After closing Camacho’s nearly two months ago, its owners are gearing up for the opening of their new restaurant, ChowHounds, in Sonora this week.
Local entrepreneurs Bob and Debra Milz are opening ChowHounds in the same location at 1191 Sanguinetti Road in the Crossroads Shopping Center where they abruptly shuttered Camacho’s in early July.
ChowHounds is the vision of business consultant Gary Hall, of Sonora, who says he dreamed up the concept with a group of friends during the 1980s while in charge of VIP gourmet services at Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
Hall said ChowHounds will offer a wider selection and more-inviting atmosphere than other local burger joints.
“Every microscopic detail is significant,” Hall said about designing a restaurant and hopeful food chain.
While developing ChowHounds, Hall visited both popular and trendy hamburger restaurants in places like Los Angeles and Las Vegas to see what worked and what didn’t.
ChowHounds’ menu features a variety of specialty burgers and hot dogs with names like the “Widowmaker” and the “Mobster” each with a special twist.
For example, the “Aloha” burger features Hawaiian-style ingredients like pineapple and teriyaki glaze.
Seven different “signature burgers” are each priced at $6.95, while a build-your-own burger option is available for $4.95 plus 50 cents for each additional topping. There are also seven “signature hot dogs” priced at $4.95 each, with a similar build-your-own hot dog option starting at $3.95.
Customers with bigger appetites can try the $7.95 “The Legend” burger featuring a half-pound sirloin patty stuffed with chopped bacon and cheddar cheese, which Hall believes will become the restaurant’s flagship menu item.
Specialty salads will be available for $6.95 each and an order of fries costs $3.95 and comes in a variety of styles, including topped with chili or tossed in chopped garlic.
While Hall and the Milz family hope ChowHounds will someday become a chain, they also wanted to give the location a local flair that will be inviting to area residents.
The walls inside are decorated with pictures of older model cars in front of historic and cultural landmarks throughout Tuolumne County, which hot rod enthusiast Hall said was his idea.
Hall, who was hired as a consultant while the Milz family was struggling to keep Camacho’s open, said he doesn’t see ChowHounds suffering the same fate as the restaurant that preceded it.
“There were 13 different Mexican cuisine restaurants in the area to compete with,” he said. “There are places that have good hamburgers, but not a unique hamburger stand like this.”
Bob Milz said the new concept reduces overhead costs and staffing, but some Camacho’s workers will return.
“What we did before was too involved,” he explained. “There were too many ingredients and it took too many hours to prep and cook everything.”
Milz, who owns and operates Sierra Hardware in Sonora with his wife, Debra, at first expressed reservations about re-entering the restaurant business after being forced to close Camacho’s because it was losing money.
Milz said he decided to give it another shot because he was facing a $100,000 lease obligation on the building and was optimistic about the ChowHounds concept.
“We had put our blood, sweat and tears in it the first go around and it didn’t work out, but we’re not quitters,” he said.
In the next few weeks, Milz also plans on transforming the former Camacho’s Express location at 230 N. Washington St. into a similar companion restaurant tentatively called “ChowHounds 2.”
He said the menu will be simplified with the goal of getting downtown Sonora customers in and out within five minutes.
ChowHounds is scheduled to open for business Wednesday. It’s regular business will be Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.