Hearing the news of Bitwise Industries’ financial troubles opened new wounds for Susan Valiant.
She ran a popular downtown Fresno restaurant, Mabel’s Kitchen, in the mid-2010s. Once located on Kern Street at the old Downtown Club location, she was convinced to move into a hip new building by a hip new company, Bitwise.
The business partnership did not go well, she told GV Wire.
“Everybody started calling me when (news of Bitwise’s recent troubles) all happened, and I’m like, I don’t want to hear about that. Why? It was traumatizing to me,” Valiant said, at times struggling to maintain composure.
Mabel’s Kitchen served a dedicated and happy lunchtime crowd, dining on panini sandwiches. Valiant made everything from scratch.
“We had a lot of people that walked from the courthouse. And I just loved that location,” Valiant said.
Jake Soberal was one of the customers. The then Bitwise co-CEO convinced Valiant to move her restaurant to his soon-to-be-open South Stadium building just a few blocks away. She agreed.
She said she should have never moved. Instead of being closed for a month, it took a year before she could set up shop again. And, things at Bitwise never took off.
Representatives for Bitwise did not respond to a request for comment.
Getting the ‘Run Around the Rosy’
Valiant founded Mabel’s Kitchen — named after her grandmother Mabel DeMorales — on Stanislaus Street in 2013. It moved to the Kern Street location shortly thereafter.
Soberal recruited her to South Stadium.
“He told me about, Hey, it’s going to be great. You know, we’re going to have classes for kids and there’s going to be, you know, like 1,500 kids walking in and out of the building every day, 300 occupancy, you know, And I kind of explained I didn’t have the money to do that. And he said we’ll do the build-out, you know, and, basically, he was going to provide a turnkey kitchen for me,” Valiant said.
The prospect of a full kitchen with a hood won Valiant over. Build-out would take a year, she said. She closed her Kern Street restaurant with about a month before the new location was ready. Bitwise helped move her out and store her equipment in the new building.
Weeks later, Bitwise told Valiant construction was running behind, pushing back an opening to February 2016.
“I took it on good faith that they would have it done … it was like dirt in there. In fact, when they had their grand opening, half the building wasn’t done. And that was in October (2015),” Valiant said.
Bitwise paid her $3,000 a month to hold her steady. Valiant said Bitwise offered her some catering jobs — difficult because she had no kitchen to work with and her equipment was in storage.
“I was losing probably at least $5,000 to $8,000 a month in sales,” Valiant said.
Valiant said Bitwise gave her the “run around the rosy” when she asked when the restaurant would be ready.
“I just try to let it go because you get so stressed out about things and the restaurant business is so stressful anyways,” Valiant said.
She eventually opened in September 2016, one year later than expected.
Problems Remained After Opening
Valiant said the kitchen had problems with electrical and plumbing.
“It was embarrassing. My customers were like, Why did the lights flicker in here all the time?” Valiant said.
“If the power goes out, you know, then I can’t cook and then I can’t make money … it was like a war with them because it was happening really almost on a daily basis and they just ignored it,” she said.
The power went out just before her Sept. 2016 opening, Valiant said. Her food spoiled.
Building Owner Disputes Problems
The South Stadium landlord, Baltara Enterprises LP, disputed Valiants’ account, saying it was her equipment that caused problems.
“The 700 Van Ness office building was constructed with a small café space on the first floor with the intent of attracting a coffee vendor and sandwich-style lunch tenants. The electrical requirements and limitations of the cafe space were clearly described in Mabel’s lease agreement. Unfortunately, Mabel’s specialized kitchen equipment brought to the site far exceeded the electrical service available to building café space. After Mabel’s departure, the space was continuously leased and operated by sandwich-style operators and there were no further electrical issues,” a company spokesman told GV Wire.
Baltara confirmed it sent Mabel’s Kitchen a three-day notice to perform (fix) or quit regarding the electrical power. The notice included a section from the lease that prohibited “unusual consumption of utilities such as 240v electrical supply.”
Mabel’s Moves Out
Valiant accepted the growing pains and was making some money. In March 2017, some Bitwise employees stationed at South Stadium moved into a different building.
“My sales went down like $4,000 a month,” she said. “They didn’t tell anybody.”
The lease was for two years, with a one-year option. Valiant said she paid $1,500 a month. She said Bitwise would not honor the option year.
“I said, Well, I’m sorry. I haven’t been able to find another spot, so I’ll be here for another year. And (Soberal) said he would go through the lease and basically try to get me out of there,” Valiant said.
She received several three-day notices to vacate that were not enforced. She also said she was charged for things she was not before, like cleaning and parking fees.
“It’s still mentally stressful,” Valiant said.
Valiant said Bitwise would then bring in food trucks, which hurt business. Employees would even use her tables to eat. They allegedly removed televisions and rearranged restaurant seating.
Valiant felt helpless.
“I had no money for an attorney,” she said. “(Soberal) told me, sue me, I’m a lawyer. And I’m like, hey, I wish I could.”
Valiant said she felt bullied and harassed.
Despite the sour experience, Valiant said she has no regrets.
“You learn from your mistakes, you know, that’s life. Everything’s not easy. There’s turbulence in life,” Valiant said.
After Mabel’s Kitchen moved out of South Stadium, it opened at the Jack’s Car Wash at Herndon and West avenues. She moved in nine days before the 2020 COVID shutdown. She tried to open when the lockdowns eased but was never able to make traction.
She’s been shut down since 2022, but hopes to open at a new north Fresno location soon.
“I found something in my life that gave me joy. And I’m so glad I get to do it. I just wish that I would get a break,” Valiant said.