tried, small slices of cake and icing. The push pop concept has evolved into something a bit more elegant — but just as fun.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Mountaintop’

The view is grand from “The Mountaintop.”

The StageWorks Fresno production of Katori Hall’s provocative play about the imagined last night of Martin Luther King, Jr. is deftly staged and strongly acted. Director Joel C. Abels crafts a powerhouse production that manages to seem both taut and dreamy — a charismatic and combustible combination. 

It’s tricky to write about “The Mountaintop” because it’s one of those plays that, frankly, works better the less you know about it. (When New York Times critic Ben Brantley reviewed the show in 2011, he noted that the production’s press representatives requested that he not divulge certain key plot details.) But there are some essentials to know going in: The action takes place on the evening of April 3, 1968 in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. On the next day, King was assassinated on the motel’s balcony.

Hall’s take on what happened on that last night of his life comes purely from her literary imagination. In this two-person drama, she invents the character of Camae, a maid at the motel. Camae knocks on King’s door with room service after a long day for him in which he gave his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. What follows — their conversation and the events that unfold on a strange and stormy night — is pure conjecture.

But enough is grounded in what we know about King — his formidable strengths and all-too-human weaknesses — to give the experience a fly-on-the-wall authenticity.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Woodward Shakespeare Festival last performed “The Taming of the Shrew” in 2007. That production was a blustery, garish whirlwind whose Petruchio wore a fluorescent costume that made him look like a cross between a pirate and a Cal Trans worker on an acid trip.

The company’s amiable and well-crafted new “Shrew” is a lot gentler and more thoughtful this time around. (And the costumes can’t be used to reroute traffic on Highway 99.) But this newer production does share one thing with its predecessor: a non-traditional take on the play. Director Aaron Spjute uses an all-female cast for this “Shrew.” Along with the traditional female roles, women play the men in gender-specific costumes. Pronouns haven’t been changed.

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TONIGHT: The Swon Brothers at Tulare Outlet Center


Here’s one that’s worth the drive: Country duo The Swon Brothers performs a free concert tonight at the Tulare Outlet Center as part of KJUG’s Summer Concert Series. The show starts at 7 p.m. at the mall’s main entrance.

The Swon Brothers –Zach and Colton — are one of a growing number of acts who have made a name for themselves as contestants on NBC’s singing show “The Voice.” The brothers were the first duo to make it from the Top 12 live shows to the season finale. They finished third. Currently, they are working on a major-label debut.

The brothers were in Clovis in April playing the Rodeo Road Show concert at Sierra Vista Mall with Jaime Lynn Spears.

Watch the video The Swon Brothers’ single “Later On,” on the jump.

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Fresno’s general plan draft get public airings

If you haven’t had a chance to look over the City of Fresno’s updated 2035 General Plan (a draft of which has been available since July 2), you should make yourself available for one of three public airings that are happening in the few days, especially if you are at all interested in the way that Fresno will develop and grow in the next two decades.

You have three chances:

  • 6:30 tonight at the OAB at Fresno City College
  • 6 p.m. Wednesday during a planning commission workshop at City Hall.
  • 2 p.m. Thursday during a council workshop at City Hall
  • For some context, read The Bee’s editorial on the subject, paying particular attention to this paragraph:

    “If you care about Fresno’s future and having a development guide that attempts to rebuild older, deteriorating neighborhoods and finally apply the breaks to urban sprawl, you should support this plan.”

    As the editorial rightly points out, sprawl (which seems like the city’s singular method of growth) is bad for a whole host of reasons. A good, reasoned general plan will likely affect your quality of life in a major way.

    Notes from the arts beat

    Catching up on the arts beat:

    The didgeridoo is back! The Fresno Philharmonic has announced its 2014-15 concert season. The orchestra will perform six Masterworks programs in the Saroyan Theatre and Shaghoian Hall. It also will present two Pops concerts and its annual Link Up education concerts for schools at the Saroyan. From the orchestra:

    Masterworks season highlights include the return of Australian didjeridu virtuoso William Barton performing the nature-infused music of Peter Sculthorpe, cellist Zuill Bailey performing Prokofiev’s late masterpiece the Sinfonia Concertante paired with Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, a program of Spanish and Latin American dance music including Ravel’s Boléro, a weekend-long marathon performance of the Complete Piano Concertos of Beethoven with pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, and a special concert in April 2015 commemorating the Armenian Genocide centered on the world-premiere of Fresno based composer Serouj Kradjian’s Cantata for the Living Martyrs, a work specially composed for this occasion, with mezzo-soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian as soloist. This concert, one of many community events next year marking this tragedy, also features violinist Catherine Manoukian performing the Khachaturian Violin Concerto and choral works performed by the Fresno Master Chorale and the Fresno State Concert Choir.

