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Road House promises friendly atmosphere
Marcus Shehan sits above his front door looking forward to the completion of the new Ripon Road House on East Main Street and his first diners coming through the door. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — A passion for people and food is the driving force behind Marcus Shehan and his soon-to-open Ripon Road House in the 100 block of East Main Street.
Two 1927 vintage gasoline pumps will stand as sentries welcoming diners through the front door of what is something of a blend between family dining and a sports bar atmosphere with a menu that will meet most everyone’s wishes.
While the restaurant’s opening is set near the end of December, Shehan is already scheduling holiday banquets in his facility — the first for 60 people.
A 12-foot-long replica of a 1934 go-cart is going to hang over the bar.  Swinging old saloon doors will open into one of the two dining areas in the 1896 vintage Odd Fellows building.
A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Shehan found a desire to cook early-on at 10 years old standing beside his dad at the family barbecue and cooking with an “Uncle Tim” in his Piedmont area home on  Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays.
“My pop loved to see smiles on his friends’ faces,” Shehan said. “We weren’t from an affluent family,” he added. His dad was a splicing engineer for AT&T and his mother was a waitress who is now involved in the family business after his dad’s passing.
 “On our birthdays he would let his kids go to the meat market and pick out their own meat — I picked out a porterhouse steak,” he chuckled.
“I would find it odd to come home and not find several of dad’s friends’ cars in front of the house and the smell of barbecue coming from the back yard,” he said.
Shehan  sold new and used cars at a Chrysler dealership in San Jose  working his way through chef’s school.  The owner of the dealership told him he was too friendly and didn’t ask for enough money in his sales.
The new Ripon chef  cared too much about people to be in sales having the passion for cooking,  along with the love of people,  that he gained from his dad and from his uncle. 
He started as a
teen at McDonald’s
Growing up in Turlock, he worked at McDonalds at 16 — took home economics in school at the sixth grade level  — and wrestled and played tennis. After rising to swing shift manager at the fast food restaurant he went to work at the Golden Corral restaurant,  also in Turlock,  at 17. 
“I couldn’t believe it.  We had this huge dry (meat) aging room — and here I am — they’re letting me cook steaks for them.  I saw all this quality.  We cut everything by hand and we fed hundreds every day — that’s where I got the liking for the restaurant business,” he said.
 His first big job was at Spring Creek Country Club where he was named executive chef — not yet 21 years old — where he could maybe sip a little wine discretely,  but only in the kitchen.
Shehan and his wife Shelley have operated Tommy’s Restaurant in Manteca for the last two years.  It’s a family affair that will be duplicated in Ripon with their children taking part on weekends.  It’s a restaurant that has shown exceptional growth despite the downward economic trends.
The restaurant is “kid friendly” with an offering of the best mac & cheese on the menu.
Tyler, 11, and Brooke, 10, wash dishes for mom and dad and their 3-year-old Abigail  just likes to follow dad around.  He describes his wife as his ambassador of good will who is always there to welcome  diners.  The children know the names of  returning customers by name and greet them as well.
There are some special memories from his uncle’s kitchen on the holidays.  “He would welcome my sister, brother and me into the kitchen.  We would spend the night before (Christmas) with him cooking in his kitchen,” he said.
That uncle was the chief financial officer for Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco who knew all of the best ethnic dining spots in the city, Shehan said, able to direct anyone to the restaurant where people of a certain culture dined regularly.
“We’re going to retire like my uncle Tim,” Shehan said, “who operated a bed and breakfast in the Blue Ridge Mountain for 10 years.”  He now lives in Albuquerque, NM, and it is hoped he will be on hand for the grand opening,  probably in early January.
The new restaurant offers an atmosphere to either enjoy a NASCAR race on four televisions mounted on the walls or at a nice table for parents looking at report cards from their children.  Depending on the cards parents might need to follow it up with a cocktail, he chuckled.
The two older children have their futures outlined already.  First they think dad is going to build a restaurant for them to take over when they are out of school.
Tyler wants to be some kind of engineer like his grandfather before going into the restaurant business.  Daughter Brooke would also like to operate a restaurant while becoming the next American Idol.  In fact she is in a talent show this Friday singing and dancing to “Hannah Montana.”  She is just a fourth grader at Hart Ransom in Modesto.
Shehan promises a $10 lunch and says he will get his noon-time crowd out the door in 20 minutes if they are in a hurry to get back to work.  In fact he welcomes calling ahead with an order that will be at the customers’  table when they arrive.
For dinner Riponites can expect to spend about $15 — for tri-tip to fish — with their choice of wine or cocktails extra, of course.
The chef has a couple of hobbies — flying and hill climbing.  He has his private pilot’s license and a story to tell about an early flight with an instructor.  As they were taxiing onto the runway the plane developed a strong smell of burning wires.  He said he quickly shut off all the switches as he and his instructor made something of a hundred yard dash from the small Cessna.