Someone once said the average shelf life of a restaurant in Santa Barbara is two years.
While my colleague John “The Restaurant Guy” Dickson tries to keep track of the comings and goings of dozens of South Coast eateries each year, it appears the average shelf life is a shorter and shorter time. Some restaurants open and close within a matter of months, while others, such as Joe’s Café, are thriving after decades.
However, even the 37-year-old Sojourner Restaurant has had financial troubles of late and sought investor help. Esau’s Cafe on Chapala Street and the Arts & Letters Café on Anapamu Street closed this year because of rising leases and the spiraling cost of eggs and seafood. Other restauranteurs already have already signed up to try their hand at running eateries at those spots that once were quite popular.
In the State Street spot once occupied by Killer Bee’s Barbecue, which moved around the corner in De La Guerra Plaza, Gandolfo’s New York Deli plans to open this summer to serve the national chain’s smoked pastrami on rye and more East Coast-style sandwiches. Three Pickles sandwich shop over on Canon Perdido Street might be concerned.
Meanwhile, some restaurants close up just like that. The year-old Relis de Paris closed recently for renovations, according to a small sign on the door. Interestingly, the place was rarely full perhaps because it’s a white-table-cloth place on State Street, the type that doesn’t usually fare well these days.
Also closing unexpectedly at the beginning of the year was the Pierre LaFond Café on the 500 block of State Street. Still no replacement is in sight for that prime location, about five doors down from Apero, which closed last year and remains vacant, as it did for about seven years after Zia Café closed.
These are more examples of rising rents driving away restaurants. What can be done about this? Well, in the case of Blush Restaurant on the 600 block of State Street, the eatery’s owner decided to buy the entire building, which includes a cell phone store, night club and clothing shop.
It takes more than good food to keep a restaurant on State Street.
What restaurants are doing well? Apparently, those that serve pizza since about 20 places bake and sell those cheese pies in and around State Street. Even higher-priced restaurants such as Ca’ Dario added a pizzeria this year as Olio I Limone did previously. Those are white-table-cloth restaurants. Will Relis de Paris serve pizza soon? We’ll see …
Let’s look at what’s happening at other South Coast restaurant venues:
Take Coast Village Road. What used to be Peabody’s, a 34-year institution, has been under renovation for three years now. The owner, billionaire Craig McCaw, finally realized what a money pit the property is, changed gears and brought in another company to actually run it after it opens supposedly by the end of the year under another name, probably.
Meanwhile, down the road the uniquely small Honor Bar opened up this year with about 20 tables inside and out along with a full bar inside that seats maybe 10 people. It also has a tiny but tasty menu and impressive wine and beer list.
Looking toward Goleta: It never ceases to amaze me how successful downtown restaurants open a second location at Camino Real Marketplace. Pascucci’s has a new spot at Camino Real. It doesn’t always work, but we’ll see.
Looking to La Cumbre Plaza: Sources say the Marmalade Café will close soon and quickly be replaced by another eatery. La Cumbre has seen the demise of a number of restaurants, most notably Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse, which lasted about a year. It grilled steaks for $50 during the recession in a low-traffic part of Santa Barbara. Perhaps if it had located in Montecito … well, we’ll never know.
Back around State Street on Anapamu: The shuttered restaurant once called Epiphany remains closed. Actor Kevin Costner once owned part of it, but it’s been through a series of incarnations. Celebrity restaurant owners help by lending their name, but it’s really family owners who are surviving. For example, the same family-run company owns Brophy Brothers, Benchmark, Casa Blanca, the Fish House and Eureka.
A low-traffic restaurant like Cadiz on State Street survives because it is family-run, which keeps labor costs down and pride of ownership up.
The bottom line is: You can support your favorite restaurant, but other factors contribute to its success other than how much steak and seafood you eat there.
The biggest factor is the building’s triple net lease, which includes rent, utilities and services such as trash removal. If the triple net remains constant, and the restaurant tables are filled, the eartery has a good shot at lasting a long time.
