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.
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.
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, Roseville, Stockton, Tracy, 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?
Update: The winner of the Fresno Food Expo tickets has been randomly selected. Congratulations, Andrea (who likes local strawberries).
The Fresno Food Expo showcasing all kinds of locally produced foods is Thursday — and I have free tickets to give away. The public portion of the show runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Fresno Convention Center, New Exhibit Hall. If this show is anything like past years, the 125 vendors will giving out tons of food and you’ll get to taste lots of beer and vodka and other goodies. You can read more about the show itself here.
We’ve got a tight deadline on this one, so to enter to win tickets, tell us in the comments what your favorite locally grown or produced food is before 3 p.m. Wednesday. Winners will be chosen at random and notified via email (so check your email if you enter). These are physical tickets and must be picked up at the Fresno Bee office (1626 E St.) during business hours (that means before 5 p.m.). Keep reading for contest rules.
Tucked into a tiny space at Gazebo Gardens nursery at Van Ness Boulevard and Shields Avenue is a little haven of deliciousness: The Ooh De Lolli Take Away Cafe. The cafe was opened recently by Donna Mott, the woman who sells ice pops (paletas, if you prefer) from a cart around town. It’s open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
The cafe is tiny, about 230 square feet. But there’s a handful of tables on a shady patio outside the cafe.
Rock-n-roll-themed breakfast food truck Benaddiction has opened its sit-down restaurant. The truck is still rolling Thursday through Sunday, but now you can get the breakfast sandwiches, salads and other food any day of the week at the restaurant. It’s located at 3015 W. Bullard Ave., at the southwest corner of Bullard and Marks and is open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
The menu is a little different from the truck. Pancakes are now available, along with appetizers such as Buffalo wings and onion rings. Customers can get the breakfast sandwiches on their own, or, since the business can actually use plates now, get them served open faced with french fries or breakfast potatoes. And clearly, it’s not just breakfast food, with wraps, salads and burgers on the menu too. “Any meal you want whenever you want it,” says owner James Caples.
The restaurant is little — about 1,000 square feet and seven tables — and the walls are decorated with album covers. The tables are painted with chalkboard paint and customers are encouraged to get artsy with chalk while waiting for their food. Customer art often gets photographed and put on the Benaddiction’s Facebook page.
Facebook was buzzing yesterday when Pita Kabob, a gastropub in Visalia, posted this as its status: “To the person who stole the California republic bear picture and frame in the men’s bathroom. It’s all good, you needed it more than us, you could’ve just asked.”
The theft of the image of the bear that’s on the California flag inspired tons of comments on the Facebook post, many of them unleashing their rage at the thief. At one point, whoever is behind the Pita Kabob Facebook post sought to calm things down, saying, “It’s all good everyone. We have a feeling of who the person is. Unfortunately people act silly when they drink…..”
But it has a happy ending. This morning Pita Kabob posted that someone slid the picture under the door with a note that said, “Wasn’t funny. I apologize,” with a frown face. Even better is the flood of positive comments on that second post, things like “Faith in humanity restored!” and “Awesome! I love it when people who do rotten things make real amends. Good on ya anonymous person.” All is right with the world now.
Here’s an unusual place to host a wine tasting: The Meux Home Museum. The lawn of that gorgeous 1888 Victorian home downtown will be the site of Grocery Outlet’s first of many monthly wine tastings beginning Friday. The event, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., is a fundraiser for the museum and costs $10. No reservations or tickets needed, just make sure you bring your ID no matter how old you are because you won’t get in without it. Grocery Outlet is donating all the wine.
The event was inspired by Chris Caillier, the local owner/operator of the new Grocery Outlet across the intersection at Tulare and R streets. “I looked at that mansion and said, ‘We need to have a wine tasting there,’” he said. The store is partnering with the West Shaw Grocery Outlet for this event and all the area Grocery Outlet stores will be involved in future monthly wine tastings. They will eventually include food, live music and beer tasting.
