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Smokehouse closes, but ready for new chapter

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Sugar Pine Smokehouse officially closed on Christmas Eve and will now reopen down the street on Country Club Drive with new owners, from left, Daniel Gill, Tanna Van Loon, Lisa Gill and Jesse Dibble.


For the past four years, Sugar Pine Smokehouse has been serving the citizens of Madera high-quality barbecue food while also serving the community.

Unfortunately, SPS closed its doors at its current location in the Madera Marketplace on Saturday.

General Manager Lisa Gill closed that chapter in the restaurant, but is excited about moving to a new location about a half-mile down the street.

“I’m really excited to be able to move forward and do it the way I feel it should be done, not that it was bad or wrong,” she said. “It’s just exciting to get to that step in my life that I’m finally doing it.”

The new Sugar Pine Smokehouse will be located at 1410 Country Club Drive, Suite 100 and 102, right across from the new Dutch Bros.

“We signed the lease last Thursday and we’re set to go,” Gill said. “It’s going to be a little over 2,300 square feet. It’s probably as big as our bar area with a little extra, but with seating, it will be about as big as our bar.”

Although there are concerns about moving into a smaller space, Gill is ready for what the next chapter in Sugar Pine Smokehouse will bring.

“There’s going to be a million no’s why it should be a good spot,” Gill said. “For us, the yes’s are it’s affordable and the people that own the building were very easy to work with and it helped us a lot.”

Gill was forced to close down Sugar Pine because the people that own the site the restaurant is on sold it to In-N-Out Burger. She wants the community to know that her investors, GQ Investment, aren’t the bad guys.

“In-N-Out bought the building from Newman Investment Group, which owns the entire development,” she said. “GQ Investment group that owns us right now are the best group of people to work with. Even though they chose not to work with the restaurant, it just wasn’t their thing. They wanted me to have a part of it. They wanted to make sure I continued what I built. They wanted me to keep the name and keep pushing forward. They have done a lot for me.”

Gill hopes to begin construction at the new year.

“Construction should start right after the first, with the exception of us going in there and clearing out some stuff,” she said. The holidays have set us back a little.”

Gill will still have the SPS smoker and will bring that same flavor to the new restaurant.

“Unfortunately, there’s not enough for it to stay stationary at the new restaurant,” she said. “My husband is building it on a trailer so we’ll be mobile. Now when we do catering events, we’ll be able to take it with us. It’s going to be a neat little addition to us.”

Gill was one of the founding people of SPS when it first opened four years ago. Although she is sad to leave the location and into the new one, the thing that bothers her the most is not being able to see her regular customers and also downsizing her staff.

“We’re very sad, especially here we have 50 employees,” she said. “When we go to the new location, we’ll only be able to have 15-20. We’re going to have to say good-bye to some, although some have moved on to new jobs. The time we are closed down for three months, it’s going to be sad not to see our regulars. It’s a little sad to be missing out, but very exciting for the next chapter.”

Gill will open the new restaurant with three other partners — her son, Daniel, her head server Tanna Van Loon, and bar manager Jesse Dibble.

“Tanna and I have worked together for years and years,” Gill said. “It’s all coming together. I’m excited for her to have a piece with all of us.”

Gill said she signed a three-year lease at the new building with an option to keep going. She would like to open new restaurants or expand, but knows she doesn’t know what the future holds.

“I know there’s a lot happen in Madera and new shopping centers opening up,” she said. “Maybe a spot will open up for us to move, or maybe we’ll be very happy in our little spot and maybe open a few more. I’ve had a vision of opening in small towns like Oakhurst or Fowler.”

She is hoping for the opportunity to be a successful restaurant because there aren’t many options in Madera.

“There aren’t too many sit down opportunities in Madera,” she said. “I know there are many great things to come and happen. There so much need in the town that all of us restaurant owners should succeed and support one another. We have customers that come from Firebaugh and Fresno. People always talk about Madera people going to Fresno. But, we have people who come from Fresno to visit us because we give them the quality they want.”

Obviously with a smaller kitchen, Gill’s menu at the new Sugar Pine will be a bit smaller, but she said there will be times when favorites are available.

“The kitchen will be about one-third of what we have now,” she said. “That’s not saying we won’t ever do some of our dishes. We might bring them in as specials. We won’t be able to do breakfast seven days a week, but will have it on the weekends. We won’t be able to do big parties, but I might be able to rent out the restaurant for a private party. We’re still going to try to do some fun stuff that the community needs.”

The past two weeks have been busy for Gill and she appreciates all the outpouring of support.

“I’m overwhelmed by the kindness of the community,” she said. “We have gotten so much positive feedback. I am so thankful for all the kind words. I think people need to realize it’s hard for us to say good-bye. Not only are we saying good-bye, but we are having 50 people unemployed at Christmas. It has just been very hard. By the people saying the kind thing, it helps lifts our sprits and bring Christmas joy to us.”

Gill wants to let the community know that the decorations inside the restaurant have found a good home and won’t be just thrown away.

“We don’t have a lot of space for the décor in the new place,” she said. “Two of the walls are solid windows. One of the walls is the bar. I believe the gentleman that owns the small buildings has reached an agreement with Kim at the Waffle Spot to go there. I think she has a perfect location to have displayed. She will value them. Some of the larger pictures have been sold to people that have an attachment to them. Some will be donated to the museum. I have encountered really cool Sugar Pine stuff. People have gifted me so much stuff over the years. Some of that stuff will go on loan.”

She also wants to thank the E Clampus Vitus #41-49 Grub Gulch Chapter for their help in getting her started at her new place.

“They have been absolutely amazing to us for being our patrons, supporting us at city meetings,” she said. “They are helping me do the big move on their own time. The big train we have behind the hostess desk, I won’t have room for it. One the Clampers will hold it at his place for me. He collects trains. He says it will look cool where it will go, but he promises it’s on loan if I ever want it back. We are trying to find homes for everything.”


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