But let’s face it, building owners especially on State Street see dollar signs when they lease retail space. They don’t care what it smells like or if it tastes good. They just see green.
2015’s Version of State Street Brings More Changes
Pretty much every downtown observer agrees the South Coast’s most visible commercial district looks a great deal different now than it did during the year that just ended.
Some observers notice more specialty women’s clothing stores appearing, while some other retailers have packed up are already replaced by something completely different. For example, the Blue-Eyed Girl boutique relocated and gave way to Rocket Fizz, a soda pop and candy store at 1021 State St. Go figure.
What Downtown Organization officials are most impressed about is the declining number of empty storefronts, which reached a critical level during the recent recession. Although few if anyone will admit it, rates for a State Street triple-net lease, which includes rent, utilities and other services, were maintained during the recession and even rose soon afterward.
Some chronically empty storefronts show some signs of re-opening, such as the long-vacant space at 915 State St. But across the street, the former GBMI shoe shop next to the Apple Store remains vacant after about seven years. Across the street, the Naartjie boutique, 933 State St. closed before the end of 2014. Another boutique, Tatiana, 807 State St., also shut down recently.
Some restaurants continue to struggle. Look at Apero, formerly Verde. Several years ago it was Zia Café. Apero was a comedy nightclub with a good menu, but the building owner kept raising the rent and the manager shuttered it during the summer.
Fortunately, some eatery bright spots popped up in 2014, such as Benchmark at the old State & A site, and Black Sheep on Ortega Street. Meanwhile, places like Joe’s Café and the off-State Sojourner (37 years old and going strong) are examples of someone doing something right.
Killer Bee sports bar left State Street a couple of months ago and found a new, larger spot around the corner at 732 De la Guerra Plaza, formerly Tony Ray’s, which sports a patio.
Last time this blog was written, seven places on and around State Street served pizza. Make that about a dozen now. Patxi’s is the biggest at 515 State St., where the Territory Ahead main retail store once was. Some off-State Italian eateries have added pizzerias as well.
One of the city’s most popular spots, the Sandbar, 514 State St., is undergoing a much-needed remodeling overhaul and will be closed through January. Meanwhile, after less than a year in business, Killer Shrimp, 416 State St., closed last month. It occupied the old Sharkeez spot. Sharkeez moved across the street from the Sandbar. And, that restaurant spot at 413 State St. is vacant again, but Franco Hospitality LLC is applying for a liquor license there
Two big additions to lower State are Samy’s Camera, 530 State St., and a Sonos office at 419 State St., where Territory Ahead once housed its corporate office. A couple years ago, Sonos, international maker of wireless sound systems, took over what used to be the Antioch University campus at De la Guerra and Garden streets and then began buying commercial space all over town, including Samy’s old spot on Chapala Street.
Meanwhile on the 1000 block, the Z Folio jewelry store opened a few of months ago at 1013 State St. Next door, a gluten-free French pastry shop, Lilac Patisserie, is getting ready to open. Nearby, the barebones Civilianaire clothing store opened in time for the holiday season.
On the 1100 block of State, the real estate firm SIMA still is trying to lease what used to be a huge rug store at 1117 State St. What most recently was a jewelry store, and Wolf’s Camera Shop before that, sits vacant on the corner of Figueroa Street.
On the 1200 block of State Street, another jewelry store shut down after about a year of operation and its place is a rug and plates shop.
What most recently was a jewelry store, and Wolf’s Camera Shop before that, sits vacant on the corner of Figueroa Street. Another jewelry store on the 1100 block of State closed and its place is a rug and plates shop.
Looking at the Funk Zone section of State Street south of Highway 101, several businesses have closed to make way for the eventual arrival of La Entrada, the long-awaited time-share condo and hotel project.
The shuttered businesses include Hot Spots coffee shop and an adjacent shirt store and bicycle rental business.