FresnoBeehive.com

Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

The Starbucks pumpkin spice latte is coming — eventually

In the world of Starbucks fans, the pumpkin spice latte is a really big deal. It’s a drink that’s only available for a limited time in the fall and always inspires lots of Facebook photos of Starbucks cups and nicely manicured nails. It even has its own abbreviation, PSL. Like some highly anticipated birth, the PSL is due to arrive any day now.

As far as I can tell, Sept. 2 is the official release date. But some stores will have it earlier. It appears the Starbucks marketing machine is capitalizing on the excitement surrounding the PSL with a little social media game. Customers who play the game can “unlock” the drink early for anyone ordering at their store.

So, to get the drink early, Starbucks is encouraging customers to follow @TheRealPSL Twitter account. The internet savvy latte started tweeting clues yesterday and will continue through Monday. Customers are encouraged to “work through the game challenges with the help of the PSL community.” Customers who correctly figure out the special password will unlock the PSL for the stores they visit, meaning anyone can order a PSL after that whether they have the password or not. The earliest this will happen is Tuesday. Still confused? Read this. And if you’re one of the truly dedicated who do this, please tell us in the comments which Fresno-area stores have the drink available early.

Capo’s restaurant to raise money for Harkenrider family

Capo’s restaurant is holding a fundraiser Tuesday to benefit the daughter and pregnant widow of Matthew Harkenrider. Harkenrider is the 26-year-old man who was killed in that tragic crash at Fresno Street and Herndon Avenue by a woman who is accused of running a red light while high on methamphetamine. Harkenrider’s twin brother, Eric, has worked at Giuseppe Gallo’s in Clovis — another restaurant owned by the Martin family who owns Capo’s — for over a year.

The fundraiser is at Capo’s from 4 p.m. to close Tuesday. Capo’s is in the Park Place shopping center at Palm and Nees avenues near GB3 in Fresno. (Note that the fundraiser is NOT at Giuseppe Gallo’s.) The restaurant will donate 20% of its gross sales from that time to a memorial fund at the Educational Employees Credit Union. Judging from the restaurant’s Facebook post about the event, the restaurant is going to get a big crowd, so make reservations. The donations will also come from takeout orders. Family friends of the Martins have pledged to match the restaurant’s donation.

If you can’t make the event,  you can donate directly to the memorial fund at any EECU branch. The account is under the name Matthew Harkenrider Memorial Account #11956007.

Mobile teppanyaki business brings the food and the show to you

File this one under “Hey, what a cool idea.” New mobile teppanyaki business Teppanyaki 2U started barely a month and a half ago but is already getting booked up. The Clovis-based business brings a 9-foot griddle and a teppanyaki chef to your backyard. Like teppanyaki restaurants, the chefs prepare food right in front of you with flair, including making “onion volcanoes” that spew fire (at right) and juggling rice bowls (keep scrolling for a video of Chef Jimmy juggling the rice bowls).

Personal trainer Eric Sunamoto got the idea for the business while taking a break at his 10-year-old daughter Kimora’s birthday party. He was thinking that buying and preparing the food was a lot of work and he should have hired a taco truck. His daughter loves teppanyaki and he then thought, “Man, I wish there was a teppanyaki place” that would deliver. The business idea was born.

Teppanyaki 2U charges a minimum of $300 for an event. Prices vary depending upon the number of people and whether you’re getting steak and lobster or chicken. The business can handle events as small as six people or as big as 150 people. You can see lots of pictures of the events on Facebook and on Instagram under the username @teppanyaki2u

Read more

Autistic boy inspires local fashion line

Children’s clothing line Fly Kidz a has a new kiosk in Fresno and a sweet backstory. The kiosk selling boys and girls clothing opened about three weeks ago in front of the Disney store at Fashion Fair mall. The family-run company also has a store in Reedley at 1036 G St. and got its start selling urban streetwear for little boys.

