Family to serve nostalgia at Visalia eateries

Mearle’s Drive-In & Theater sign at the south east corner of Mooney Blvd. and Road 264(Kenny Goodman)

George family is planning to open an “All American” hot dog stand on Tulare Ave next year and a replica of the original Mearle’s College Drive-In in 2025

TULARE – Like the Energizer Bunny, you can’t slow down 88-year-old developer Johnny George.

Johnny and his family made the news earlier this year with their audacious plan to resurrect Mearle’s Drive-In on South Mooney Boulevard, complete with a drive-in theater in the back. Now he is bringing back footlong dogs as part of his nostalgic, “All American” Hot Dog stand.

The new hot dog stand is planned on Tulare Avenue in Visalia in front of the family’s sprawling former olive plant property. Johnny has converted the facility into a myriad of leased spaces ranging from office users, a candy distributor and cold storage clients.

Johnny plans to open the new hot dog eatery early next year. He says he came to Visalia when he was just six months old and lived in the “Okie Barrio” while growing up here. He started a roofing business 87 years ago in Visalia, and worked closely with Visalia’s beloved Mearle’s Drive-In, even hosting his business meetings there. John was a regular at Mearle’s, eating breakfast and lunch in the historic diner. The diner closed in 2006 and was then converted into a Habit Burger in 2012.

In January, Johnny’s grandson Cris announced the family had set out to rebuild a nearly exact replica of Mearle’s College Drive-In on Mooney Boulevard near Mooney’s Grove park. The entire project will be headed by the George family’s two businesses: J.F. Enterprises Inc. and the George Family Trust. If all goes according to plan, the new Mearle’s will be a twin of the first one, just modernized as far as the kitchen and other appliance updates go.

Attached to the back of the diner will be a drive-in theater that will be free of charge with up to 100 parking spots. In addition to making the moving showings free, the George family is also hoping to make the food in the diner affordable. The menu will be very similar to the original, and Cris George said that they are aiming to keep the prices at the very lowest possible.

The nostalgic restaurant is expected to open sometime in 2025.

New spaces open up on Mooney

Developers on Mooney are looking to lease six new storefronts in coming months. At Sequoia Mall, owner Dave Paynter has filed plans for three new retail spaces south of Hobby Lobby that are 7,800, 4,588 and 4,193 square feet. Paynter wants to host more national retailers as he rebrands the mall into an open-air shopping center.

Paynter is likely to rename it to something like Sequoia Commons to reflect the change. None of these spaces — all north of the Barnes and Noble bookstore under construction — have a name attached to them yet.

Further north on Mooney, the Orosco Group has decided to divide up the former Union Bank building into three leased spaces at Walnut and Mooney next to the Visalia Mall.

The former bank building is 5,800 square feet. Plans call for two, 1440-square-foot spaces for retailers or restaurants and a larger 3,200 square foot space. The property has 60 parking spaces it can use. Orosco bought the building for development about a year ago after Union Bank closed in Visalia.

Rally’s plans twin stores on Mooney, Dinuba boulevards

Following the trend seen in the past few years, Rally’s Hamburgers is wanting to duplicate their planned double drive-thru on Mooney in the fast growing north side of town. The new location would be on Dinuba Boulevard at the Riverbend Village shopping center near Riggin.

Their South Mooney store has yet to break ground at Visalia Parkway. Both Mooney retailers and fast food eateries have decided to build second locations to the north, ranging from Target and Ross to Panera Bread, In-N-Out and El Pollo Loco.

Co-work spaces coming to downtown

Partners Saegan Moran, Jalisca Thomason and Megan Welker are busy planning a new co-work space called Kinwork at 607 E Main St. in a former thrift store space. The 3,500 square foot building will be divided into eight private offices, three art studios and a large conference room. The space includes an outside patio in the back.

Next door will be a new sandwich shop called Subs & Stuff with Mexican dishes as well.

Seagan, an art instructor at College of the Sequoias says co-work space is becoming more popular; particularly among the younger crowds who don’t want a full time office nor do they want to just work from home, but want a flexible work space where “community is really important to them.”

Seagan said the new complex may not open until spring or even summer because of all the construction that is needed. Permits for the work are pending.

Another co-work space is in the works on School Street at Johnson on the west edge of downtown. Called “The Nest” the space includes both co-work space and a community kitchen for would-be chefs. The building is just across the street from the popular indoor soccer facility, 1852 Visalia.

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