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Cooking up ways to survive & thrive

Isadore’s Sunday brunch takes aim at slowdown

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Cooking up ways to survive & thrive

Laurel and Isadore Fang share a happy moment in their kitchen at Isadore's Restaurant.

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin/


POSTED January 27, 2009 1:10 a.m.
Isadore’s Manteca restaurant is the realization of a dream -  a dream that will stay alive with the determination of Laurel and Isadore Fang,  devoted staff members and the community support they have engendered.
Since 1989 Isadore has been “focused” on his kitchen and Laurel has personally hosted most of the community at lunch and dinner along with a strong focus on the financial health of the business.
Both have demonstrated a caring tone for their clientele from the noon business crowd to the social receptions in their lounge and the weekly Rotary Club meetings. Just this month they have launched a Sunday morning  brunch for the community in an effort to buttress their slowdown in business.  
The first Sunday drew 53 people and they were able to net $100 after the food cost was covered.  Laurel added that all their  patrons “were so nice” saying they were glad Isadore’s was beginning the brunch on Sundays.
“You don’t talk to Isadore when he is in the kitchen,” Laurel said.  “He has his place – he’s focused and doesn’t like to be interrupted – he has his employees and I have mine in the dining room.  I think that is why it has worked so well,” she said.
You don’t interrupt Laurel either when she is secreted in her office doing the books – she doesn’t like losing her train of thought.
Their best-kept secret, as far as I’m concerned,  is the French dip sandwich that has never been on the menu.  That’s my favorite and I didn’t know it was available.  Besides it’s only $5 when ordered in the lounge.  That’s the traditional French dip – there’s also a prime rib available for a little more. To top it off Isadore makes his own au jus from his beef stock.
Laurel said many of their customers have shown serious concern for the restaurant continually asking how things are going.  Many are taking menus back to their community boards and businesses – it’s all part of a larger contiguous team effort to see that Isadore’s continues to serve Manteca.
“It’s overwhelming – it’s heart-warming!” she said of her customers’ concerns.

Economy changes their lifestyle

They both work nine-hour days beginning at 6:30 in the morning and coming back for the dinner crowd on Fridays and Saturdays.  Sundays served as their break until they began serving the brunch at 11 a.m.  She said they record the Jay Leno TV shows for their evenings saying she is in bed by 8 most nights.
“We used to travel a bit, but with the economy and the business the way it is every commitment is to here – which is why we started the Sunday brunch,” she said.
Isadore and Laurel met in 1979 when he owned the Rendezvous Restaurant in Fremont and she was serving as a waitress there.  It was the old International Kitchen that was a famous place in its time.  She said that Isadore and his partners had opened it as a banquet facility.  
“There was instantaneous chemistry,” she said laughing.  “It was fire and love – still is to this day!”
That restaurant was having difficult times and Laurel was the only server on staff.  She describes herself as a “fanatic planner.”  In watching her it’s obvious she still plans her days well.
They first came to Manteca to open the North Main Street restaurant that would be known as Isadore’s in 1989 after it had been shuttered for months.
It was originally opened as Ruben’s Mexican Restaurant in the late ‘70s.  A Manteca man bought it at auction when Ruben’s lost it.  He  opened it for his son under the name of the Rusty Kettle.
“They just walked away from it,” Laurel said, after it had been in operation for about six months.  “We came in to find the ash trays still on the tables with cigarette butts and ashes still in them.”
She added that the windows had been boarded up because people had been throwing rocks through them.  It took a month for Isadore and Laurel to open their dream steak house.
They said they had spent a lot of nights just sitting and talking about their plans before making an offer on the building.
She remembers their grand opening went well but the next day – the first they were open for lunch – her dad cracked his skull while climbing a ladder in the restaurant.  An ambulance took him to the hospital where she spent the day with him.
Asked who influenced her early in life to develop her strong work ethic—  she said there was no one: “Not certain I had any – it’s what you do with yourself,” she said.
She further explained that her life has been an interesting turn-around where she imposes her work ethic on the young servers she has working for her in the restaurant.  Several of them are constantly coming back for advice, staying in touch.
There is one special girl – also a former  employee – with whom Laurel prides having almost a mother-daughter relationship.  Talon Knowles was in high school when she worked at Isadore’s when they opened.  She is now a first grade teacher in Los Angeles with a master’s degree.  “She just loves kids,” Laurel said.
Another former student-employee is Greg Haack.  “He was an exceptional kid,” she said.
“Some people can’t work for me because my work ethics are a little too strong – some seem to grow and come out of it better,” she said.
Laurel graduated high school in her junior year at 16 while attending Ohlone College in Fremont.  Living on her own she worked as a waitress at Denny’s Restaurant on the graveyard shift for nearly two years.
While taking most general education college classes she also audited several non-credit classes including law enforcement and air traffic control.
She would get off work at Denny’s and drive to the college and be there until noon when she would check in at her high school to finish course work there.
One morning she will never forget involved her drive to school when she fell asleep behind the wheel – saying she learned a lesson and that would never happen again – never to drive when she is so sleepy.   She said she never drank coffee or used other stimulants to stay awake.
In the 20 years they have been in business they have touched the lives of so many people by just being nice.
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