    You can find the full lineup at the Fresno Philharmonic’s website.

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    Win tickets to Trios Los Romance at Arte Americas Nights in the Plaza

    nightsFresno’s summer days can be brutal. But our nights … our nights are so very lovely.

    Which is why Arte Americas hosts a series of Friday-night concerts in it outdoor pavilion each summer. The Nights in the Plaza series features local and regional bands playing Latin lazz and mariachi, Brazilian, Son Jarocho and rockabilly.

    We’ll be giving away passes each week (except Sept. 26) for the rest of the series’ run. This week’s concert features local trio (and longtime Nights in the Plaza performers) Trio Los Romance. To enter to win, leave a comment in this post. Tell us your favorite way to spend a warm summer’s night in the Valley. The contest runs through noon Thursday. Winners will be chosen at random, notified by email and be able to pick up the passes at The Fresno Bee office (1626 E. Street) during normal business hours. Passes are good for any concert night, but do not guarantee entry, so early arrival is suggested.

    We’ll have a new contest up every Monday so keep checking back. Complete performer schedule and contest rules on the jump.

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    Mike Tyson brings “Undisputed Truth” to Tachi Palace

    A one-man stage show based on the life of Mike Tyson is a wacky idea. It seems like fringe festival stuff, like it would be huge at the Rogue.

    And yet, “Undisputed Truth,” the Spike Lee directed show staring Tyson himself played on Broadway in 2013 and was recorded and released on HBOFilms. It spawned a book.

    And now, the show is touring. It comes to Tachi Palace, Sept. 11.

    Tyson is a cultural icon, especially for those of my generation. He had his own video game, for Pete’s sake, with his name right there in the title. He was the final baddie in a long-line of stereotypical baddies and he was impossible to beat (well, I never beat him any rate). In real life, in the ring, he seemed equally bad (I dare say, in a good way). He was a monster, who devastated opponents with single punches. You didn’t place bets on which round Tyson would knock-out his opponent; it was more like, which minute. The pay-per-view fee almost didn’t seem worth the money, given the chance you could sneeze and miss the good parts.

    Real fight fans might take me to task on this, but that’s how I remember Tyson — prior to the the face tattoo and the talk of eating children (or actually biting other fighters).

    Tyson has reinvented himself lately, as an affable sort of guy and there is probably a generation that know him as the dude from “The Hangover” movies. They might be shocked by the revelations offered up in his one-man show.

    Tickets for the show are $35-$115 and on sale now.

    Watch the trailer for “Undisputed Truth” on the jump to get an idea of what to expect.

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    Congrats to 2014 Horizon Awards winners

    The Fresno Arts Council will honor some prominent names in the arts community with its annual Horizon Awards Aug. 14 at the Fresno Art Museum. Here are this year’s honorees, with bios provided by the Fresno Arts Council: 

    Artist: Bill Bruce is a self-taught painter who got his start in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco. He was a member of a group of artists calling themselves the Artist’s Consortium, exhibiting in small store fronts and Golden Gate Park. He has exhibited at Le Bault Gallery in San Francisco, Coffee’s Art Gallery on the Fulton Mall and has been a member of the Fig Tree Gallery since 1990. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Cultural Arts District Association and is a regular participant in the downtown Art Hop program. Abstract expressionism has been the greatest influence in his work as an artist. His work includes sculpture, three dimensional art, photography, and making use of nontraditional objects to provide artful directions. (Pictured above: a work from Bruce’s “50 Shades of Yellow” 2013 exhibition at Fig Tree Gallery.)

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    Favorite foods from the Fresno Food Expo

    The Fresno Food Expo was yesterday, with 126 specialty food producers showing off their locally made food and drink. They were hoping to catch the attention of the more than 700 buyers who attended and market themselves to the more than 1,000 people who attended the public portion of the event in the evening. You can read all about the expo and see a video here. I spent the day bombing Instagram with food photos and of course, trying out the food. There were some standouts, so here’s a few of my favorites and where to get them. And if you attended the food expo, please feel free to share your favorites in the comments section.

