BY BETHANY CLOUGH
MARCH 04, 2019 08:27 AM,
It might take five years, it might take a decade, but Kern County is apparently getting a Hard Rock Cafe-branded hotel and casino.
At least that’s the hope of the Tejon Tribe of Kern County, which announced an agreement this week with Hard Rock International, the global hospitality company known for its rock ‘n’ roll-themed restaurants. Hard Rock has agreed to develop and manage a $600 million, 400-room hotel and casino that the tribe has proposed on farmland just west of Highway 99, half an hour south of Bakersfield.
Sandra Hernandez, a council member with the Tejon Tribe, joined The Californian’s Robert Price Wednesday on his weekly “One on One” noon webcast to talk about the Tejon Tribe and its vision for the hotel-casino.
Among the topics they discussed:
• The tribe is considering the possibility of building administrative offices, a health-care facility and housing near the hotel-casino, which will occupy 52 acres of the 306-acre parcel the tribe owns near Mettler.
• The hotel-casino would employ 2,000 people — more than twice the number of known Tejon tribal members. There’s no such thing as a hiring advantage for tribal members, however. “We’re an equal opportunity employer,” Hernandez said.
• Hernandez said she expects to maintain good relations and mutual support among the management of the Tejon’s Hard Rock casino and those of the Eagle Mountain and Tachi Palace gaming casinos in adjacent Tulare and Kings counties, respectively.
Expectations that Bakersfield’s economy is on the rise have created the city’s biggest hotel boom since the Great Recession.
Half a dozen hotels with a combined 658 rooms are proposed or under construction, all on the city’s west side and many of them extended-stay properties geared toward business travelers. Some of the incoming brands are entirely new to the city.
Hoteliers say the rush of private investment is being driven in part by other local projects, such as the Amazon distribution center under construction near Meadows Field Airport. There’s also a sense the city’s relatively low housing and labor costs have created an incentive to build while the savings last.
Conditions in Bakersfield’s hotel market have improved significantly during the past decade — the city’s occupancy rate is up more than six points, average room rates have increased 25 percent and Bakersfield’s hotel room inventory is up 12 percent, according to hotel data tracker STR.
Those numbers alone don’t explain the construction seen in the market lately, said Francois Khoury, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton Bakersfield, which is finishing up more than $15 million of renovations that began in April of last year.
He said a bigger factor in the recent investment is anticipation that oil prices are on the way up and that now’s the time to prepare for good times ahead in the local economy.
“Everybody wants to be ready,” he said.
AFFORDABILITY AND GROWTH
Jenny Hlaudy, general manager of The Courtyard by Marriott, sees affordability as bringing investor attention to the Bakersfield market. Land is inexpensive locally, she said, and so are housing costs.
At the same time, the area’s overall growth, combined with large construction projects going on around town, are helping not just hotels but also local restaurants and stores. She said the net effect is a desirable place to build new lodging.
“It’s huge,” she said of the hotel boom. “We haven’t had that much growth, as far as hotels, in many years. … It’s going to truly impact this city.”
One of the new hotels coming online later this year is a 113-room Home2 Suites by Hilton west of Coffee Road near Brimhall Road. Director of Sales Denise Connor said a large housing-residential-retail project proposed nearby, the Bakersfield Commons proposal, is probably one reason why the hotel is being built.
“With the Bakersfield Commons coming in, that is going to bring in potential new growth,” Connor said. She added that new roads projects and the Amazon center are further positive signs that could lead to business for the hotel.
David Lyman, manager of Visit Bakersfield, the city’s convention and visitors bureau credited an increase in local events for recent hotel investments, as well as travelers stopping overnight on their way to national parks to the north and south.
Whatever the reason, Bakersfield’s hotel tax — a 12 percent addition to the cost of a room — is now bringing in more money than it ever has. This fiscal year alone the tax is projected to raise $9.7 million for the city’s general fund.
Add that to the money visitors spend on meals and supplies, he said, and the local hospitality industry becomes an economic force that is growing fast.
“These projects create and retain jobs, not just the people who work in the hotels and restaurants,” he said. “We all like to keep that money flowing locally.”