The line was inspired by Ian Escoto, who was 4 years old when he was diagnosed with a severe form of autism: a rare genetic disorder in which a bit of a chromosome is missing. When he was getting 20 hours a week of therapy, designing T-shirts with his mom was used as a reward for completing therapy. Ian doesn’t talk, so he’d use hand motions to describe a breakdancer or headphones that he wanted on the shirts. Now 7 years old, Ian uses an iPad with a special app to communicate, pointing to pictures in the program. He still picks the colors of the shirts, but mostly now it’s mom and dad — Jacklyn Garcia-Escoto and Jose Escoto — choosing the images.

The family is in the process of forming a non-profit organization called A Puzzle Piece to My Heart. A puzzle piece appears on the clothing tags because “every child with autism has a different puzzle piece that has to be met,” says his mom. Eventually, a portion of sales will go to the nonprofit. The Escotos hope the money can be used to help other families afford iPads and the expensive app that Ian uses to communicate. Ian has made lots of progress since getting the iPad and has far fewer tantrums.

Read more

Who’s coming, who’s going: A new Chick-fil-A and more

Lots of openings and closings to catch you up on today, starting with plans for a Chick-fil-A restaurant at Fashion Fair mall. The tire store outbuilding in front of the mall near Shaw Avenue and First Street will be torn down and rebuilt as a Chick-fil-A, says the mall spokeswoman. Work hasn’t even started yet, so it will be a while before it opens (that’s a file photo of the north Fresno location at right).

Also at Fashion Fair, Love Culture is closing. The national retailer is bankrupt and closing its stores. A going-out-of-business sale has already started. No word yet on when the store will close, but prices should continue to drop.

A store called Metal Mulisha will open Aug. 22 in the former No Fear space. This one is geared toward people living the “Motocross, BMX and X Games lifestyle.” It’s the same company that used to create Metal Mulisha branded merchandise for No Fear.

Read more

And the winner of the taco throwdown is …

There was a clear winner at the fourth annual Taco Truck Throwdown at Chukchansi Park at the Grizzlies game last night: La Elegante. The restaurant that has two taco trucks won both the people’s choice award and the judge’s award. La Elegante also won the inaugural taco truck throwdown in 2011. 

If you want to check out this award-winning deliciousness, you can find La Elegante’s restaurant at 1423 Kern St. in downtown Fresno. The restaurant also has two trucks, one of which does special events and the other is often parked near Pick-A-Part near Maple and Muscat avenues in the afternoons. This is La Elegante’s 30th year in business, by the way.

If you ever doubted that Fresno is taco central, check out these stats: 13,845 people walked through the gates to watch the game or chow down on tacos. That’s the fourth-biggest attendance in Grizzlies history. At the throwdown, 27,000 tacos were sold, up from 21,500 last year. That is a lot of tacos. Keep reading to see the top five winners in both categories. If you attended, feel free to share in the comments about how it went and your favorite taco.

Read more

Clovis yogurt shop introduces “shaved snow”

Shaved snow. Have you heard of it? I hadn’t either until last week. This nifty frozen dessert is kinda like shaved ice, but instead of ice, it’s made from a mixture of milk or cream and flavors such as strawberry or Nutella. The mixture is frozen solid into disk and then placed in a machine that slices off super-thin ribbons of deliciousness. It’s topped with fruit, nuts and other frozen yogurt bar toppings, such as drizzles of condensed milk or marshmallow cream.

The newly opened JoJo’s Frozen Yogurt at Ashlan and Fowler avenues in Clovis is selling the dessert ($3.95 for a small, which can easily be shared between two people, $5.95 for a large). Lollicup Coffee & Tea on Bullard Avenue near First Street has been selling its version, “snow fluff” for a while now. Apparently shaved snow is popular and trendy in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. JoJo’s owner Don Soyinthisane waited about half an hour to try it in L.A. before deciding to make it part of their business. It’s just starting to catch on in Fresno. JoJo’s has developed a following among local Asians who are spreading the word via social media and seeking out the purple taro flavor.

