By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Rite Aid trumps quest for sit-down eatery
City efforts to snag a family sit-down restaurant for the vacant corner parcel at Mitchell and Fowler have resulted in two years of frustration. But while firms like Applebee's, Red Robin and Sizzlers were politely saying "no thanks" to invitations, Rite Aid likes the location and wants to build a new store with drive-thru pharmacy lane.

On Monday, the Ceres City Council ended a development agreement that required a restaurant as Rite Aid ramps up plans to pursue development. The developer agreement was due to expire in February.

Rite Aid submitted an application on July 28 to build a new facility to replace its aged store inside the Save Mart Shopping Center at the corner of Whitmore and Mitchell. The store is too large and the chain has been unable to negotiate a lease for smaller space.

Phillip Mastagni, owner of the Mitchell/Fowler parcel, told the council that he's not interested in building a restaurant on the site and wants to sell it to Halferty Development Company of Paso Robles, a firm which develops stores for Rite Aid. Mastagni didn't rule out the possibility that a sit-down restaurant might want to locate in the acre to the north that plans to keep for development.

Greg Smith of Coldwell Banker's commercial division said he made significant attempts to market the corner to 33 chains such as Red Lobster, Elephant Bar, Chili's, TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Golden Corral, Peppermill, Coco's Bakery, Shoney's, Sweet River Grill and Tahoe Joe's. Letters and marketing packages also went out to Hungry Hunter, Mimi's Cafe, Marie Callender's, Mike's Roadhouse and Johnny Carino's. There were no takers, he said, probably because of its location.

"We haven't had any positive responses," said Smith. "I received four thank yous for the inquiry but we don't meet the right demographics, the location, etc. They prefer to be by the freeway or a major intersection."

A sign posted on the property drew inquiries from three firms, all of which were fast-food providers including El Pollo Loco and Panda Express. Panda Express has since opened a new location at Hatch and Mitchell.

The city bought the site for development of Ceres Fire Station 4. The station was constructed on only part of the site and the remainder was sold off in 2006 to developer Raymond Greer on the condition that it be marketed for a sit-down restaurant for at least a two-year period. The site was sold earlier this year to Mastagni. With Rite Aid interested, Mastagni wanted to see the developer agreement terminated earlier than its Feb. 28, 2009 sunset.

Jim Halferty urged for the sit-down restaurant clause to be terminated to pave the way for a new Rite Aid.

"We're looking for certainty," said Halferty. He noted that he didn't want to begin the expensive process of architectural designs and traffic studies if the city was going to keep the door open for a restaurant.

Halferty said the existing Rite Aid is in deplorable and embarrassing shape. He noted that Save Mart may take over the existing Rite Aid location when it moves to a new site.

Mayor Anthony Cannella felt Smith's marketing efforts were sincere.

"I feel that you have done the best you can," Cannella told Smith. "The reality is that if that was a desired corner ... someone would come there and try to purchase it.

"I think we can all say that we thought it was a long shot to get a sit-down restaurant there when we initially approved this development agreement."

He and all four councilmen went along with the early termination of the developer agreement.

Halferty said the Rite Aid could be before decision makers next spring.

Councilman Ken Lane suggested the real opportunities for a sit-down restaurant will be in the Southern Gateway area of Service and Mitchell closer to the freeway.

Councilman Guillermo Ochoa said as a businessman he recognized the site as not ideal for a sit-down restaurant.

"I don't think that it's a very good locaton for an actual restaurant," said Councilman Bret Durossette. Having Rite Aid at the corner would be a "great thing," he said.

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra called the agreement termination a "win-win situation" since Rite Aid is interested.

"I see it as a potential win-win although I would like a sit-down restaurant and I'm sure marketing dynamics will locate that where they want to be."