By Tim Viall, Special to The Record
Posted May 13, 2019
Residents of San Joaquin County live in, arguably, the most productive agricultural region in the world. But, as cities expand, farming and food production is pushed further each year into the countryside; many residents seldom think where that food on the table comes from, much less how it is harvested and produced.
To understand the agricultural underpinnings of our county, make your first stop the San Joaquin Historical Museum at Micke Grove Park south of Lodi. The museum story begins with an expanded Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans who have been living in what is now San Joaquin County for more than 13,000 years.
The museum traces the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people, all with rich cultures and lifestyles. Native peoples here put up the greatest resistance to the Spanish-Mexican missions and fought battles with the largest army formed in Spanish-Mexican California. Videos bring to life the intricacies of traditional basket making, acorn preparation, deer hunting and native life.
An interactive circular display allows visitors to listen to recorded messages. In one recording, Glen Villa Jr. (Northern Miwok/Plains Miwok) tells about the First People and a traditional creation narrative. Another recording shares a traditional Yokuts story, told by Sylvia Ross (Chukchansi Yokuts), a third of the Indian freedom fighters led by Estanislao, for whom the Stanislaus River and county were named.
These exhibits work well with the other exhibits in the Erickson Building, and visitors can go in chronological order from the Native peoples who first inhabited the area, to an exhibit on the early trappers and the founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Continue on to an exhibition on the early American settlers, then on to exhibits on the Gold Rush, a hands-on children’s gallery, and the adjacent Weber Gallery.
The Innovators of Agriculture exhibit features the development of intensive, irrigated agriculture in the county beginning around 1900. Six crops are the focus: dry beans, asparagus, cherries, walnuts, canning tomatoes and truck farming (growing of fruits and veggies, trucked to local markets). If you want insight into why our county is so ag-centric, start at this museum wonder! The museum is kid-friendly, with lots of “hands-on” options, and scores of huge tractors, harvesters and vintage farming equipment to wow even young visitors.
Expand your agri-history tour with a visit to the California Agricultural Museum in Woodland, north of Sacramento and just off Interstate 5. Gene Muhlenkamp, a docent since 1996, took two hours to show my friends and I through much of the museum. Its collection stems from that of the Heidrick Brothers, farmers who built a substantial farming empire west of Woodland beginning in the 1930s. Inventive, they often concocted their own machinery to solve farming challenges and began an extensive collection of vintage and noteworthy agri-machinery.
The museum offers a unique collection of tractors, artifacts and interactive exhibits telling the history of California agriculture. Implements date back to the Gold Rush era and follow California’s evolution from horse-drawn ag machinery to steam-driven and then on to fuel-powered machines. Wander the collection of wheeled and track-type harvesters, tractors, combines, trucks and photo galleries. You’ll even find a Ford Model T roadster converted to a farm tractor.
Museum items with a Stockton connection include an old Samson Sieve-Grip tractor, built in Stockton in the early 1900s, several huge Holt tracked-vehicles, built for the U.S. military in World War I to haul artillery pieces and take the place of horses, killed all too often in action. The huge Holt tractor, armored for wartime, has a number of dents in its armor from bullet strikes.
A monster-sized Best steamer seems almost too large to be true, dwarfing my friends who joined for the tour. A giant Holt harvester (made in Stockton), all of wood and timber with iron fittings, was once hauled through fields with a team of two dozen horses and mules, before steam power would replace the horses.
A display of vintage John Deere tractors, meticulously renovated, lines one long wall; down the center of the museum march a line of a dozen Caterpillar tractors, used both on the farm and in the construction industry. A midsized Fordson tractor, nicknamed the “Snow Devil,” is equipped with spiral-ribbed pontoons, used to navigate deep snows of Donner Pass to haul five tons of mail during winter’s harsh storms.
Museumgoers with kids will find a special play area designed to hearken back to simpler times when child’s play required imagination. Kids can play corn hole, and enjoy the carousel and pedal tractors. A team of docents will tour you through the 45,000-square-foot museum gallery, noting that each tractor, wagon or harvester all have their unique stories.
