Local restaurant workers get well-deserved thanks…and a party – GV Wire

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After two years of pandemic closures, followed by the post-COVID reality, the local restaurant industry has made Monday a night to relax.

David Taub

Appetite for Fresno

The local California Restaurant Association celebrated its employees with an appreciation party. Food trucks fed the crowd, with several winemakers and brewers to quench the thirst.

“All of us restaurateurs as employers depend on these staff members to be there for us. And it’s a way for us to give back,” said Raul Gutierrez Jr., local chapter president and owner of Papi’s Mexican Grill.

Gutierrez remains optimistic about the fortunes of the industry as restaurants continue to recover. In 2020, government-mandated closures were the problem. Now, says Gutierrez, they face supply shortages, inflation and labor issues.

Looking back on the handling of the pandemic, he wished the government had worked more closely with restaurants.

“We could have worked better, hand in hand, as an industry with the government to perhaps come up with better rules and protocols. I think often in times of desperation, I know people are reactive, but also recognizing that the industries that affect you should have a bigger voice. Maybe they are part of the solution too,” Gutierrez said.

From the valley monument to the prison-themed winery

The event took place at what was once Sumner Peck Ranch south of Friant. Now the buildings are rented by Solitary Cellars, a winery founded by Greg Bergersen.

Prison is the theme. Bergersen is a retired corrections officer who started making wine as a hobby in 2013. Photos of famous prisoners — Charles Manson, Al Capone and even Frank Sinatra — adorn the restrooms.

Solitary Cellars was located on ApCal property near Highway 99 and Avenue 7. But COVID and road construction meant it was time to move.

“This place has become available. Sumner Peck Ranch, the River Parkway was looking for a tenant, and we were at that time ready to move in right away,” Bergersen said.

The winery sources its grapes from vineyards across the state. Ironically, he is not yet using the grapes grown on the property. Gallo uses these grapes. Bergersen says he would like to partner with Gallo to make an estate wine.

Greg Bergersen of Solitary Cellars now operates out of the former Sumner Peck Ranch. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Food Truck a labor of love

Sonny Paz quit a union job building hospitals and schools to pursue his dream of owning a food truck. He and his wife run Burgers & More Co.

“We have more fun doing these events and I make more money than in the union,” joked Paz.

While the trend for food trucks is exotic, Paz saw the need for the essentials.

“We ventured into different types of food to see which one would hit Fresno. There were no American food trucks. There were no burger trucks,” Paz said.

There is a lot of work to be done for local food trucks. Burgers & More is usually found in winery tasting rooms, such as ApCal and Engelmann Cellars.

Sonny Paz shows off his sliders at Burgers & More. (GV Wire/David Taub)

Pancakes for dessert? You bet

Technically, Jhasmin Rodriguez doesn’t have a food truck. She sets tables at events like the River Park Farmers Market. She makes mini desert pancakes, aptly called Yummy Minis.

She was inspired by a road trip she took in Los Angeles.

“When we saw them, we said Fresno didn’t have any. How about we take him to Fresno? Since then they’ve been really good,” Rodriguez said.

She cooks the pancakes on site, with a variety of flavors – strawberry, chocolate, banana and cinnamon.

Maybe one day, Rodriguez says, she’ll move into a truck. For now, she keeps herself busy, working with her mom by her side.

“I love making the pancakes, meeting new people, talking to people. Every event is different,” said Rodriguez, a self-proclaimed foodie. “It’s pretty fun.”

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