Businesses located in California, including in the 209 area code, and other states have struggled to stay afloat and even been driven to bankruptcy due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Martin and Carmina Magallanes, owners of Fresh Fork Grill in Ceres, aren’t ready to throw in the towel.
“We’re optimistic,” Martin said. “There’s going to be good and bad days in every industry. The passion is what keeps you moving forward.”
“We survived the pandemic,” he added. “But it’s too early to celebrate.”
Martin and Carmina had to change the way they operate Fresh Fork in order to keep their business from going under.
Fresh Fork reduced its staff size from a dozen to two people.
“We had a significant drop in sales, initially 60 percent,” Martin said. “We had to rearrange staffing. After COVID, it was me and my manager handling the operations. Everybody else was laid off. Slowly, we started rehiring.”
Fresh Fork is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“Before COVID, we were open seven days a week,” Martin said. “We were forced to shut down on the weekends. Business was slow.”
Online sales account for half of Fresh Fork’s overall revenue.
“Fifty percent of our sales come through online ordering,” Martin said. “That’s a benefit we’ve gained through this.”
Fresh Fork also offers a rewards program for its clientele.
“Five percent of every dollar goes into an account,” Martin said. “Customers accumulate free money and can use it for future purchases.”
with all the changes that havebeen made, one thing has remained constant. Fresh Fork’s menu hasn’t changed. The concept is simple: Pick a size—bowl or plate; pick a choice of rice—brown or white; pick a choice of protein—Angus beef, chicken or tofu; and lastly, pick a choice of vegetables—carrots, cabbage and broccoli or mixed. The sauce is soy based.
“Most people gravitate to the chicken bowl,” Martin said. “That’s the go-to. The sauce is kind of what makes the whole plate,” he added.
Salads are not made from iceberg lettuce but rather with kale and slivers of carrot served with slices of orange.
Food is served in a biodegradable container on a metal plate.
Forks used to eat meals are biodegradable as well.
The food prepared and served is “never frozen, never fried, never fake food,” said Martin. “Everything is fresh.”
Bowls for kids are $5.49 while larger bowls are $6.99 and plates with salad are $8.49.
Fresh Fork Grill, which opened its door in January of 2019, is located off Highway 99 at 3018 Service Road in Ceres.
“We wanted to provide a healthier choice for the community,” Martin said. “That was the main reason for opening. We’ve built a couple businesses from scratch.”
Martin and Carmina opened the Camp Transformation Center, which focuses on weight loss, in northwest Modesto six years ago. Carmina handles the day-to-day operations for the business.
“Chicken breast and brown rice is all we eat,” Martin said. “That’s the meal plan we give to our clientele. Clean proteins and carbohydrates.”
Martin and Carmina believe better days are ahead for Fresh Fork.
Walmart plans to open a new 185,682-square foot supercenter in the yet-to-be developed Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center at the northwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads.
The shopping center includes plans for 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet, including three other major tenants and four smaller shops as well as a stand-alone retail building and two to three new restaurants.
“We’re banking on that opening,” Martin said. “Our sales should go up tremendously.”
In the meantime, Martin and Carmina will continue to rely on the business they receive from current customers to keep Fresh Fork Grill afloat.
“They see the value in the meal, the fresh ingredients, the quality of the food, and the price,” Martin said.
Martin and Carmina have yet to set a date but plan to open a second Fresh Fork Grill in the Central Valley.
“We’re looking at a location in northeast Modesto,” he said.
Jeff Benziger contributed to this report.