Modesto vegan cafe built loyal following but shut abruptly. Here’s why, what’s coming next

As one of the first new restaurants to open in downtown Modesto after the pandemic started, The Farmacy and its customers were off to a healthy start right away.

The all vegan, all plant-based cafe was yet another business from reigning 10th Street entrepreneur Erin Doran, who also owns the wedding/special events venue The Century, co-working space Nine3One and floral shop/bar Rosé Bouquet along the same block.

But now, three years after its successful launch, the cafe has abruptly closed. Earlier this week, Doran posted notices on the restaurant’s website and social media sites that it was closing immediately due to “circumstances beyond our control.”

Owner Erin Doran at the Farmacy, a new plant-based restaurant, in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, May 14, 2020.
Owner Erin Doran at the Farmacy, a new plant-based restaurant, in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

The eatery opened two months after the pandemic’s start in May 2020 with a pop-up concept. The cafe then moved into its own storefront, snuggled between Casa Maestros and Trevino’s Barber Shop, replacing a former cinnamon roll bakery. The cafe offered a colorful and inventive menu filled with all vegan, all plant-based dishes and drinks.

But Doran said despite the cafe’s many fans and its loyal following, The Farmacy had difficulty finding vegan chefs. The restaurant had limited hours throughout, open only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

“We could not find top-tier talent back of house. We had two great cooks, but to extend our hours and operations, we needed to find more chefs,” she said. “But we couldn’t find the right talent for a couple reasons. We are a niche cuisine, and our gluten-free and plant-based concept scares some people away.”

Eatery owner focuses on other businesses downtown

That difficulty was one of the deciding factors for Doran to put her 1,900-square-foot restaurant up for sale months ago. Recently, she came to a deal with a family that runs restaurants across California, including locations in the Central Valley. It will take over the dining spot this summer and bring its new concept and menu.

Doran said the cuisine will be one that is currently lacking in downtown Modesto, and together they plan to announce the new endeavor likely next month.

“It will have a new name and concept, but the dining room will stay exactly as it is,” Doran said about the restaurant’s purchase. “This is a type of cuisine downtown Modesto will be excited for, and they will still have vegan and vegetarian options.”

The closure and sale means The Farmacy’s five staff — two chefs and three wait staff — have been let go. Doran said the decision has also given her time to focus more on her larger businesses, the events venue and co-working space, which were shut down extensively during the pandemic and have been building back.

The reaction to the closure, which between its social media feeds has received hundreds of comments, has been overwhelming, Doran said. Making the decision was difficult, she said, but people’s responses have been heartening.

“This started as a pop-up and we didn’t expect it to last as long as it did,” she said. “When I posted about the closing this week, I was not expecting replies and feedback and outreach. It warms my heart to know how much everyone loved it.”

Farmacy restaurant manager Rachel Morrisette prepares a take-out order in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. The restaurant closed to indoor dining due to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
Farmacy restaurant manager Rachel Morrisette prepares a take-out order in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. The restaurant closed to indoor dining due to the spike in COVID-19 cases.