Monday, September 22, 2008

Local eateries celebrate 50th anniversary


Two of Santa Barbara’s oldest eating establishments have reached a restaurant milestone this year, celebrating their 50th anniversaries by dropping menu items to their original1950s prices.
Located near the Los Positias exit in the Upper State Street area, local restaurants Petrini’s and Farmer Boy have fed and entertained the local community for 50 years. Reminiscent of the small town Santa Barbara of the 60s and 70s, the two restaurants have become iconic figures in Old Town Santa Barbara via their delicious food, reasonable prices and Old Town charm.

With its aromatic smells and classic arrangement, walking into Farmer Boy offers restaurant goers a savory taste of the past. Founded in August of 1958, Farmer Boy upholds a wide selection of breakfast and lunch cuisine accompanied by a friendly diner environment.
“[Farmer Boy] is not just Bacon and Eggs,” explained owner Ralph Karleskint. “We basically feed the richest, poorest, the most intelligent to the mentally gifted and everyone in between. And, they all come here to eat for the same reason, because it’s a friendly environment.”
According to Karleskint, the two restaurant owners decided to promote their 50th anniversaries by promoting their longstanding menu choices.
“Both Joe and I have decided to roll back prices for our 50th anniversary,” Karleskint said. “Both of us have taken one menu item and taken them back to their 1958 prices.”
Beginning today, pancakes at Farmers Boy will be priced at 40 cents and a bowl of Petrini’s spaghetti will cost 85 cents — price changes will be in effect only for this week.
Although its location makes it difficult to point out from State Street, Petrini’s owner Joe Bohnett said location was never a reason why people come to eat at his restaurant. Founded in February of 1958, Bohnett said the restaurant was started by three Italian brothers, John, Julio and Geno.
“I bought the place in 1994 and I have been running it ever since,” Bohnett said. “When I came to eat here with my family and it was the only Italian restaurant this side of Santa Barbara.”
Karleskint described his restaurant as a quintessential family establishment, highlighting the restaurant’s history of family employment and ownership.
“My mom and dad started Farmer Boy in 58,” Karleskint said. “All of my family has worked here over the years, but now my kids have all grown up and have jobs. I’ve got grandkids coming up, so they’ll have a chance.”
Pizzas at Petrini’s have been famous locally since the establishment’s inception, featuring its distinctive thin crust which has become iconic throughout Santa Barbara. The ambiance of the restaurant, with its vinyl chairs, cracked brick floors and candle-lit dinners have the restaurant looking worn, but classic.
“I thought about changing the floors, but I decided to keep the place the same,” Bohnett said. “I think that has helped with our success. It’s a familiar place in town.”
Bohnett said Petrini’s pizzas have also received praise from travelers passing thought Santa Barbara.
“I got an email from Finland from a man who used to live here,” Bohnett explained, “and he told me how much he loved our pizza and asked me how much it would cost to ship it to him in Finland. It ended up costing him 300 dollars. At the exchange rate nowadays, I told him he should have just come here himself.”
Karleskint said he understood the Finnish man’s desire for Petrini’s pizza.
“I had my first pizza here at Petrini’s. They were the first to do pizzas here.”
Throughout the restaurant’s history, Farmer Boy has expanded its breakfast and lunch options with the changing times, offering new menu items for people of all demographics.
“Our menu has been expanded tenfold since we founded it, but we basically operate under the same concept,” Karleskint said. “Back then, we had only three omelets, cheese, ham and jelly. We don’t even have our jelly omelet anymore… maybe I should run it as a special. Now, we have 75 omelets. We have a lot of Mexican entrees now… huevos rancheros and chorizos. I can’t put anything else on the menu without making the print smaller.”
Karleskint described Farmers Boy as a local environment which is also kid friendly.
“We have highchairs and a classic counter,” Karleskint said. “Our cinnamon rolls our very popular and fresh everyday.
Bohnett said although Petrini’s is an Italian restaurant, he decided to add a few classic American choices to the menu.
“We have the best cheeseburger in town cooked in a little Italian way,” Bohnett said. “But, people come here because they’ve been coming here for years and they love the food, especially our pizza. We’re famous for our thin crust pizza. For lunch our torpedo sandwich is probably our most popular item. For dinner, definitely our chicken piccata”
Bohnett said despite his pleasure in running a restaurant, he enjoys the playful banter between his customers the most.
“It’s really the customers that make my job,” Bohnett said. “It’s really great to talk to the customers everyday. I think that anyone who works at a restaurant likes their job because of the people. You get to know people, their kids and you get to see them grow up.”
Bohnett attributes the longevity of his restaurant to his commitment to the restaurant true to its original specifications.
“It’s the value of the food, our reasonable prices, that have made the restaurant so successful,” Bohnett said. “Although we’re tough to find, once people get here they don’t leave. We have a friendly, neighborhood relationship with Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara is really a big neighborhood.”
When asked about his ownership, Karleskint said he could not see himself doing anything else.
“It’s a labor of love. I like what I do,” Karleskint explained. “I like getting up in the morning, the smell of the bacon sizzling and most importantly, the people.
Although 50 years of operation for a restaurant often seems like an unimaginable feat, Karleskint said it was not always easy for his business.
“During the oil spill of the 60s, that was our roughest time,” Karleskint said. “Everyone thought the oil was running down State Street all the way to Farmers Boy. They would fly planes over the kelp beds and say it was an oil slick. Because no one was in town, no one was buying breakfast.”
Farmers Boy expanded its business in 1985 with the creation of a catering business, Karleskint Catering, which provides dining services for wedding, company picnics, corporate events and much more.
“Our busiest day is definitely Sunday after folks come from church. We are also particularly busy on bad weather days, when people come in for a hot soup and cinnamon rolls.”
“Breakfast is really a social place. Everyone meets, has coffee and talks politics. That’s a normal morning,” Karleskint said.
More information about both restaurants can be found online at and Farmer Boy is located at 3427 State Street and Petrini’s at 14 W. Calle Laureles.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations,Ralph and Joe-Joe and Ralph. As you know,I helped to open your respective restaurants.

Lot of history. You have every right to be proud.

Joe, might be time to scrape-off the meatball stuck to the ceiling that I threw 50 years ago.

Ralph,did you replace your wife's anniversary present that burned-up in the truck while you were trying to take a short-cut cooking tri-tip on the hood,tail-pipe and engine? mike cahill

Jud said...

Having eaten at the Farmer Boy since 1970 when I moved to Santa Barbara from Alabama, going in and seeing Ralph and trading jokes with him while enjoying the tri-tips and eggs breakfast special with that great Farmer Brothers coffee is always a treat.

I now live in San Mateo in the Bay Area but I still see Ralph and the rest of the crew at Farmer Boy at least twice a year.

Congratulations, Ralph, your restaurant and your since of humor are endearing and enduring! :-)

Jud Norrell