It’s also a way for Grocery Outlet to bring some attention to its wine and beer department. Like many of its products, the stores gets overruns of wine when wineries have too much or change a label, for example. Caillier says the department is a good for way for wine drinkers who want to experiment but not spend a lot of money. Most bottles cost between $4.99 and $6.99 with the occasional $1.99 bottle.
Most of the beer for sale at Grocery Outlet isn’t overstock, but comes directly from the sellers. The stores sell some interesting craft beers, including Tioga-Sequioa beer and Firestone (and I hear Riley’s is often sold at local Grocery Outlets too).
Fresno-based Deli Delicious is growing like crazy. It’s not actually crazy, but a well-thought-out expansion plan in which the Fresno company sells franchises of its sandwich shops all over California, neighboring states and eventually, the nation. You can read more about that and the immigrant family’s back story in the story that ran Saturday, but mostly I’m finding people just want to know if a Deli Delicious is going to open near them. There are 21 Deli Delicious locations open now between Bakersfield and Sacramento, and 14 more on the way. Details aren’t available on all of them yet, but here’s what we know.
Fresno: The first downtown Deli Delicious is scheduled to open this week at 970 N. St. It’s between Tulare and Kern streets.
Fresno: 6701 N. Milburn Ave., at southwest corner of Milburn and Herndon avenues, near the EECU.
Fresno: 4012 W. Clinton Ave., Clinton and Brawley avenues.
Visalia: 5129 W. Walnut Ave. near the Supercuts and Akers.
Bakersfield: 9801 Hageman Road near Calloway Drive.
Cracked Pepper Bistro, which has a reputation for being one of the best restaurants in town, has moved to its new location in northwest Fresno. It’s at 6737 N. Palm Ave. near Herndon Avenue in the North Pointe Shopping Center (which is having a little revival of its own, now that Rue Cafe and Parma are there, along with By the Sea and Club Habanos). Cracked Pepper opened in its new digs Tuesday, taking over part of the space that Samba left behind when it moved. Owner and chef Vatche Moukhtarian says the move was mostly driven by behind-the-scenes difficulties (employees sardined into a too-small kitchen, for example) along with not enough parking. Here’s what you need to know about the new place.
It has a bar now. And that means all kinds of new “culinary cocktails” on the menu. The cocktails have fresh vegetables and fresh-squeezed fruit juices. The Palm 67 cocktail, for example, has vodka, lime, sugar, cucumber and mint. The Honeysuckle cocktail has fresh Fresno chiles in it.
Diners pass the wine cellar — actually a room with a glass door — on their way to the restrooms. The staff is really excited about this room stacked floor-to-ceiling with wine bottles. Before, wine storage was spread out over four or five locations, causing wait staff to go on a bit of a hunt to find your wine.
Update: How could I forget this one? If you dress up like a cow today and go to Chick-fil-A, you’ll get a free meal. It’s “Cow Appreciation Day” there. And these people are serious about humiliating you having fun – to get the full free meal you have to dress up “head to hoof” in cow attire. Customers who are too “chicken” to go all out get a free entree for wearing a cow-spotted hat, scarf, purse, etc.
Let’s take a quick break from all the wonderful farm-to-fork foodie goodness our Valley produces and focus on some of the more oddball munchies that have hit Fresno recently. First, Friday is 7-Eleven Day (it’s 7/11, get it?) and that means the stores will be giving away free small Slurpees — but only from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. of course. In the days that follow, you can get free snacks ranging from birthday cake-flavored M&Ms to yogurt bars if you download the 7-Eleven app. Details here.
Twinkies is reintroducing Chocodiles to stores. Chocodiles, which Hostess says developed a “cult-like following” are essentially chocolate-covered Twinkies. (I’ve never had one. How are they?) In the past they were only distributed to stores in the West, but appeared on eBay selling for $30 a box. Now you can get them again, along with strawberry creme, banana creme and chocolate creme Twinkies the company will be releasing this summer. (No word yet on where to get these Twinkies, but since Walmart had first dibs on the relaunch of the original Twinkies, they might be a good place to try.) Hostess is also inviting fans to submit new and inventive recipes that use Twinkies for what will become The Twinkies Cookbook.
