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Last call for Kelley Brothers

Economy burns brewery after 13-year run

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Last call for Kelley Brothers

Brian Davidson, Kelley Brothers’ bartender/manager points to the downtown landmark that closed Tuesday.

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED February 1, 2012 1:41 a.m.

Manteca’s downtown business district is losing a towering figure.

Actually, as of today, it’s gone.

Kelley Brothers Brewing Company was the toast of the town when it opened for business 13 years ago in the burned-out shell of the old El Rey Theatre that stood as a giant eyesore for two decades in the heart of the city’s downtown business district.

Tuesday evening, on the last day of January 2012, the restaurant had its last hurrah. It was Taco Tuesday at the restaurant, and there was a band playing.

But starting today, the first of February, everything will be quiet one more time in the same corner where historic El Rey Theater stood like a mute giant in the middle of Manteca’s busy business intersection – another victim of a struggling national and global economy.

The demise of the brewing company and restaurant did not come as a complete surprise to some. In October of last year, Kelley Brothers’ Joe Kelley and Mark Abrams told the Manteca Bulletin that unless business rebounded by Dec. 31, they were going to close their doors.

Their Plan B, if that did not materialize, was to sell the business for $300,000. When they launched Kelley Brothers and Brickyard Oven in 1999, it was with the help of a $2.1 million investment.

Brian Davidson, Kelley Brothers’ bartender/manager, said Tuesday evening that he did not know all the details about the possible sale of the business. What he knew was that there are 15 people who are losing their jobs, and that includes him. Davidson has worked at Kelley Brothers since graduating from East Union High School. He worked his way up the proverbial ranks – from busing tables to being a food server, a cook, then as bartender and manager.

Davidson said he enjoyed working at Kelley Brothers not just because of its rich history, its premier downtown location and as a great dining destination, but because he liked his job.

“If I didn’t like it, I would have left a long time ago,” said Davidson as he picked up a couple of tortilla packages from the Panaderia La Triguena across the street from the restaurant and got ready to sprint back to his job.

The tacos were not for the employees to mark their last evening of employment at the restaurant, said Davidson. “No, it’s Taco Tuesday at the restaurant,” he said, referring to the featured menu item for that day.

“Business is good on the weekends, but on weekdays, not so good,” noted Davidson.

“Not good, not good,” Panaderia co-owner Leticia Ramirez said shaking her head as she rang up Davidson’s order of tortillas.

The loss of Kelley Brothers will impact their business, she said, because the restaurant’s customers as well as employees were the bakery’s customers as well.

“They always came here to buy cigarettes and energy drinks,” said Ramirez who, with husband Juan, started the business as a bakery but has now expanded into a general store that caters to the Latino community.

Robert Lee, owner of Papa Joe’s Big Barbecue on the northeast corner of East Yosemite Avenue and Grant Avenue just kitty-corner from Kelley Brothers, said he understood perfectly well what his business colleagues are going through especially in these tough economic times.

Lee even went over to the Kelley Brothers Tuesday evening to talk to Kelley, he said.

“The restaurant business is a big gamble,” said Lee who started out serving his famous barbecued food fare in front of Pete’s Market on West Yosemite Avenue across from Foster Freeze.

“Being in business myself, I know how it feels to lose a business,” he said.

“We didn’t see them as competition,” he said of Kelley Brothers. Likewise, he did not think that Kelley Brothers considered Papa Joe’s Big Barbecue as a business rival.

They were apples and oranges in a business sense, Lee noted. The Kelley Brothers catered to a different dining palate, while Papa Joe’s was the preferred destination for those who wanted to indulge in barbecued fare.

“We’re more of a full-scale steak house,” said Lee who moved his street-side barbecue business to a brick-and-mortar establishment to accommodate his growing customer base. That move took him to the former long-running Fred’s Beer House on Alameda Avenue across from Blockbuster Video. When that was torn down to accommodate the construction of a new bank coming to Manteca on the northeast corner of North Main and Alameda streets, Lee moved to an even higher-traffic and more visible business area in the heart of Manteca’s downtown district. He opened for business at this location in June of last year.

“It’s a great spot,” Lee said of the centralized location of Kelley Brothers and his Papa Joe’s Barbecue.

Lee’s message to the outgoing owners of Kelley Brothers, Joe Kelley and Mike Abrams: “I wish them the best. I don’t like to see anybody go out of business.”

Kelley Brothers Brewing Company and Brickyard Oven grew out of the ashes of historic El Rey Theater whose claim to fame was its inclusion in the once popular Trivial Pursuit. In the second edition of the iconic game, the question is: “What was playing at the El Rey Theatre in Manteca, Calif., when it burned on Aug. 6, 1975?” The answer: “The Towering Inferno.”

The fire reportedly occurred after the final movie showing featuring the Steve McQueen film that evening.

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