For more information: The California Agriculture Museum, 1958 Hays Lane, Woodland, (530) 666-9700, http://Californiaagmuseum.org, open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; San Joaquin Historical Society and Museum, in Micke Grove Park, 11793 N. Micke Grove Road, Lodi, http://sanjoaquinhistory.org, (209) 953-3460, open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Like many born and raised in Bakersfield, California, Austin Smith has made peace with the city’s reputation. Built on oil and agriculture, the city of half a million in the state’s rural Central Valley, known by outsiders for its unique strain of country music and long-running role as a punchline for Johnny Carson, has traditionally been stereotyped as unsophisticated and backwards.
“It’s like a California version of the New York versus New Jersey thing—but maybe worse,” Smith says. “You’re so close to one of the biggest metro areas in the country, but never quite there.”
Like many of his generation, Smith, 37, moved to bigger cities in search of opportunity. In his case, he sought work in urban planning and commercial development in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. But as he developed a passion for downtown revitalization, he began wondering, why not Bakersfield? He returned to his hometown in 2014 with a hunch that the city was ripe for redevelopment, and soon began work on what would become the 17th Place Townhomes.
Since opening in 2016, the high-end three-story, 44-unit downtown development represents the first market-rate housing built in the city’s core in decades. It’s not every day the city gets new housing, complete with a dog park, fountains, and a fire pit. Now that the development is fully leased—not a small accomplishment for new housing asking the highest rent in town, at between $1,630 and $1,830 for a two-bedroom—its success has convinced Smith and his firm, Sage Equities Real Estate, to break ground later this year on a new 53-unit project downtown.
“What we’re doing is a real niche product,” he says. “But you can really start seeing people get excited about this neighborhood.”
Smith’s bet on Bakersfield represents a new era of development, however small, for this Central Valley city. A recent report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) found Bakersfield to have one of the highest rates of millennial movers and homeowners, setting off a series of stories written with a tone of “wait, that Bakersfield?” as if it were a shock that somebody might find the city was both a good value and a good opportunity.
After all, compared to coastal California, where were the high-paying tech jobs and new homes? When California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s troubled high-speed rail project would focus on the Bakersfield to Merced section, connecting two Central Valley locations, many rail supporters felt Newsom was saying the train would never connect to LA or San Francisco.
But, as in just about every other small- or medium-sized U.S. city experiencing a downtown rebirth, opportunity and affordability have drawn many millennials, like Smith, to return to their hometowns and kickstart new businesses. Bakersfield may be starting later than most, but it’s following the same narrative, led by a core group of early supporters and entrepreneurs.
The 17th Place Townhomes helped bring more attention to a newly christened neighborhood, Eastchester, that’s beginning to blossom, and includes restaurants, coffee shops, and new businesses. In this formerly industrial stretch of town, business owners are finding new uses for old buildings, including Cafe Smitten, another Smith project, and Dot x Ott, a just-opened seasonal kitchen that sources its produce from a farm 10 miles away.
Though tiny, the downtown turnaround is palpable, says Debbie Lewis, a wealth manager who moved back to Bakersfield a few years ago.
“The downtown that I grew up hearing about and knew as a young adult was a ghost town that people were hesitant to visit and a place that businesses had a hard time sustaining,” she says. “Now, it appears to be growing at a slow but steady pace and an inspiring amount of businesses have are continuing to decide to take that leap, get creative, and get in on the action. People are starting to see the positive impact of investing more care, money, and time in our downtown.”
While the city’s current growth spurt has been out, not up, as nearby farmland has been turned into housing developments, there are a lot of buildings with good bones downtown, according to Gunnar Hand, an urban designer with architecture and planning firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Hand led a team that devised a new downtown plan for Bakersfield in 2016, in anticipation of the arrival of high-speed rail. They found the beginning stages of placemaking investments had already laid the groundwork for the nexus of new downtown development.
“This is, for lack of a better term, a third-tier city that’s only now coming around to urban revitalization,” says Hand. “Los Angeles is 20 to 30 years into revitalizing its downtown. Kansas City, [Missouri], my hometown, is 10 years in. Bakersfield is in, like, year one.”
When talking to Bakersfield residents who left town for college or careers and have now returned as older adults, affordability is a constant theme.
It helps in California to have housing that’s actually affordable. With a median home value of $241,000 as of last March, and median starter homes beginning at just $145,300 according to Zillow, it’s no surprise that the median age of a first-time buyer in Bakersfield is just 33. The city’s sprawling growth pattern has played a big role in creating cheap housing; as the city and metro region grew out, Bakersfield’s population ballooned from 70,000 in 1970 to more than 380,000 today.