    The Sarah’s Harvest fresh green chickpea hummus, particularly the roasted garlic and rosemary, was hands down the best thing I tasted all day.  It also comes in cilantro and spicy jalapeno flavor, and original recipe. This is a brand new product made by Sanger chickpea seller Califresh, so new it’s not in stores yet. They’re hoping some of the contacts they made at the Food Expo will lead to it being on store shelves. For now, you can get it at Grizzlies games during the Farm Grown Friday farmers market inside the stadium on Aug. 1, 15 and 29. The company recommends keeping on eye on this website to find out where you can get it in the future.

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    And now a word from Winthrop

    “The Music Man” is in its closing weekend in Clovis, and I couldn’t let the occasion slip by without giving 6-year-old Jackson Estep, who plays Winthrop in the show, a moment of Beehive fame. Here’s my video:

    P.S. — I wrote about Jackson and the Estep family — there are five of them all appearing in the show together — in Thursday’s Life section. It turns out they have company. Cheryl Martin writes:

    You may not be aware that there is another family with 5 members in the production.  They are the Smiths.  Father Patrick, sons Michael Patrick and Tim, daughters Anna and Joy (who played Amaryllis).  What are the odds of that happening?

    Think about it: Even with a cast of more than 60, the Esteps and Smiths together make up a significant percentage of “The Music Man” cast.

    DIY: Butterfly garden

    Office workers know how easy it is for time to fly by as we spend our summer days indoors. Sure, sitting in a windowless cubicle before the phosphorescent glow of a computer screen for eight hours is glamorous, but do you ever find yourself wishing you were in a meadow somewhere chasing butterflies?

    Who says the office can’t be your own special meadow?

    Next time you’re stuck with a late-night deadline, instead of cursing friends and coworkers enjoying themselves at the beer garden — you can format those TPS reports in the midst of your own cubicle butterfly garden. This project is not only cathartic, it’s simple! Even young kids can help.



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    Michael Rooker big with ‘Walking Dead,’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ fans

    Michael Rooker has been a journeyman actor for almost 30 years appearing in a wide variety of TV shows and films. None of that work has brought Rooker a tenth of the attention the 59-year-old actor has been getting since he joined the cast of “The Walking Dead.” That attention will get ramped up even more as he stars in the latest big screen comic book-inspired offering, “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

    It’s hard to know which group is more rabid: “Dead” fans or comic book movie lovers. Either way, the combination is huge.

    As for being part of another big franchise, Rooker smiles and says, “Why not?! Why not?!”

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    Weekend pick: ‘Virginia Woolf’

    There are lots of theater options this weekend, but I want to give a last shout-out for Artists’ Repertory Theatre’s impressive “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” now in its final weekend at California Arts Academy’s Severance Theatre. It plays 8 p.m Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. From my review:

    This is an exemplary production — one of the best of the year locally. Long before there were games involving hunger, George and Martha set the standard for weird, memorable and dangerous antics.

    And if you’ve never seen the stage version of this acclaimed show, you owe it to yourself to see a great piece of American theater.

    Five Things You Should Do This Weekend

    To start, go support Visalia’s Sound N Vision Foundation. Then …

    1. “Lucy
    Luc Besson directed some of my favorite movies ever.

    2. Bleeding Through
    If the band can be believed (and who knows these days), this is its last West Coast Tour.


    3. Music at Gazebo Gardens
    Live music + beer + food trucks + plants and trees. If you haven’t been yet, now is the time.

    4. Central California Ninja Warrior Training Course Summer Invite
    OK, technically this is not open to the general public, so unless you’re a competitor and already registered, you’re out of luck. BUT, you can watch the whole thing on CMAC.

    5. Rosie Flores
    Rosie is from Austin, TX. She is the Queen (capital Q) of rockabilly.

    Music fans will want to check out this week’s BANDGEEK roundup for a full list of events.

    The Beehive Interview: Joel C. Abels talks about ‘The Mountaintop’

    The Beehive caught up with Joel C. Abels of StageWorks Fresno, whose production of “The Mountaintop” opens Friday at the Dan Pessano Theatre. You can find excerpts from my Q&A interview in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s the extended interview.

    Question: You saw “The Mountaintop” on Broadway with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Describe your reaction and why you wanted so much to bring this show to Fresno.

