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Hazel's Restaurant, a Modesto institution, closes its doors today

Longtime Modesto eatery Hazel's Elegant Dining is closing its doors today as questions linger about whether the shutdown will be permanent or temporary.

Co-owner Mark Barley Jr. said the restaurant was given a five-day move-out notice by its landlords, the Beard Land Improvement Co., this week. The upscale establishment has been a downtown dining destination for almost 25 years.

Barley and co-owner Jeffrey Stogsdill, the restaurant's head chefs, took over ownership last July. Their lease expired July 15 this year and Barley said the Beard company decided not to renew it.

The landlord has gotten a better offer, Barley said, "so this is not by choice." He said he did not know what business would move into the space.

Representatives from Beard could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The restaurant's last service will be lunch today. While it normally would be open Saturday, Barley said the staff will use the remaining time to pack. He said his business must be out by Monday.

The restaurant has 10 employees, many who have worked at the eatery for a decade or more. Three service groups also meet weekly at Hazel's: Modesto Rotary East, Modesto Lions and Modesto Lions 500.

Since learning the business would have to leave, Barley said, the staff has been contacting its customers, canceling reservations and looking for a new location for the restaurant.

Hazel's was founded in 1985. While the sign outside reads "Since 1925," the date refers to its founder and namesake Hazel Saylor's birthday and not its actual opening. Saylor ran the restaurant until 1991, when she sold it to previous owner Jeff Morey, who then sold it to Barley and Stogsdill last year.

The first Hazel's was at 513 12th St.; the restaurant moved to its current location at 431 12th St. in 1997.

The eatery has a capacity of about 150 and was open for lunch, dinner and banquets. It was known for its refined multicourse dinners.

Longtime diners, such as Tony and Joan Ciccarelli, were shocked by the news.

"The sudden loss of their lease is truly very sad," the couple said in an e-mail to The Bee. "This was the only quiet, elegant dining establishment left in Modesto. Their food was consistently good. They would go the extra mile for their guests. We have spent many special occasions at Hazel's. Now where do we go?"

Barley said he has had assurance from each service group that it would follow the restaurant to a new location. But he said he can't promise the restaurant will reopen.

"It's too early for me to say; I'd like to," he said. "I am starting to look around.

"It's killing a longtime landmark. It's hard. They are losing probably one of the best restaurants Modesto ever had."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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