Empty for years, this prime downtown Fresno spot is getting a new restaurant

Joe’s Steakhouse — the downtown restaurant recognizable for the cowboy on its sign and the wagon wheels out front — will soon be home to a new breakfast restaurant.

The prime spot at 831 Van Ness Avenue next to the spiral garage has been dark for three years since it closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Breakfast restaurant Country Kitchen plans to open there.

A California franchisee of the company bought the building for $850,000 and wants to open there for breakfast, lunch and dinner — hopefully by the end of October.

The beer and wine liquor license is in the process of being transferred.

The restaurant will complement the other dining options in town, said Elliott Balch, president and CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership.

“Everyone knows this building, and it’s in a key location as we see more and more activity in the Brewery District, Chukchansi Park, and other areas nearby,” he told The Bee via email.

The franchisee, Aliya Manasrah of Corona, said he did his research before committing to downtown Fresno.

“I understand the challenge of downtown,” he said. “I looked into the whole entire downtown. I don’t see a good place where you can sit down and have your omelet, or have your pancakes.”

The menu

The restaurant serves traditional breakfast food, including pancakes, omelets, waffles, crepes and skillet scrambles made with potatoes and eggs.

Its rib-eye steak with bourbon sauce is popular.

So is its dish for customers who are really hungry: The “Barn Buster.” It’s four eggs, four slices of bacon or sausage links, hash browns and a choice of four pancakes or four slices of toast.

It also has a vegetarian omelet.

Lunch and dinner options include burgers, sandwiches, and plenty of fried appetizers, including fried cheese curds.

It has a “lighter fare” menu with smaller portions too.

Cowboys and wagon wheels

The country-Western decor at Joe’s Steakhouse was unique to downtown: Rodeo scenes on the booth dividers, cow skulls, its name written in a rope font — and of course those wagon wheels.

It’s all staying, said Manasrah.

“I’m keeping everything,” he said. “When you talk about Country Kitchen restaurant, we have the rooster, we have the chicken decor. It will fit with us.”

He will be updating the kitchen equipment, along painting and touching up the space.

What is Country Kitchen?

Most of Country Kitchen’s locations are corporate owned, but this one is a franchise owned by Manasrah.

The 85-year-old Wisconsin-based company once had more than 300 locations in the 1970s. It now has around 30, mostly in the Midwest.

Manasrah owns the rights to franchises in much of California. He’s already opened five in California’s Inland Empire. He personally owns three Country Kitchens in the state, two in Colorado and one in Texas.

If this one works out, he could open four or five more in the area, he said.

Manasrah attended Fresno State when he first came to the United States from Jerusalem, before moving to Southern California.

Joe’s Steakhouse closure

Joe’s opened in 2005, with the Anaya family running it for 15 years.

It closed temporarily at first when the state required dining rooms to close in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak. With mostly empty offices nearby, it didn’t make sense to do takeout, or later, invest in the extra required cleaning supplies to reopen, Jackie Anaya said in 2021.

The restaurant never reopened.

The family decided to focus on their other longtime businesses that handle taxes, bookkeeping and real estate.

Anaya said they wanted to make sure a buyer wouldn’t let it sit empty. They also wanted it to be open for three meals a day, especially for people visiting the nearby Brewery District.

The sale closed Thursday.

She referenced a post on the Facebook group “For the Love of Downtown Fresno,” where many commenters said they wanted a diner or breakfast spot.

“It was the perfect match,” she said. “It’s really just what the neighborhood needed and wanted.”