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Manteca haunts thrilled to be back in the game
Rookies bartender Eric Lopez changes the channel on a television to an NFL preseason game on Thursday. With the Oakland Raiders playing a night game, Lopez said he expected the first NFL customers of the season to pack in the business. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

To say that football fans are elated that the 2011/12 NFL season is now a reality would be an understatement.

But for Manteca business owners that depend on drawing in fans to watch the games – be it a Thursday night exhibition or a Monday night conference showdown – the announcement that the work stoppage among NFL players had been lifted meant a huge surge of business was on the horizon.

Just ask Mountain Mike’s Pizza owner Jeff Liotard.

Not long after taking over the reins of one of Manteca’s legendary hangouts, Liotard greatly expanded the number of televisions inside of the restaurant and added the DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket Package. It allows customers to watch every NFL game being played in a given week while enjoying their pizza and refreshments.

He began to grow worried as the normal start of the season moved closer and the lockout was still not lifted.

“I was nervous – most definitely. I’d say that during this time of the year I probably do about 25 percent of my sales on a Sunday, and losing that would be crippling,” Liotard said. “So when we heard that it had gone through, I got all 315-pounds about three-feet off of the ground. We were literally jumping up and down, and I’m excited to see the people coming in when the regular season starts up.”

Over at Manteca Bowl and Family Fun Center, Rookies Sports Bar Manager Brad Steele said it would be almost incomprehensible to not be able to show NFL games in the fall – especially with two teams located within a 70-mile radius.

While bowlers still make up most of the customer base, sports fans often filter in on Thursday nights and almost all-day Saturday and Sunday to watch both college and NFL games on the bar’s massive television screens.

“In the next few weeks we know that we’re going to start getting really busy,” Steele said. “We’re glad that it’s back. There’s no way that no football wouldn’t affect a sports bar like this. It would just be terrible. Hopefully it works out for everybody here in town.”

John Guinta at Chez Shari, however, views the entire scenario differently.

Because the bulk of the business is centered around catering and events, the bar crowd that flows in for Monday night games makes up sort of a family atmosphere that adds to ambiance – not representing a major portion of the business’ revenue.

He’s still glad, however, that he’s going to get the chance to see some of the familiar faces that show up every week.

“It definitely helps us out on Mondays and it would hurt over the course of the 17-week season,” Guinta said. “But more than anything we’d miss seeing those people that come in every week. It’s really more of a social gathering than a big money-maker for us, and we’re happy we’re going to be able to do it this year.”