T.L. Maxwell's Restaurant & Bar will prepare one last entree Saturday night, maybe serve a final dessert or an espresso, then it'll be time to hang up the chairs for good.
The downtown establishment is closing down more than 18 years after it opened on 17th Place, as owner and former City Councilman Terry Maxwell turns his attention to raising two young grandchildren and hosting a talk radio show.
The restaurant was among only a handful of fixtures to have thrived for years in Bakersfield's central business district. Dinner crowds eventually shrank amid changing consumer habits and a new breed of "fast-casual" competition both downtown and in the city's expanding periphery.
Maxwell said he remains proud of the hard work he put in, and of having employed hundreds of people, a few of whom worked for him for 10 years or more.
Sometimes it felt like just him doing much of the work.
"There were times when I got down to the restaurant, did all the prep work, did all the cooking,” he said in an interview Wednesday. "If the bartender didn’t show up, I did a lot of the bartending.”
Maxwell launched the restaurant in 1999, a few years after its predecessor opened in east Bakersfield; it closed not long after the downtown location debuted.
There was also a restaurant Maxwell and his wife opened in Montana. It lasted 15 months before they sold it, frustrated with the difficulty of overseeing staff in another state.
The Californian's restaurant reviewer, Pete Tittl, called Maxwell "the right kind of restaurateur," a chemist who decided to become a restaurateur "merely due to his passion for food."
"Bakersfield will miss him in the restaurant business," Tittle wrote Wednesday. "Any city’s quality of life is directly tied to larger-than-life personalities pursuing excellence in the kitchen, and I wish him well in the talk radio and grandparent life that he’s chosen going forward."
Statistically, Maxwell's is lucky to have persevered as long as it has. Recent research by Ohio State University found only about two in every five restaurants makes it past three years.
Downtown restaurateur Shawna Haddad-Byers, owner of Muertos Kitchen & Lounge and Crash Lounge, listed several factors that have made business tough lately.
Besides the rise of fast-casual restaurants and meal delivery services, she said, people are cooking more than before and hosting dinner parties. Review websites like Yelp! have introduced new challenges, she explained, even as they have brought new attention to independent diners.
"More than being slow, I think business is just changing," she said, adding that Maxwell's loyal following will definitely miss the restaurant.
The restaurant made headlines last month when a wrongful termination lawsuit was filed alleging a server was fired for repeatedly complaining about health and safety concerns.
T.L. Maxwell's has an "A" rating from Kern County Public Health Department.
For his part, Maxwell said he plans to devote himself to the afternoon radio show he introduced in February on local station KNZR. He also intends to spend more time with the 9- and 11-year-old grandchildren he and his wife have been raising for the last seven years.
The decision to close was tough, he said. But at age 64, he's not sure it's his final business venture.
"I'll work 'till I'm 80-something," he said.