Tulare Co inmates may take over restaurant operations

FRESNO, Calif.

A popular restaurant in the basement of the Tulare County Courthouse may soon be shut down. It could be replaced with one run by county inmates.

'Medina's at the Courthouse' has been serving up a wide variety of food to Tulare County court employees, lawyers and the public for nearly 15 years.

"We enjoy working here," said owner Louie Medina. "We've met a lot of people, a lot of good friends, it's like family here."

Medina and his wife, Clemencia, run the basement restaurant with help from their family. They said it's not a typical cafeteria. Lines there usually run out the door. And the courthouse customers are given an ever changing menu.

Two weeks ago Medina received word his contract with Tulare County to run the restaurant would not be renewed. Medina and employees are worried they will lose their jobs.

"Not only losing a job, but like I said the people, the environment is really great. I love to work with family," said longtime employee Candi Uranga. She is also Medina's granddaughter.

"The prices are fair, the food is good. Why replace it," asked Gerald King. He eats there at least once a week. King said it's a convenient spot for him and his wife to meet during her lunch breaks.

"If the county takes over, then we'll just go out and spend our 30 minutes sitting in the car," King said. "Cause we won't support it."

His reason for the opposition is the county's newest plan for the courthouse. The idea involves having low-risk county inmates work off time in a new restaurant.

Employees there also said they have heard from judges, attorneys and other court officials who are concerned over being served by inmates.

Petitions have circulated to keep the restaurant open. The signatures were presented Tuesday morning to the Board of Supervisors.

"Quite frankly, I think I would be surprised to see that go forward," said Supervisor Steven Worthley.

He said the board has not yet discussed the inmate food service plan. Supervisors will talk about options, including Medina's contract renewal, in two weeks at their next meeting.

In the meantime, the shelves here are running empty as the restaurant is set to close on Friday.

"I did sign the petition and hopefully they will be able to stay, it would be sad if they had to leave," Candace Moody, whose been a customer for several years.

Medina said the board's scheduled discussion gives him hope that he won't lose his job and have to lay off his family.

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