    Answer: There was something incredibly powerful and moving about that production that really inspired me to bring this play to Fresno audiences. Yes, seeing both of those actors performing such complex characters added to that but it was really the way with which Katori Hall allowed us to see another side of Dr. Martin Luther King when faced with his own mortality that was really impactful. One of my goals with StageWorks Fresno is to challenge our audiences with new and socially relevant works as well as showcasing local actors in dream roles. After seeing the play on Broadway in 2011 and having just worked with Camille Gaston on “Ragtime earlier” that year, it was abundantly clear that the role of Camae would be a fantastic vehicle for her, allowing audiences to see her in a completely different light.

    Give us a brief synopsis.

    In short, it is a fictional account of Dr. King’s last night on earth and his encounter with a maid at the Lorraine Hotel where he is staying. I don’t want to give too much more away, if you catch my drift.

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    The Beehive Interview: Aaron Spjute talks about ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

    The Woodward Shakespeare Festival production of “The Taming of the Shrew” is in its opening weekend at Woodward Park, and we caught up with director Aaron Spjute to chat about the show. You can find excerpts from the Q&A interview in Friday’s 7 section; here’s the extended version.

    Question: I just want to make sure I’ve got your artistic concept for this correct. Are the traditionally male roles in “Taming of the Shrew” being played by women as women in the show? (Which would, essentially, make the relationship between Petruchio and Katharine a lesbian one.) Or do the male characters remain male but just happen to be played by women?

    Answer: “The Taming of the Shrew” has over 20 parts and only three of them are female. In this production, every actor plays multiple roles and all are portrayed as men presented by an all female cast. So it’s all male characters presented by women.

    Are you changing pronouns and other gender references? Are costumes gender-specific?

    None of the names or pronouns have been changed. Baptista, presented by Jessica Reedy, is called “father” and nearly every character is referred to as “sir” or “lord.” The women wear dresses and have long hair; the men don’t.

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    THEATER REVIEW: ‘West Side Story’

    When Tony, brandishing the optimism and ache of youth, is singing the last notes of “Something’s Coming,” how can you help but feel an anticipatory shiver? Then we shift in “West Side Story” to the famous dance in the high school gymnasium — the setting in which the rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks will square off, sparking love and tragedy.

    I love this moment in the show when the music pounds an expectant beat and the twirling dresses of the women seem to float forever in a world of possibility. And it comes across gorgeously in the new and uneven Good Company Players production at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater.

    The dancing is the great strength of this production. With only a few exceptions, the cast does justice to the demanding choreographic expectations of this show — which requires a top-notch dance ensemble. The flashy steps of “America”? First-rate. The jittery kinetic flash of the “Jet Song”? Impressive. The comic moves of “Officer Krupke”? Slick and funny.

    Co-choreographers Julie Lucido and Greg Grannis use the small Roger Rocka’s stage to maximum effect, and this is an occasion to single out the dance captains (Marc Gonzalez and Maria Monreal) and fight choreographers (tony sanders and Brent Moser) as well, because movement is what gives the production its sizzle.

    That said, the acting, singing and direction in this production are not always as strong as the dancing.

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    THEATER REVIEW: ‘The Music Man’

    In terms of aw-shucks family wholesomeness — the kind that seems tailor-made for good-hearted, sprawling summer community-theater productions — it’s hard to beat Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.”

    Consider a wonderful moment in the uneven new CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre production, now in its final weekend at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre. Watch 6-year-old Jackson Estep, a few years younger than called for in the script but already possessing an impressive confidence on stage, step out as Winthrop in the “The Wells Fargo Wagon” to belt out a lisp-dominated solo. It’s just so cute you want to box up the moment in a pretty package and take it home with you, there to enjoy at your leisure when the world gets surly.

    There are some good reasons, then, that CenterStage loves this time-honored show. The company last produced “The Music Man” just six years ago.

    It’s only natural for me to compare the latest version with the 2008 incarnation. While the new production, directed by Scott Hancock, has some exuberant moments and performances, including Winthrop in “Wells Fargo,” and a great “Shipoopi” dance number, it’s not as accomplished as the earlier version. Sometimes it seems downright creaky.

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    Opening tonight: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

    Now here’s a twist on the traditional “Taming of the Shrew” for you: The entire cast of the new Woodward Shakespeare Festival production, opening Thursday at Woodward Park, is made up of women actors. Aaron Spjute directs. From the company:

    ‘Shrew” is a comical battle of the sexes, an exploration of how men and women interact and a commentary on the roles society expects them to fill. Spjute has chosen an all-female cast in order to present an exaggerated theatrical experience. “…servants become masters, masters become servants and even the sun becomes the moon simply by being proclaimed as such,” Spjute explains. At its heart, the production challenges us to embrace the idea that we are so often much more than the labels others assign to us.