Other flavors include Nutella (I can vouch for this one’s yummyness), strawberry, chocolate, green tea, pineapple, cantaloupe and avocado. Shaved snow is a bit lighter and even a little less fatty than ice cream. The texture, though, is difficult to describe. It’s surprisingly creamy. Don likes to say that if ice cream and shaved ice had a baby, it would be shaved snow. Keep scrolling to see a video of how it’s made.

Read more

Restaurant week in full swing

Restaurant Week

If you’re like me, you don’t need an excuse to eat out, but here’s a good one: Restaurant Week is happening right now. You can read more about it here and see all the participating restaurants here, but basically it’s a time when you can get good eats for a lower-than-normal price. The 26 participating restaurants are offering three-course dinners for $20, $30 or $40. A few are doing lunch for lower prices. Newly participating this year are Aria Persian Cuisine, Shepherd’s Inn, Frankie’s 568, HCK (Hermosa California Kitchen) and Peeve’s Public House. It goes until Aug. 15.

Most of the restaurants have their Restaurant Week menus on the website. A few don’t and a few oddly have listed their regular menus. That’s a bit of a head scratcher, because certainly some diners are making decisions based on the drool-worthy descriptions of menus that are specifically for Restaurant Week. (Surely, the “deluxe feast of BBQ” at Westwoods with tri-tip, St. Louis ribs and honey Q fried chicken strips is luring in a few customers, and if you ever wanted to try fried green tomatoes, you can do it at Trelio.) After chatting with the organizer, the best advice we can give if the Restaurant Week menu isn’t listed is to call the restaurant directly and ask them what they’re doing for Restaurant Week. (And you may want to make reservations. Lela’s Restaurant said on Facebook that it’s booking up fast.)

At any rate, the promotion is still a good way to try out a new restaurant or experience one that’s normally out of your budget, or even take a risk on a new dish at a restaurant you already know.

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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? 

Win tickets to the Fresno Food Expo


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.

Read more

Baked goodies grab the spotlight at new Ooh De Lolli Take Away Cafe

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 sells “light bites.” That includes sandwiches and salads, breakfast frittatas and breakfast pastries with coffee, along with Mott’s ice pops and other frozen goodies. But it’s the baked goods that are taking center stage here. Jannine Fitzgerald and her FireHouse Cookies & Pastries are providing the goodies. (That’s her on the left and Mott on the right.) The baked goods include maple-glazed cronuts, lemon lavender scones, sweet buns that are 6 inches across and gluten-free peanut butter cookies (along with lots of not gluten-free cookies). There’s also something called Breton cakes, which are layers of thin dough alternating with layers of European butter that Fitzgerald actually pounds until malleable. The result is a personal-sized pastry with hundreds of layers of dough and butter that is nestled in a baking tin like a flower, sprinkled with sugar and baked so the outside layers caramelize. Hungry yet?

The cafe is tiny, about 230 square feet. But there’s a handful of tables on a shady patio outside the cafe.

Benaddiction restaurant is open and raising money for a good cause

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.

Read more

Men’s room theft has happy ending in Visalia

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.

Wine tasting at Meux Home with Grocery Outlet

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).

Deli Delicious: Coming to a corner near you?

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 moves to new spot

IMG_7127Cracked 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.

Read more

‘Insanely hot’ Doritos, chocolate-dipped Twinkies and other weird food news

Chocodiles TwinkiesUpdate: 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.

Read more

Where are the Hidden Cash paying-it-forward stories?

HIDDEN CASHPeople 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 bclough@fresnobee.com.

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.

New thrift shop — with a side of downtown revitalization

am2There’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.

Read more

The Melting Pot fondue restaurant could be coming to Fresno

FRONT BURNER BRANDS LOGOThe 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.

Eye-catching street art in the Tower District

mural1

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?

Read more

Bumbling bandits caught on video

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.

Sonic Drive-In reopened in Clovis

photo (100)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.

slushSidenote: 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.