People are still talking about the Hidden Cash frenzy from earlier this week when Fresnans came out en masse to scour two parks for hidden envelopes containing nearly $1,900. The money hidden by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur ranged from silver dollars to $175 inside Pez dispensers. Each cache carried a message asking the finders to tweet their photos and encouraged them to “pay it forward.”
Now that it’s been a few days, where are the pay-it-forward stories? My colleague Tim Sheehan, who covered the event, said he’s seen tweets from other cities of people at Starbucks buying coffee for the people in line behind them. Have you heard of any Fresno paying-it-forward stories stemming from Hidden Cash? Of course, the amounts in some of these finds were a tad small — there’s not a lot you can do with a silver dollar (not criticizing the founder’s choice, just pointing out reality). If you’ve seen any tweets or other tales, send ‘em my way. Make a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, this brings up the whole topic of Fresno and its poverty. With 10.5% unemployment and a median household income of $42,276, perhaps some of those folks searching Woodward Park needed the money. (And can you blame those folks for not paying it forward?) The man behind Hidden Cash tweeted today about how “enthusiastic” Central Valley folks are and I hope it was a sense of fun — and not desperation — that caused such a big turnout.
There’s a new thrift shop in downtown Fresno. Team AMVETS opened a thrift shop in the big white building at 758 Broadway Street next to Tioga-Sequoia Brewing. It’s just two short blocks away from thrift shop row on Van Ness Avenue, where there’s a whole slew of thrift shops you can spend an afternoon sifting through. The AMVETS store, which is huge, sells men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, books, movies, vinyl records, couches and lots of office furniture.
If this store seems familiar, there’s a reason for that: It used to be an AMVETS thrift store years ago. The back story is that the shop couldn’t continue in the building unless it did some major repairs, so the organization moved the thrift shop to a new location that is still open at Shields and Cedar. Fast forward a few years and AMVETS, whose main goal is to provide services to veterans, is looking for a place to park a truck and store furniture for its Welcome Home program. That program helps furnish the homes of formerly homeless veterans who get housing help through the VA.
AMVETS still owned the downtown building and its thrift shop had been successful there before, said spokesman Doug Weber. It had a new board of directors who looked at the building with fresh eyes. And Weber specifically mentioned the board noticing the city of Fresno’s emphasis on revitalizing downtown.
The Melting Pot could be coming to Fresno — eventually. The fondue restaurant with locations in Sacramento and Southern California sent out a press release today saying it’s looking for franchisees to open a restaurant in Fresno. From the release:
The Melting Pot Restaurants, Inc., the world’s premier fondue restaurant and a leading polished casual dining franchise, announced today that it is actively seeking franchisees on the West Coast to bring its interactive dining experience to Fresno, Calif., naming the city as a target for future franchise development.
I tend to be a tad skeptical of these things until they actually happen (the Tilted Kilt pub said the same thing a year ago and we’re still waiting). But it does prove that the company is looking for someone to foot the bill for opening one here. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Melting Pot is a restaurant where you can dip bread and veggies in cheese, or strawberries and marshmallows in chocolate. (Excuse me while I clean the drool off my keyboard.) It also serves salads and entrees with dipping sauces such as pot stickers and pork medallions.
Opening a Melting Pot restaurant is quite an investment. Franchisees must have a net worth of $750,000 and be able to shell out $977,000 to $1.4 million.
I swung by the Viral Boutique in the Tower District while working on my retail column this week, and couldn’t help but notice what is painted on the wall outside. This is on the building that used to be Tom’s Trains at 1476 N. Van Ness Ave. that faces a dirt lot. The mural is much bigger than what’s shown here, so keep scrolling to see more.
Shop owner Omar Yanez tells me he didn’t like the original look of the wall, which was a patchwork of paint colors due to efforts to cover up graffiti. He put out a call on Craigslist for artists to come paint it and three or four people responded. Normally, we would always give credit to artists at the Bee, but when I asked Omar for their names, he called back to say they didn’t want their names published. “They call themselves collectively the ‘Remainders,’” he says. Since I’ve been sitting here wondering what to call this art (Graffiti art? Street art? Hip hop art as Omar says?), the fact that the artists don’t want their names might be a clue. What do you think about the murals?