    Coming Friday: excerpts from a Q&A interview with Spjute in Friday’s 7 section; and an extended interview with him on the Beehive.

    BANDGEEK: Possessed Tranquility, Rosie Flores and Rexx


    The “Fifty Shades of Grey” trailer was released this morning. So other than that quick 2 1/2 minutes, you’ll be free to enjoy the dozens of live music events through next week. I give them to you here in list form as a weekly roundup known as BANDGEEEEK!


  • Dorotheo.
    W/Francisco Y Madero and Aire Espacial. At Fulton 55. 9 p.m. $5-$8. (Flier link)

  • Brian Kenney Fresno.
    Birthday Defense tour. W/Jules Winnfield and Style Like Revelators. At Audie’s Olympic. 9 p.m. $5. (Flier link)

  • Apparitions.
    W/Make Way and Nothing Sacred. At CYC. 7 p.m. $3 donation. All ages. (Flier link)

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    Win tickets to ‘The Mountaintop’

    StageWorks Fresno on Friday opens a play that recently attracted a lot of attention when it appeared on Broadway in 2011: “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall. It’s a fictional account of the last night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, set in a Memphis motel room. It can be controversial to some because it presents King as a real person, not a saint. “It pushes some buttons, because people don’t want to recognize their heroes were not perfect, ” says director Joel C. Abels. (Coming Friday: excerpts from a Q&A session with Abels in the 7 section, and an extended interview on the Beehive.)

    “The Mountaintop” plays at the Dan Pessano Theatre (on the campus of Clovis North High School) for just two weekends, through Aug. 3. And thanks to the Beehive, you have a chance to win a “four pack” of tickets to any of the opening weekend shows (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday). 

    I’m giving away two of these four-packs, and I’ll pick the winners randomly. To enter, leave a comment on this post answering this question: If you’d had the chance to meet Martin Luther King, Jr., what would you have asked him? (If you’d prefer not to get philosophical, you can just tell us why you’d like to see the show.) 

    Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Friday. Please don’t enter more than once. I’ll be informing our winners by email on Friday at 10, so keep a watch on your inbox. If I haven’t heard from a winner by 2 p.m. Friday, I reserve the right to pick another. You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at the theater box office. Rules are on the jump.

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    Stores and restaurants on the move: Who’s coming, who’s going

    Lots of restaurant and retail news happening lately, so I figured it was time for a round up. Here’s what’s happening.

    Lots of folks have been asking what’s happening at the former Fajita Fiesta on Shaw Avenue, just west of Cedar Avenue. It’s going to be Guri’s Grubhouse & Taps. It’s a gastropub (that means lots of craft beer and gourmet food) that the people who own Swigg’s are opening. You can read all about it here. No opening date released yet.

    The long dead corner of Clinton and Weber will get a Vallarta Supermarket. The Hispanic grocer probably won’t open until the end of 2015, but it’s nice to finally have some action on the site of the former Mid-State Bowl.

    The Elephant Lounge is open at 80 W. Shaw Ave. in Clovis in the former North India Bar & Grill. It quietly opened a few weeks ago to work out the kinks. The restaurants sells Indian food — both authentic and fusion — along with Italian and American. Stay tuned for more details on that from me.

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    Five Guys Burgers and Fries planning Fresno expansion

    Five Guys Burgers and Fries apparently really likes Fresno. A company that owns many of the franchised restaurants is planning to open 10 more — yes 10 — restaurants in Fresno. Encore Restaurants, LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Encore Enterprises, Inc. announced Tuesday that it has purchased the existing Fresno restaurant in River Park (along with the Five Guys locations in Elk Grove, Lodi, Natomas, RosevilleStocktonTracy, and West Sacramento). The company plans to open 45 more Five Guys locations in the state over the next four years, with 10 of them in Fresno.

    Of course, this is the point where my suspicious reporter brain said “Really? All 10 in Fresno? Not the ‘Fresno area’ that could potentially stretch to Bakersfield?” Nope, said the marketing director who double checked with the company president.  All 10 in Fresno.

    They have found locations for the sites, but are not releasing addresses yet. Building will start in early 2015. Marketing director Amy Upton said: “They just have had a lot of feedback [from] people wanting them. There’s a need for it in the area. People are requesting them.”

    Five Guys serves burgers, of course, but also hot dogs and sandwiches, along with providing peanuts in bulk for customers. Is this a challenge to the Valley’s beloved In-N-Out Burger perhaps?