According to NAR researcher Nadia Evangelou, these newly arrived millennials can afford to buy nearly 15 percent of homes currently listed for sale in Bakersfield, compared to only 4 percent in Los Angeles.
“Millennials still move to big metro areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco,” she says. “But we see that they don’t stay in these areas, because of weak affordability conditions.”
But the real draw goes beyond affordability. Cheaper housing enables many of the Bakersfield boomerangs to buy rather than rent, have a better quality of life, and start businesses, all of which might be unaffordable in other California cities.
For Jessie Blackwell, a cofounder of Dot x Ott, the seasonal restaurant and market just a few blocks from the 17th Place Townhomes, now is the perfect time to open a new kind of business in town. The restaurant, which opened last month, is taking advantage of the region’s wealth of farms and fresh produce in a way that just wasn’t really done here just a decade ago
“There’s a food movement here,” she says. “You can see it in the revitalization of downtown, and the handful of farm-to-table restaurants that have come to town. In the last five years, you’ve just seen this boom in farmers markets and so many more local options.”
Melissa Delgado is a product manager for an agriculture company who returned to town in 2011 after studying in San Diego. She found that the city, with its low cost of living, was perfect for growing her career. With the $2,000 or more she would be spending per month on rent elsewhere, she’s been able to buy a house.
“When I first came back here, I hated it,” she says. “I wanted to go right back to the city. But I’ve been able to grow my career here, and the style of living is just so much better.”
Daniel Cater, an architect and designer who recently returned to town with his wife three years ago, has found great opportunity since moving home (Smith hired him to design the townhome project).
“You’re beginning to see a city of half a million support innovation and change,” he says. “For me, it’s exciting to watch a city that hasn’t really found itself, where the entrepreneurial spirit is alive. It’s fun to be in a place where you can get to know the people making an impact, and make an impact yourself.”
Most of the Bakersfield residents interviewed for this story noted that a lot of the new energy downtown comes from people who have returned after moving away, not a flood of new arrivals from other parts of the state or country. There’s still a relatively tight-knit circle of businesses and entrepreneurs in town, often built on local networks. Smith’s dad, for instance, is city Councilmember Bob Smith. And compared to the urban renaissances touted in other cities, Bakersfield’s new developments are not linked to any kind of broad apartment-building boom or big economic expansion yet.
But the catalysts for such change seem to be in place: Two local groups, Kern Economic Development Corporation, a traditional local business group, and Be In Bakersfield, a grassroots nonprofit that promotes new local businesses, have started marketing the city as a place of opportunity.
With some additional investments in transit and placemaking, Bakersfield also has the potential to truly activate its downtown. According to SOM’s Hand, when the firm studied the city in 2016, it found that much of the infrastructure for downtown growth was already finished or in the works. As part of a larger community redevelopment project, Bakersfield developed Mill Creek, a River Walk-style public space and linear park lined with theaters and new businesses. It opened in 2010.
Many of SOM’s suggestions—to create new transit links, connect the city’s already impressive bike lane network, and tie together disparate parts of downtown—have already been done or are in development.
“Our main suggestion was to create infill that brings together Mill Creek with the downtown core,” he says. “That’s already happening now, without the rail station being built.”
In addition to larger urban plans setting the table for more dense development, the successful redevelopment of the Padre Hotel also served as a marker and milestone for downtown. A landmark from the ’20s that reopened in 2010, the ornate hotel at 18th and H streets, a four-star property in the Central Valley, showed many that the city’s stock of old buildings held promise.
“The 17th Place Townhomes and the Padre Hotel are landmark projects for a town this size,” says Hand. “They signal something to the market that didn’t exist before, and it’s starting to snowball. There are local developers taking note.”
Bakersfield has gained momentum, but it still has a ways to go. Like many Central Valley cities, such as Merced, it’s pushing to diversify economically and build new industries, as well as regain the attention of state government after being ignored for many years.
