Tasty Offerings at the Lunch Box
Out to LunchApril 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Jacki Potorke
As if it weren’t charming enough, another café has been added to the list of Exeter’s diverse eateries. And should Exeter’s new Lunch Box prove anything like its Visalia parent, it will be an instant hit. Success is great, but the café’s owners, the Marcelinos, would really like to see the Exeter café give back to the community, and more directly to its employees.
Kyler Marcelino knows firsthand how difficult the service industry can be. In 2006, as a second-year College of the Sequoias student, Marcelino worked as a barista at the Starbucks on Main Street in Visalia. He parked his car in the lot adjacent to what was then an empty building. “I’d pass by it everyday,” says Marcelino. One day, he wrote down the phone number posted in the window, and thought, “This could be a really neat building to do something with.”
For two years, the idea was put on the back burner. Marcelino graduated from COS and began studying law, but quickly realized, “I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I was at a crossroads.” He renewed the idea of a restaurant to his family. “We had owned a restaurant in Porterville for many years that we sold,” says Marcelino. “I remember loving that work.” He persuaded his mother Kelly and brothers Kanaan and Kavicka, and in April 2008, they signed a five-year lease. The plan was never more than to make a small living, sell it and move on.
The building was a disaster, says Marcelino, with “holes in the ceiling with pigeons flying through.” But they saw the potential for more, even though they had originally intended only to rent the smaller space, “just enough to serve five or six people.” The Marcelinos wanted to call the mostly to-go café the Brown Bag.
They had already explored logos with brown paper bags when one caught their eye, a golden lunchbox. “It reminded us of something nostalgic,” says Marcelino, and at that moment they decided to rename their café Lunch Box.
Lunch Box was born out of nostalgia, for a feeling that’s difficult to describe let alone capture. And the Marcelinos asked themselves, “How can we create memories, how can we build nostalgia?” The answer was found on the menu, with simple but delicious homemade meals like spaghetti and meatballs, chicken pot pies and the untraditionally traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“The menu itself is designed to bring people together,” explains Marcelino, by tapping into the emotional aspect of dining, by providing what he calls “comfort food.” If all this sounds sentimental, that’s no accident. “We’ve done something that brings up good memories for people and that helps build memories,” he says.
The Marcelinos intended the Lunch Box to be more than an exchange of money and food. Before they opened, a fire destroyed their family home, “and that tragedy taught us what’s important in life.” Things are things, says Marcelino, “they’re not important. Family, friendship, making a difference in your community – that’s what’s really important.”
The Marcelinos then asked themselves, “What do we need to accomplish this?” With their focus on “what’s important,” the family explored their future financial plans.
“Then I realized that I’m no more important than some of the people that have been working for us a year, two years now,” he says. Those washing dishes, making sandwiches, “they’re just as important (to the restaurant) as I am, so why should I get more?”
Thus came the idea for a café in Exeter. “Instead of taking the profits from Exeter and Visalia and rolling them back into the family’s pockets,” explains Marcelino, “we decided to make sure that our employees are raised to the same level that we are, getting higher pay, health insurance, all the benefits that we do.”
“That’s the goal with Exeter,” says Marcelino, “but we’re only in month two of our five-year plan.” So yes, they’ve taken an old building, gutted it, kept the original rafters; they repurposed the original wood to design a café unique from its parent in Visalia. But like the Visalia café, the purpose in Exeter is to provide something more.
Marcelino envisions opening more cafés to provide more opportunities for their employees. “We’d like to start opening, diversifying, getting into the market laterally,” he says. By baking their own bread, maybe brewing their own beer, Lunch Box could “drive our costs down so we can raise our employees up.” And if their model is successful, it will bring new meaning to the phrase “comfort food,” especially for their employees.
Exeter Lunch Box • 119 North E St., Exeter • (559) 592-4010
Visalia Lunch Box • 112 N. Court St., Visalia • (559) 635-8624
Café Hours: Monday – Thursday, 11 am – 8 pm;
Friday – Saturday, 11 am – 9 pm
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