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Downtown Turlock revs up for Cars and Coffee
Taqueria La Primera and Café Rome to host first event as business partners
Cars and Coffee
Erika Neal of Café Rome and Sergio Gutierrez of Taqueria La Primera will be hosting their first event, Cars and Coffee, since the two businesses joined forces in January (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

When Sergio Gutierrez isn’t preparing meals at his restaurant, Taqueria La Primera, he can be found alongside his 1962 Impala SS convertible. Similar can be said for Erika Neal, owner of Café Rome, whose family has a strong passion for classic and muscle cars. On March 25, the two will be welcoming the popular Cars and Coffee event to their storefront at 144 S. First St. in Turlock.

Cars and Coffee has been a staple in the car community since the mid-2000s, hosting events in cities across the United States, including Modesto, San Francisco and Southern California. Gutierrez explained that bringing the event to Turlock was always a goal of his since he opened his restaurant in May 2021, but he was just missing one important thing.

Cars and Coffee 2
Café Rome moved inside Taqueria La Primera at 144 S. First St. in Turlock back in January (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

“I used to drive all the way down south just to go to Cars and Coffee, then to visit Pomona and so forth. I’ve been wanting to do this back when I first opened, but I had no coffee,” he said.

That all changed in November when Café Rome needed a new home.

“Erika is a customer of mine and I was a customer of hers, and she told me how she was looking for a new place, and I just joked, ‘Why don’t you just move in here?,’ and once she knew I was serious, my mind started working,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez proceeded to cut his front counter in half so that another counter could be built parallel and connected, accommodating for the popular café. He also made sure electrical outlets were up to par before Neal moved in her coffee machines and fridges, allowing Café Rome to reopen its business inside the restaurant in January.

“We’ve had a lot of good and positive feedback. Honestly, everybody has said that this is the best combo ever,” Neal said. “They loved the vibe at the old place on Main St., but they’re saying they like this vibe with the taqueria and the café better, which was surprising and great to hear. Sergio’s support has meant so much, and it’s been a blessing.”

While Gutierrez has hosted events inside and out front of his restaurant in the past, this will be the first time Neal and Café Rome will host something on their own.

“In the past, my big events have always been the 4th of July and Christmas parades. Being a coffee shop downtown in those events, it can get crazy, so I’m used to it, but a standalone event like he’s done here in the past, this will be my first time, and I’m really looking forward to it. We love cars and I’ve actually never been to one, so it’s exciting to hear about it and I’m excited to now be a part of it,” Neal said.

In a classic ode to the partnership between coffee and Mexican food, Café Rome plans on having coffee specials with Mexican bread. Taqueria La Primera will also have specials on breakfast burritos with bacon, eggs and chorizo.

The nostalgic vibe of classic car culture is something that Gutierrez would like to see more of in the future. If all goes well on March 25, he hopes to make Cars and Coffee Turlock a once-a-month event, similar to how it is in Southern California and the Bay Area.

“It’s a good vibe with people passionate about cars, want to have a good time and want to help out local businesses,” Gutierrez said.

Additionally, he would like to implement the culture more into his restaurant, as he is welcoming community members to drop off photos of them with their classic cars so that he can hang them up on one of the walls.

But whether people are car enthusiasts or not, Gutierrez and Neal want everyone to know that they are open, and that the concept of tacos and coffee is here to stay.

“One of my biggest fears was people being confused with where we’re at and question why we would serve coffee in a place with tacos,” Neal said. “It’s a hard thing for some people to grasp, but like I said, once they come in, they’re really enjoying it, and this whole process and experience is something I could have never imagined.”

Cars and Coffee will take place from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. March 25. The event is completely free of charge and open to all ages. For those looking to show off their rides, there are no designated parking spots or registration fees, and all years, makes and models are welcomed. For more information, call (209) 620-8565.