As part of a larger demographic trend statewide, however, these Central Valley cities have seen more attention from new arrivals. Interior metros like Riverside, Fresno, and Sacramento have seen net domestic migration rise from 2012, when this region collectively lost 4,000 people, to 2017, when 38,000 arrived. At the same time, coastal parts of California have grown at a much slower pace, two-thirds less in 2017 than in 2012.
To capitalize on its growing population, Bakersfield’s economy needs to expand beyond health care, agriculture, and oil, and the region needs to invest in creating a more educated workforce. According to the Brookings Institution, among those ages 25 to 34 in the Bakersfield area, 29 percent are in poverty and only 14 percent graduated from college. The city’s persistent problems with air pollution, some of the worst in the state and nation, give potential residents pause.
“We have historically relied on cyclical industries like oil and agriculture, but the truth is, that’s not the future of where the world is moving,” says Anna Smith, a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian, and Austin’s wife. “We need to diversify, and bringing new minds here who have lived in other places is key to the 21st century.”
Anna Smith, like others, has pinned some hope on Newsom’s commitment to the Central Valley, including high-speed rail and other economic plans. Proposals at the local level, like Measure N, an initiative to revive state-funded community development, and a forthcoming update to the city’s general plan, could help finish out some of the placemaking plans SOM and others have proposed to knit together Bakersfield’s downtown.
“Newsom has the opportunity to show us that he can make connections here,” says Smith.
The small cadre of new businesses, and Bakersfield residents returning home, suggests a similar story—like those in places like Memphis, Tennessee, or Louisville, Kentucky—is starting to play out. Bakersfield hasn’t had a downtown boom, at least not yet, but the seeds have been planted.
As Debbie Lewis, the wealth manager, suggests, there’s a hunger among young adults to make a mark on their environment.
“They don’t just want to be one of the millions of people swallowed by social media and all the reminders that we’re broke and don’t have any money,” she says. “All that negativity is pushing people to connect with a place and make a difference, and I think that’s possible here in Bakersfield.”
Or, as Anna Smith suggests, affordability isn’t the entire answer, it’s just the beginning. Without the pressure to pay for increasingly high rents, having more time to focus on passion projects and community engagement makes a real difference.
“If you want to say it’s just about affordable housing, that’s not all there is the Bakersfield,” she says. “Young professionals can come here, start a business, and find lower barriers to entry. Most importantly, they can feel connected to the community and make a real impact.”
Visalia was founded 167 years ago and is the oldest community in the San Joaquin Valley.
It’s surprising to some that the city doesn’t have a museum dedicated to its rich history. There is, of course, a museum at Mooney Grove Park but the focus at the museum is the Tulare County history and farm labor.
Visalia Heritage Inc. may have an answer.
Property owners Ernie and Liss Crotty may convert an 1883-built home in the historic district of the city into a public museum for Visalia.
President of Visalia Heritage and local architect Michael Kreps says the home the Crotty’s own at 617 N. Encina Ave., a Queen Anne-style Victorian, has been well preserved and “is in very good shape.”
This week, after several months of meetings, Ernie Crotty says they will meet with city planning staff for the first time to gauge what hurdles they may expect if the idea moves forward.
Since then, Crotty has made it his life’s work to restore the home.
Now over 70, Ernie says he wonders about the home’s future and has talked to friends about the idea of doing something like what preservationists have accomplished with the old Fox Theater through community effort.
“I did not want to think about someone coming along buying it and turning it into an Airbnb or something,” he said.
Crotty says he would love to simply donate the home for a museum but say he wants to move nearby and that will cost money.
“My general idea I have talked about is to donate about half the value and the furnishings and hope with a group effort, we can raise the funds and come up with enough interest to move forward,” he said.
He wants to open the home to the public and offer tours.
“It was originally the Stevens house (A Visalia merchant before the turn of the century) and it is one of the oldest in Visalia,” Kreps said.
The house had the town’s first gas generator to light up the place before there was electricity.
Visalia Heritage and the Crottys already have a collection of items that could be put on display and with word spreading about such a museum dedicated to Visalia history, there would be plenty more.
Well-known Visalia historian Terry Ommen is on board with the project as well.
The museum would be located in the heart of the 50 home historic district just north of Downtown Visalia, a few blocks north of Fox Theater. The Visalia Chamber of Commerce offers a self-guided walking tour of the district with descriptions of 29 homes in the area.