Our newsroom is buzzing about this video of an attempted robbery caught on a security camera at a jewelry store in southeast Fresno. The robbers are, shall we say, not very good (to put it nicely)? Perhaps it would have went smoother if one of them wasn’t talking on the phone the entire time. You can read the whole story here, but what you don’t see is the jewelry store owner emerging from a back room with a shotgun. The cops are looking for would-be robbers.
Remember the Sonic Drive-In on Shaw Avenue in Clovis that’s been surrounded by a chain-link fence and overgrown for the last two years? It’s an eyesore no more. The Sonic near Walmart reopened Tuesday after the owners of 24 other Sonics in the Valley bought it. It took a couple years to reach a deal because the couple likes to own, not lease, the land their restaurants are on. (The restaurant just didn’t work out for the previous owner, not sure what specifically led to its closure.)
New owners Scott A. and Tani McMillan put some work into the place to bring it back up to speed, and added a few extras you won’t find at the other Sonic restaurants. Namely, the menu boards that you pull up to have a video screen that promotes Sonic food and confirms your order.
Sidenote: Sonic is now carrying Slushes with Nerds candy in it. We spent several minutes talking about this bizarre little development and Scott is pretty excited about it.
“It’s awesome,” he says of the Nerds. “They don’t sink to the bottom. They don’t float on the top.”
Anyway, you can expect to see more Sonics in the Fresno/Clovis area in the long-term. The restaurants do very well here, say the owners. Also, Sanger will get a Sonic, possibly by the end of the year. There, the restaurant will take over the former Burger King at Academy Avenue and 9th Street. They’ll experiment with some indoor seating, something Sonic does in the wintery northeast, but might be appropriate for 104-degree days like today.
So far, he has left stacks of bills — often $50 and $100 – hidden inside plastic Angry Birds and other creative holders, while giving out clues to the location via the Hidden Cash Twitter and Facebook account. He also hinted at a big holiday weekend surprise this morning, but didn’t say where.
If you’re into raw food, you’ll want to hit up Whole Foods Wednesday. Raw Fresno will get 5% of all sales that day as the recipient of the Whole Foods Local Foodmaker Grant in Fresno. Owner Naomi Hendrix got enough online votes to win the grant, which is aimed at helping local food businesses grow. Hendrix is in the process of getting her food truck, dubbed “Minvera the RawMeister,” on the road. For now, you can find her selling her food from a booth at several farmers markets, Gazebo Gardens and Peeve’s (more info on that here). She’ll be demonstrating how to make the food and giving out samples of her raw food at Whole Foods Wednesday.
So what is raw food? Food that’s not heated above 118 degrees. The more natural the food is, the better for you it is, the thinking goes. Hendrix makes stuffed mushrooms, pad thai, brownie bites, kale chips and cheesecake with “cheese” made from cashews. You can see lots of pictures of her food and follow the local raw food movement on her Facebook page.
The BreakFast Hut owners Cheryl Dunton, special cardboard guest John Wayne and Carlos Castillo. That’s Sidney Pitre having some fun in the background.
The BreakFast Hut has been serving up breakfast burritos with a little help from John Wayne and Elvis for about a month now. The restaurant is at 915 Van Ness Ave., near Kern Street (in the spot that used to be a coffee shop and briefly a Guadalajara restaurant). It serves breakfast and lunch, so you can get a burger for breakfast or pancakes for lunch — or chicken and waffles any time. It’s open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. The owners have a background in breakfast. Both have owned The Waffle Shop on Blackstone Avenue and one of them still does.
Life-size cutouts of John Wayne or Elvis usually greet customers as they come in the door (figuratively, that is). John Wayne because the restaurant does country cooking and because the owners got too busy to finish the rest of the decor. When he got loaned to Warnors Theatre for their showing of the original “True Grit,” Elvis stepped in. It’s not unusual to see customers taking pictures with them. (During my visit I overheard a grandma say to her grandkids about John Wayne: “That’s grandma’s boyfriend.”)
