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Lathrop chamber honoring Kotecha of CK Bar & Grill
Rather than bailing on what had become a struggling breakfast joint, Andy Kotecha and his family poured nearly $100,000 into the business and transformed it into the CK Bar and Grill. The move helped right the ship and turn the spot into a popular local hangout. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

LATHROP — Andy Kotecha could have done a lot of things differently when business at his Lathrop breakfast restaurant started to decline.

An accountant by trade, he knew that something needed to be done to boost the number of customers that walked through the doors every day. A steady stream of morning regulars helped make the local spot a unique and popular hangout, but Kotecha – whose family opened Country Kitchen on Harlan Road 12 years ago – knew that the business needed something more.

And that’s how the CK Bar & Grill was born.

By renovating the existing building, adding a dinner menu and securing liquor license for the installation of a bar, Kotecha has seen a small turnaround. That’s an important factor after he sunk almost $100,000 into the concept.

He’s being honored by the Lathrop District Chamber of Commerce as the Entrepreneur of the Year tonight at Chez Shari at the Manteca Park Golf Course.

“Sometimes in business you need to do what you need to do. A lot of our regular breakfast customers weren’t sure about what we were doing at first, but we didn’t make any changes to the breakfast menu – it’s still there to serve them,” he said. “Your customers serve as your most critical judge, and if you can’t get them to come through the doors then you’re going to be in trouble.

“We’ve been fortunate that people like the changes that we’ve made.”

The most important arrow in Kotecha’s quiver has been his background in accounting.

Most restaurants that fail, he said, do so because they can’t control costs. They focus too much on the food or the chef or the general atmosphere inside of the building itself. Meanwhile the business is overpaying and it could be sinking the ship.

While there might not be huge profits, just making the subtle changes can be the difference between red and black.

“I come in early every day to break down the finances and look through our reports to see where we stand,” he said. “You hope that everything is going the way that you’ve planned it out, but you work with what you have. Staying on top of that is the most important thing.”

But sometimes you’ve just got to spend.

By the time that Kotecha went before the Lathrop City Council to get permission to move forward with both the renovations and the addition of the bar, Country Kitchen was no longer profitable on its own.

Turning it into a full-scale restaurant – in his eyes – would help attract a whole new crowd of people and serve a need in the Lathrop community that wasn’t being met by very many other establishments.

And now that he’s getting recognized for going out a limb is something that he’s looking forward to.

“I think that it’s great that they’re doing this – that we’re even being considered,” he said. “We made this change and it was a big one. We put between about $100,000 into a business that wasn’t making money and sales are up.

“It looks like it was the right thing to do.”

The Lathrop District Chamber of Commerce Business Recognition and Installation Dinner begins tonight at 6 o’clock at Chez Shari at the Manteca Park Golf Course. For more information call (209) 858-4486.