The district was established in 1979.
A new bar called Quail State plans to open on a second-floor rooftop space at the historic Pacific Southwest building on Fulton Street in downtown Fresno.
The owners of the bar signed a lease for the space last week. They hope to open in October, with several months of construction work yet to start.
The bar will have indoor and outdoor spaces. To start, it will focus on its drinks made with seasonal fruit and vegetables; a dinner menu will be added later, said Josh Islas, one of the partners behind Quail State.
The historic Pacific Southwest building is the 1920s building with red awnings and columns at the corner of Fulton and Mariposa streets. It’s the same building where bakery La Boulangerie plans to open a second location, essentially a walk-up window with tables on the sidewalk.
Quail State – a reference to California’s state bird – will take over a space on the east side of the building. Just above the columns is an outdoor rooftop space that faces the Radisson Hotel Conference Center on Van Ness Avenue.
There is still much work to be done, said Islas, who owns the business with his fiancée and chief financial officer, Hayley Wolf.
“It’s currently three separate spaces,” he said. “We have to redo all of it.
When it’s up and running, the bar will use locally sourced ingredients with seasonal fruit and vegetables but also reflect the “influence of the cultures” in the area, Islas said.
“Not just the produce, but every different culture has their own unique spices and their unique profile,” he said.
The bar would make its own simple syrups, bitters and vermouth, and barrel-age its own cocktail ingredients.
Quail State first announced its intention to open a spot on Fulton in The Fresno Bee in January 2018. It didn’t have a space at the time and spent months searching for and finalizing a location.
Ever since Fulton Street transformed from a pedestrian mall to a street open to cars in 2017, Quail State has been teasing its Instagram followers with sophisticated images of its drinks.
Islas was born and raised in Dinuba and lived in Fresno for a year before moving to Southern California. He has spent 10 years working in bars and restaurants, including in management and marketing.
DECEMBER 20, 2018 01:03 PM
Black Bear Diner is taking over the former Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery space on West Shaw Avenue. It is slated to open in February or March of 2019.
The first Black Bear Diner in Fresno is one step closer to opening.
The owner of the restaurant said Thursday that the location at 3602 W. Shaw Ave. is scheduled to open in February. She has not set an exact date.
The restaurants are hugely popular among diners in the central San Joaquin Valley, who have long wanted to open one in Fresno.
The Fresno Black Bear is owned by Amy Rose, who revealed new details about the restaurant Thursday.
It is taking over the 7,108-square-foot former Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery near West Shaw and Marty avenues. It will seat 226 people.
The diner will have a meeting room with Wi-Fi available for large groups.
Black Bear Diner will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The location will employ 92 people and has hired some workers, but is looking for more. Available positions include cooks and prep cooks and experienced servers, hosts and bussers.
Interested applicants can apply online at Indeed.com. Positions range from minimum wage to $16 an hour, according to the website.
This will be Black Bear’s seventh restaurant in the area owned by the Rose family, including Bob Rose, who owns locations in Visalia, Madera, Tulare, Porterville, Hanford and Los Banos. The family had been planning to build a location in Clovis, but decided to open the restaurant in Fresno instead.
The brand has 119 diners in 12 states.
Updated November 07, 2018 06:36 PM
Say organic food and some might envision earthy-crunchy concoctions that are high on health and low on flavor.
But at Hughson’s new Don’t Panic It’s Organic, good for you and good tasting collide in a pleasant package. The family-run eatery offers organic cafe food — like sandwiches and salads, chili bowls and smoothies. They also offer a full juice bar, smoothies, coffee and tea.
Owner Katherine Bertolotti and her family began eating organic close to two years ago. The Modesto native now lives in Hughson, as do her mother, sister and brother in the heart of the community’s farming land. But then, her now 7-year-old son began to develop severe allergies — including rashes and asthma attacks. She worried that the pesticides on their food and used in their surrounding orchards might be part of the problem.
So she switched her family to organic foods at home and stopped using pesticides on their trees, and then convinced the rest of her family to
“I was cooking and preparing food at home all the time. And I thought, ‘Man, this is a lot of work. If only I could get someone to do it for me,’” she said.
