Friday, December 14, 2007

Esau's surfs back into Santa Barbara


It’s been more than a year since folks last sat down for a stack of warm pancakes at Esau’s Café in Santa Barbara.
Owners Scott and Arti Stanley shut the doors of the State Street restaurant in late 2006 after a long and difficult battle over its lease, forcing loyal customers to head down the coast to its sister location in Carpinteria.
“Esau’s was on State Street for 45 years,” Scott said. “It’s a Santa Barbara institution.”
And while it isn’t a State Street location, the Stanleys have found a new home for Esau’s in Santa Barbara, at 721 Chapala St., and are gearing up for a grand reopening in spring of next year.

“I’m very excited about the location,” Scott said. “It’s a great opportunity to come back. Granted, it’s not State Street, but I almost don’t even want to be on State Street. The tourists will find me, and the locals — a lot of them prefer to come up Chapala, I think.”
While they are shooting for a February opening, he said the restaurant will likely open its doors sometime in March.
Expect a bit of the old and a bit of the new at the Chapala location. Flat-screen televisions playing surfing movies and surf photography and artwork will adorn the walls. Surfboards crafted by local shapers will hang from the ceiling, instilling the surf café vibe the Stanleys established in their Carpinteria restaurant.
“There is going to be a lot of unique surfboards,” Arti said. “Some signed by professional surfers, new surfboards, old surfboards — every one will have its own little story.”
“That’s our whole life, the ocean and surfing,” Scott added. “…But it’s definitely going to be taking it to the next level.”
A larger kitchen will allow for an expanded menu offering breakfast, lunch and dinner — along with a full bar — from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., a change from the early afternoon closing time at Esau’s Carpinteria location.
“Carp’s a sleepy beach community,” Scott said. “It’s getting bigger, but it’s still pretty quiet. But in Santa Barbara it’s showtime every single day of the week.”
While the breakfast menu will remain essentially the same, after 3 p.m. Esau’s will offer a retooled selection including gourmet burgers, fish tacos and shrimp skewers. And although the dinner menu is still being developed, Scott said the plan is to keep it simple and filling, in step with the vision of the restaurant’s namesake.
W.C. “Tom” Esau opened the original Esau’s Coffee Shop at 403 State St. in 1961, his Midwest influence coming through in his grits, biscuits and gravy, and award-winning flapjacks. When Esau retired in 1978, the Stanleys stepped in and didn’t miss a beat, serving the same hearty fare and large portions, as well as Esau’s top-secret buttermilk pancake recipe developed for the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair.
“The nice thing with State Street is we just went into a restaurant that had been there for 25 years,” Arti said.
By the time Esau’s Café lost its State Street lease, it boasted the reputation as the town’s oldest continuously operating breakfast house.
“It’s just going to be exciting to see everyone again,” she said. “After 30 years, you see people meet each other in your restaurant, and get married and have kids.”
With the design work already completed — by local architect Michael Holliday — construction is slated to begin in mid-January. When asked if he thinks the community will respond well to Esau’s reincarnation, Scott said he has no doubt the restaurant will be a success.
“Everyone wants Esau’s back. Everywhere I go, everyone is excited.”

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