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Could Chipotle or Panda Express Be Coming to Oakhurst?

OAKHURST — The former home of the Whopper could become the area’s first Chipotle or Panda Express — that’s if the real estate broker currently marketing the now-vacant building can attract a top-tier “fast-casual” new restaurant operator to the area.

“I’ve had some interest in the property from several clients I’ve worked with in the past,” said Troy Mathias, a broker for Fresno-based Commercial West. “I think we’ll get it leased, maybe even before the end of the year.”

Mathias said he was in the process of “reaching out” to the corporate headquarters of popular eateries like Chiptole, Panda Express and Panera Bread to find out if they had any interest in coming to eastern Madera County.

“I’m trying to network with the local business community too” to try to make it happen, he added.

Mathias, who is actually the nephew of two-time Olympic gold medalist and Tulare legend Bob Mathias, said he has a roster of about 20 regular clients, most in the food industry, and that several have already made inquiries about the vacant former Burger King.

But he’s only been working on leasing the property since mid-October — and he’s making the effort in tandem with the former Burger King franchisee’s broker.

Sunny Ghai, who owns and operates more than 100 fast food outlets up and down California, including dozens of Taco Bells and Burger Kings, also operated the Oakhurst Burger King franchise — at least until the night of June 30 when signs were posted on the locked restaurant’s doors that it was “closing.”

According to Mathias, “about seven years” remain on Ghai’s lease.

This summer, Ghai opened a new Burger King location in Madera shortly after closing the Oakhurst store.

Earlier this year, Ghai said he hopes to be able to find another franchise-restaurant operator to take over his lease. “I’d love to get someone like Chiptole in there,” he said. “I think a restaurant like that would really do well in the Oakhurst area.”

Oakhurst’s Burger King used to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken until Ghai converted the storefront, which faces Highway 41, into a “Home of the Whopper” in 2010.

“This state does not make it easy for small businessmen like me,” Ghai told SNO this past July. “Between higher minimum wage and health insurance costs for my employees and all of the regulations and threat of ADA lawsuits, it’s more profitable now for people like me to open marijuana businesses than burger businesses in California.”

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Sierra News Online

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