But instead of that, she decided to do it for other people. Bertolotti and her brother David Mingham opened the eatery Don’t Panic It’s Organic in late October. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and light dinner options as well as specialty fresh juice, coffee, tea and smoothie drinks. And to prove organic food isn’t all wholesome, they also offer wine and grape-liquor based cocktails like bloody marys and margaritas. Heck, they even have kombucha (a fermented tea) on draft, along with a handful of beers.
Mingham serves as the restaurant manager, and his sister Sarah and mother Lisa also work behind the counter. They source many of their products locally, from small organic farms like Burroughs Family Farms and We the People Farms from Denair. The vast majority of the products they use are organic, while others are gluten-free and some of their meat and poultry are free-range or grass-fed.
The restaurant doesn’t have a full kitchen, so its fare is on the lighter side. But you can still get a heaping plate of grass-fed beef chili nachos ($12) or a large organic salami sandwich on roll from Berkeley’s Acme Bread ($9).
Another attraction is the fresh juice bar. You can order a Healthy Heartbeat made from apple, beet, celery, lemon and ginger or the Immunity Booster with celery, spinach, kale, lemon, ginger and garlic. Juices run $7.49 each. Power up any drink with a wheat grass shot for $3 or a “gut shot” of ginger beet, golden turmeric and smoked jalapeno for $1. Smoothies, which also run $7.49 each, range from superfood favorites and fruit-based options to a peanut butter and banana sweet treat and classic strawberry and banana.
Bertolotti said she initially thought about opening possibly in Modesto or elsewhere, but decided on Hughson because it was so close to home. While she worried that the small farming community might not be receptive, she said, people have generally been pleased when they’ve come in. Though there have been a lot of questions.
“People say, ‘Oh, you’re organic. So this is vegan.’ And we’re like, no, we eat meat. It’s just grass-fed and healthier,” she said.
The restaurant has options for people looking for organic meals, gluten-free or probiotic options, paleo menus and more. And it joins a small spate of eateries in and coming to Hughson which have made the small town a mini-foodie destination. They include the new joint Slick Fork BBQ and upcoming Callahan’s Brewing Company. Don’t Panic It’s Organic is also in the same shopping center as the popular Agave Azul Kitchen & Tequila Bar.
As for that great name, well, it came from her father, who used to reassure her when her kids came over and he fed them.
“My dad would say, ‘Don’t panic, it’s organic.’ And I’d say, ‘Sure, let me read the label,’” she said. “We really just want to cook and feed people good food.”
Don’t Panic It’s Organic, at 6724 E. Whitmore Ave. in Hughson, is open 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and 6 a.m. to about 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 209-883-7227 or visit www.facebook.com/dont.panic.its.organic.hughson.
County leaders this week cut a deal to build a multimillion hotel and conference center in eastern Madera County.
The Madera Board of Supervisors unanimously approved plans on Tuesday, Oct. 16, with Yosemite Resort, LLC, during the “On the Road” meeting in Oakhurst, providing the development group with the a major economic incentive to build the $25 to $30 million “upscale” hotel near the Hounds Tooth Inn, on the north end of Oakhurst.
The incentive will give the development group 50 percent of the transient occupancy tax from the proposed hotel over 25 years. TOT is a tax placed on lodging costs in California and varies from region to region. In Madera County, the TOT tax is 9 percent.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler estimated the county and the development group will split $15 million over that quarter-century.
“What we’re asking for is simply to allow us to recoup the cost of something that is a benefit for everyone,” said Gautam Patel, principal of Yosemite Resort, LLC.
Under the terms of the deal, the development will include at least 120 rooms and a 10,000-square-foot conference center with the capacity to accommodate up to 500 people. Additionally, the team-building facility will feature activities including ziplining, challenge courses, and downhill zorbing.
In order for the group to receive the incentive, it must meet a number of criteria, including the 120 room and 10,000-square-foot minimum for the hotel and conference center, respectively; a minimum of $20 million of taxable assessed value on the property; and finishing construction within four years.
Once operational, the facility could bring at least 80 jobs to the area.
Patel, who grew up in the Bay Area, said there is no other lodging option like this is Madera County. His inspiration for this project was what his friends within the technology industry told him they were looking for when planning a company retreat.