If this makes you think the owners don’t life too seriously, you are correct. Chef/co-owner Carlos Castillo was giving me a fist bump within seconds of meeting him. And partner Cheryl Dunton is just chipper and friendly. You’ll find their kids working at the restaurant too, including 10-year-old Brandon, who has no problem chatting up customers.
Have you noticed the construction on Shaw Avenue in front of Fashion Fair? It’s going to be a Sleep Train mattress store. Not quite as exciting as the much-beloved Yen Ching restaurant that used to be there, but it’s better than an empty lot, right? It will open Aug. 27.
The newly built Chili’s at 3585 W. Shaw Ave. (near Brawley) opened Monday. Eons ago that site was home to Bakers Square restaurant before it closed and was torn down.
Visalia is home to the second Wet Seal + store in the nation carrying all plus sizes. The store, at 4021 S. Mooney Blvd., is in the Packwood Creek shopping center and carries sizes 14 to 24 and 1X through 3X. The other Wet Seal carrying regular sizes in Visalia Mall is still open. Wet Seal opened its first Wet Seal + store in Clovis last fall.
Clothing store Coldwater Creekhas filed for bankruptcy and is closing all its stores, including the one in Fig Garden Village. The liquidation sale is happening now — and has been for what seems like weeks. No word yet on when exactly the store will close.
Thanks to @HarmsWayChad for bringing this one to our attention. There’s a funny yet crass country music video on YouTube called “Keep Yer Hands Off My PBR” (as in Pabst Blue Ribbon the beer, not Professional Bull Riders) that mentions Fresno. Two bikini-clad ladies are in a hot tub gossiping about the new country-singing, rusty-truck-owning neighbor, Scuzz Twittly. Where is he from? “Probably like, Kentucky or Fresno,” says the high-maintenance lady.
Then, as you can see for yourself, the ladies and the Scuzz go on to create a music video together. (Just who Scuzz Twittly is isn’t clear. His bio — which describes him as the son of an “armpit fartist” — is a comical, fictional read.) Anyway, this video is definitely NSFW (seriously, prepare to see him in a banana hammock and for language that may offend).
Got plans tomorrow night? The food truck nights at Gazebo Gardens have expanded to Thursdays. It started with Saturdays last year, expanded to Fridays and the nursery tried out its first Thursday last week. It worked, so it’s now a regular thing. If you haven’t been to a food truck night there yet, here’s what to expect: Several food trucks, a walk through some blooming roses to get to them, lots of craft beer in the beer garden (get it? beer garden, at a nursery, heh), lovely local music and a general sense of friendliness and community. (And the occasional Amtrak train speeds by, which somehow adds a bit of unique charm.)
The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. all three days. The only thing different about Thursdays is that instead of a live band, it will be open mic night. (As the Gazebo Gardens Facebook page says: “So far, no Grammy contenders- just people smiling and cheering each other on.”)
Food trucks vary each time, but it’s not unusual to see everyone from Dusty Buns to frozen yogurt truck Gorilla Gurt. Keep tabs on each truck’s Facebook or Twitter page to see if they’ll be there. Gazebo owner Scott Miller said that not only are lots of people turning out for the events, but food truck owners were asking for another night. He even hinted that Gazebo might be the site of a more permanent evolution of the food truck movement.
The Downtown Club is now open for dinner Wednesdays through Saturdays. Photo: Eric Paul Zamora.
The Downtown Club is now serving dinner. Doing dinnertime business has always been the plan since the new owners took over. Now, from Wednesday through Saturday you can get dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The bar just reopened too and happy hour is during the same time period. Owner Nick Farid says two people can get two dinner entrees and a bottle of house wine for $49. The menu includes New York steak, salmon and chicken Marsala.
I’m sure this news will please my fellow blogger and downtown resident Joshua Tehee, who complained about the lack of downtown dinnertime options in a recent column about new restaurants opening downtown:
The majority of these new businesses will cater to the many government and office workers, operating limited hours and only during the workweek.
That makes practical sense.
But it’s frustrating for those of us who live (and work and play) downtown and are eager for a vibrant, urban community that includes life after 5 p.m. on Fridays.