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Business is cooking for former auto-body frame technician
Oscar Quiroz of The Mangy Moose Caf holds up signs advertising some of the daily specials at his unique counter eatery. Over the last eight years Quiroz has turned the business into a popular breakfast spot a destination for regulars and newcomers alike and has been able to weather the choppy economy with good food and quality service. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Eight years ago Oscar Quiroz took a chance.

An auto-body frame technician by trade, Quiroz saw a foundering business in The Mangy Moose Café in the 500 block of East Yosemite Avenue. He viewed it as an opportunity to do something he always wanted to do – own a restaurant.

So he kept the name, scrapped everything inside the deep and narrow cafe except for the trademark counter, and put his own decorative touches before reopening with only himself, his daughters and a cook on board to turn everything around.

And it didn’t take long before he succeeded.

On a weekend morning it’s next to impossible to find a seat at the counter. A steady stream of regulars keeps the place jumping during the week to create the atmosphere and the environment that Quiroz was hoping for when started in 2005.

After a few minor touch-ups the restaurant is getting ready to open back up again on Saturday, Jan. 5, at 7 a.m.

The Bulletin caught up with him to see how things were going:

What’s it like to own a restaurant in Manteca that’s known for its breakfast menu?

“These are some of the friendliest people that you can think of. I’ve been very blessed to own a business here and have some of the customers that we have come through here every day.”

What do you enjoy most about doing what it is that you do?

“I enjoy looking forward to being here in the morning because a lot of what goes on in here is like being in a sober bar – it’s a ‘Cheers’ like atmosphere. But there’s nobody drunk causing any problems. It’s that sort of place where people talk and start their day and I like being a part of something like that.”

If you were at a steakhouse what cut of meat would you order?

“I like the porterhouse. With chili beans and mashed potatoes.”

Is there an item on the menu that is more popular than the others?

“I’d say the omelets are the most popular. We kind of have a rotating menu of special omelets and some of them we make regular like the ‘dirty moose’ – country potatoes topped with two biscuits topped with two eggs topped with gravy topped with cheese and sprinkled with bacon or sausage. When we offered that up the first time it was crazy how many people were ordering that up, so while it’s not on the menu, it’s a special that we keep – we do that with a few things.”

You’re in your eighth year as the owner of The Mangy Moose. How have things compared to your expectations during that time frame?

“We’ve definitely exceeded expectations. I had an idea on what I wanted to see, and when we started out, all that we kept was the name – we added everything inside to give the restaurant the ambiance it has today, and I think that made a big difference. I think that people are comfortable when they come in here if they’re happy then we’re doing well.”

There’s a plane waiting to take you wherever you want for a week. Where are you going?

“Hawaii. It’s such a peaceful place. People there really don’t rush. And I really wouldn’t do very much while I was there. Just snorkel and hang out on the beach.”

How much work goes into getting a restaurant ready, and how hard is it to meet expectations?

“Everything we serve is fresh so we have to have it all ready that morning. But when we’re busy and people want to make changes to the menu or last minute changes, there is room there for mistakes because we’re so used to making something a certain way – we do it that way so often. Sometimes that makes it difficult. But people are very forgiving for the most part because we put 110 percent into this. We’re not perfect and they know that, but we’re cooking it right in front of them and we’re always striving to meet everybody’s needs and wants.”

The economy affected a lot of dinner restaurants while people were looking at ways to tighten their belts. Was that the same for The Mangy Moose?

“Everybody knows us as a coffee and breakfast spot – we serve breakfast and lunch – and we’re actually doing better today than we were five years ago. I think we needed to make some changes and we did that and a lot of customers noticed. They appreciate the quality of the food that they get here and they enjoy the ambiance. Because of that we didn’t see much of a decline.”

What was the learning curve like when you first took over?

“It took me about 18 months to get the hang of everything. It takes a while to learn every aspect of the business – the cooking, the prepping, the purchasing. It’s all of the things that you have to know when you own a small business, and eventually I became accustomed to everything.”

If you were ordering off of your own menu, what would you have?

“I love my pork chops. It’s really hard to say because it depends on what kind of eater you are. But I’d get the pork chops and eggs.”

Are you an orange juice or milk kind of guy?

“Orange juice. Definitely orange juice – cold orange juice, with ice.”

What is it like to own a small business in Manteca?

“The friends that you make doing something like this – it’s crazy. Everybody is so supportive. I have more friends now than I did working for the previous company, and I worked with all guys. We have people that send us things from all over the United States while they’re traveling or when they move. This town has been very good to us.”

Is being in business for yourself everything you thought it would be?

“Whatever I put into it I get out of it. If I put in a lot of love then I’m going to get a lot of love in return. I feel like I have control of my own destiny. We started so small and we’ve been able to grow for such a small place. I get to take a few more days off than I did before and that says a lot. I like that.”

The Mangy Moose Café is located at 506 E. Yosemite Avenue and is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to noon. They are closed Mondays. For more information call (209) 239-1758.