Rising from the ashes (in a sense): Tina Marie’s Cafe reopens on 19th Street

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Businesses all over the country have suffered from the economic effects of the pandemic, and few more so than restaurants. And here in Kern County, few restaurants have suffered more than Tina Marie’s Cafe, which has dealt not just with COVID-19 closures but — just as the restrictions were easing up — a devastating fire.

But theirs is a story of resilience, a story of love and support. And, of course, a story of breakfast. Tina Marie’s is back.

Dec. 12 was the low point for restaurant owner Tina Marie Brown. In the wee hours, Tina Marie’s, her popular coffee shop on Chester Avenue, went up in flames — everything destroyed either by fire, smoke or water. The worst part, Brown says, is that it put her staff of 10 — cooks, servers and hosts — out of work. It also left scores of faithful customers on their own for breakfast and lunch.

Well, pass the grits — Tina Marie’s is back in business — at a new-old location two blocks away. With some mid-week, mid-day fanfare involving firefighters and politicians, the restaurant re-opened Wednesday morning — at 19th and Eye streets in the former home of Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar.

Was there ever any doubt?

“We stayed positive; we were resilient,” Brown said. “From the beginning I knew we would be here. I didn’t know how we were going to get here, but I knew we would be back.”

Among the guests of honor at the ribbon cutting was Bakersfield Fire Captain Stephen Vizzard, who Brown saluted for saving some treasured artwork: a black-and-white acrylic of country music stars Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, painted in 2016 by local artist Beckie Aguilar. The painting might have sustained water damage or been trashed in the cleanup had he not acted. 

A photo captured Vizzard the morning of the fire sitting on a curb with the rescued art — and Aguilar turned it into another painting, which Brown presented — the paint still wet — to the fire captain.

“That’s their belongings, their livelihood,” Vizzard said. “So we’re trying to save that also, and so it’s not a complete loss. We tried our best to save the building but we all know where that all worked out … And now we’re reopening in the old Noodle Bar. It’s a great location for them.”

While Brown expressed her gratitude for that thoughtful act, customers gave thanks for the opportunity to get back into a familiar routine. Cathy Telese remembers noticing a fire that night.

“When I saw it was Tina Marie’s I told him (friend Dale Frye, seated next to her), ‘This is terrible! Where we gonna eat?’ “

They had to wait five months for this day.

“Five months — long, long dragging months,” Telese said. “Kept going by to see if there was any progress being done. Then when she got this, I went, ‘Hey this will work for a while.’”

How long a while no one can say. Brown said she hasn’t decided whether or not to return to her old location on Chester once the decimated shell is built out again — whenever it might be. Her new landlord is understanding — because he’s also her old landlord — Sherman Gross.

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