The approval came after presentations from Patel and Sean Kirkpatrick, Madera County senior administrative analyst, before a packed Oakhurst Community Center, followed by input from community members.
Supervisors praised the hotel, saying it would help bring tourism revenue to the community outside of eastern Madera County’s summer peak season. District 2 Supervisor David Rogers called the project a “stroke of genius.”
“This would expand the tourism economics, which the county has been striving to do in its goal setting for a number of years,” Rogers said. “There’s a multiplier effect here, any dollar that is brought into the community is going to multiply four times.”
The project was supported by the Madera County Yosemite visitors bureau, Oakhurst Chamber of Commerce and Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve needed a conference center in this community for many, many years,” said Rhonda Salisbury, CEO of the Visit Yosemite Madera County. “For so many years, we have been a pass-through to Yosemite. We want to be a destination, we want to be a year-round destination.”
Not everyone in the community was enthusiastic about the large incentive. Some in the audience argued such an incentive amounted to the county favoring this lodging over other businesses.
“If it’s such a great idea, then come up with the money yourself and don’t ask the government for an incentive on this,” said John Pero, of Oakhurst. He said the project would create an “uneven playing field.”
Mark Choe, director of sales and marketing for The Pines Resort in Bass Lake, said he supported the project and the likely positive effect it would have in the community but also said he hoped other businesses such as his would also be granted similar incentives in the future.
Patel countered by arguing the developer wouldn’t recoup the costs of building the center without the tax break from the county.
With the county’s approval, the next step is now moving full force with design and construction and Patel said ground could be broken as soon as early 2019.
“We already have a civil engineer lined up, we already have the architect, we already have the structural engineer, so we already have everything to go. We’ve been waiting on this for a while, now we’re just starting with the plans full-on,” Patel said. “We will essentially start designing this tomorrow because we were just waiting on this.”
The Madera County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote next month on a $20 million project that would bring an upscale hotel and conference center to Oakhurst.
The facilities would be built near the Hounds Tooth Inn over a projected three to four years. The hotel would consist of about 120 rooms and the 10,000-square-foot conference center would fit as many as 500 people, said District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler.
“I think it would be one more straw in our hat. One more reason to come up here to eastern Madera County,” Wheeler said. He said it would also create at least 100 jobs for the community.
TOT is a tax placed on all lodging costs across California, which varies from region to region. Madera County’s TOT is 9 percent.
Wheeler estimated the county and Zero Capital would split $15 million over those 25 years.
Gautam Patel, principal of Zero Capital, explained the incentive was requested due to the group not seeing any financial return from the conference room, the driving force of the project. He assured the group is not making out with any extra money.
“The way that it’s structured is that we will be recouping the investment we put into this over 25 years. We’re not trying to get anything that we’re not putting into the project,” Patel said.
Also, Zero Capital will not begin to receive their incentive until the project is completed.
Patel said the goal of the facility is to bring people to the area when the tourism dies down by providing a conference center and hotel suitable for corporate meetings and gatherings. He said facilities of the quality of the proposed hotel and conference center are not available in Oakhurst.
“It’s gonna be on par with something you would see at resort, but with a bit of a natural touch to it,” he said.
Hotel rooms will draw inspiration from cabins, while also maintaining an “upscale” feel.
Since the announcement of the project, the community has already begun voicing concerns. Wheeler said one of the community’s biggest was the hotel and conference center’s water supply and whether it would impact the community’s.
He said the hotel would be operating on a private water well, completely separate from what the public uses.
Others argue that Tenaya Lodge offers the same exact capabilities as this proposed project. But Tenaya Lodge is actually located in Mariposa County — so Madera County does not benefit from any of its foot traffic.
Last year, visitors spent a total of $145.3 million on stays in hotels and motels in Madera County and Wheeler said there is always room for growth.
“If you’re not growing all the time, you’re going to die on the vine,” Wheeler said.
There are three other hotels still being constructed in Oakhurst. They have been under construction for five years due to a number of delays caused by a number of procedural violations, including starting work before building permits were issued.
Zero Capital has already made tentative renderings of what the hotel could look like, but Patel was quick to point out that these are in no way finished and development will continue if the project is approved.
The supervisors will vote on the project during an Oct. 16 public forum at the Oakhurst Community Center, as part of their “On the Road” series.