The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

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The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries
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Woodstock's Isla Vista (Photo: Woodstock's)

By Michelle Staufenbiel

Many can relate to the moment they walked into Woodstock's Pizza for the very first time. Or the first time they waited in line at Freebird's anticipating their fully loaded nachos. Some locals and students alike are unaware of how Isla Vista's most popular restaurants have come to be. Here is a little backstory and history on some of everyone's favorite IV food spots.

In 1982, Woodstock's founders and owners Chuck and Mike approached new college graduate and pizza deliverer Jeff Ambrose with the idea of opening its third branch in Isla Vista. They called it "student nirvana" and found the perfect location at the corner of Embarcadero del Norte and Madrid.  Borsodi’s, a counterculture coffeehouse, was in the same building and across the street was the Bank of America that was burned down during riots in 1970.

Current Woodstock's building on the left corner and Bank of America across the street on Embarcadeo del Norte from about 1970. (Photo: Ray Varley/Isla Vista Wiki)

Woodstock’s IV opened in September of 1982 and quickly became a popular student hangout. Sadly, Chuck and Mike passed away in a private plane crash in 1985, leaving the company in the hands of their family members. Eventually, the families promoted Jeff to President of the company.  In 2001, Jeff and his wife, Laura, purchased all five California restaurants, which also included Chico, Davis and San Diego by SDSU. The original Woodstock's in Corvallis, Oregon is solely owned by Chuck’s wife, Carol Lee Woodstock. Since that time, two new restaurants have opened in Santa Cruz and in Pacific Beach, San Diego. One can imagine the pride and awe these two individuals would feel when they see the strength and expansion of their business. 

Now flash forward to today and we have a restaurant that has gained popularity through its food, fun, and a laidback atmosphere designed for the perfect meet up spot. Tuesday Trivia night has been run by Robbie King for the last two years and contains its collection of regular attendees. Wednesday is Pint Night, a fan favorite around Isla Vista especially for those who enjoy half off glasses and pitchers.

Woodstock's Isla Vista (Photo: Woodstock's)

A fun fact about Woodstock's is the red sauce is the original recipe that Chuck passed on from his family. Over the years the recipe has stayed the same and the red sauce is created exclusively through Woodstock's. At Woodstock's Cal Poly Slo, the second restaurant opened, the creation of the famous cinnabread desert was through a Mustang state college student. They probably had no idea their late night munchie meal would become the main dessert for this branching company. Many new pizza ideas are created by not only the employees and upper management. On Facebook Woodstock's inspires its members to submit new pizza ideas. The introduction of Daiya cheese (Vegan cheese) and the gluten-free crust came from customer feedback.

Freebirds (Photo: Facebook)

Alongside Woodstock's and it's late night offerings lie other long-time restaurants: Freebird's and Sam’s To Go. Freebird's, whose full name is Freebirds World Burrito, was established in 1987 by Mark Orfalea at the same location its always been, 879 Embarcadero del Norte. He first designed his restaurant with the idea to deliver fresh chicken and food to UCSB students. His aunt suggested he take the leftover unused chicken at the end of the day, marinate it barbeque sauce, and use it to make burritos. That was the inception of the Freebird's Burrito.

When I was touring UCSB, the first restaurant I sat down at and ate from was Freebird's. My parents were with me and I can still remember the look on my Mom's face when she bit into her burrito and finished it proudly in one whole sitting. It's also one of the only places that remain open for 24 hours.

Freebirds went on to expand into college towns throughout Texas, California, Utah, Tennessee, and Oklahoma after being sold to Tavistock Group. Orfalea remains the sole owner, creator, and founder of the original Freebirds in Isla Vista.

Sam’s To Go is another local mainstay that opened its doors in 1981. Originally opening at 6560 Pardall Road, it now has four total locations throughout Santa Barbara. It's still the only place that I trust enough to order chicken strips from. Any chicken strips lover can relate to how hard it can be to find a worthy set. With over 31 hot and cold sandwich options, it's easy to find something to like.

Sam's To Go (Photo: Facebook)

All three of these restaurants have become backbones to Isla Vista, it’s not just about the enticing food that they offer, it's about the impact that these locations have on college students throughout the years. 

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jak May 27, 2019 06:18 AM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Last time I strolled through IV there was not a single place left from the mid seventies when I first explored the place. I suppose that one or two of the property management companies may still be the same. But every eatery and retail shop had been replaced or moved. My personal favorites were Borsodi’s (first place I ever took a sip of coffee that I didn’t want to spit out) and the New York Hero House (forty years later I still have heartburn and yes, it was worth it).

EastBeach May 26, 2019 12:33 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Speaking of Freebirds and Mark Orfalea, I've often wondered if he's related to Paul Orfalea? Paul's very first Kinko's store was on Pardall Rd between Freebirds and Sam's.

Mas Gaviota May 26, 2019 11:48 AM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Here is a link to a 1990 issue of the Daily Nexus with a section on page 4A that lists places to eat in Isla Vista: https://www.alexandria.ucsb.edu/downloads/8623hz604

4358ed May 28, 2019 06:23 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Check out the line up for the Ventura Theater (pg3A). John Mayall, Rickie Lee Jones, John Prine, Chick Corea, Ace Frehley - I need a hot-tub time machine. Thanks for the post!

Rick Reeves May 26, 2019 11:14 AM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Surprised that no none has paid tribute to Bersodi's Coffeehouse - from the 1970's and early '80s. Remember the live music by actual local IV artists - The late Gregg Diamond being one of them? For 10 trivia points, what instrument did Gregg play?

Sprigofsage May 28, 2019 05:50 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

I lived in SB and loved Open Air down by the railroad/ Amtrak station. Such great service and cool people.

Rick Reeves May 28, 2019 03:37 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Glad that *someone* remembers, esp the bike frame aspect. While at UCSB, I worked with Gregg at Open Air Bikes in IV. He really DID have a welding shop in his bedroom. Roommates were not appreciative.

Rick Reeves May 28, 2019 03:35 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Glad that *someone* remembers, esp the bike frame aspect. While at UCSB, I worked with Gregg at Open Air Bikes in IV. He really DID have a welding shop in his bedroom. Roommates were not appreciative.

a-1568723952 May 27, 2019 04:35 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Greg D played a pretty good guitar and built gorgeous road bike frames with enviable craftsmanship, in his bedroom! Still riding mine.

a-1568723952 May 26, 2019 07:25 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

PACOLETA. Yes. **Thank you.** I was beating my head, trying to think of the proper name for "Miguel's." That's what we called Serranitos, back in the day. Man, that was some awesome Mexican food. Miguel, you were so wonderful to us. Sun & Earth. I still like to put miso on my tortillas and add Monterey jack cheese, to make burritos the way Sun & Earth did. Borsodi's for hot chocolate and good music. Sigh . . .weren't we lucky to experience such places . . .

EastBeach May 25, 2019 08:17 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Thank you for writing this article! Woodstocks, Freebirds, and Sam's bring back so many fun memories of studying hard and playing hard @UCSB. Boat races at Woodstocks after playing intramural volleyball games, setting up our VB nets on the grass near Student Health and heading over to Freebirds for a weekend lunch break. Good times.

Mtn.driver May 25, 2019 06:12 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

I have yet to taste a better falafel than the giant, dripping, warm, foil wrapped ones from Baba's Falafels in the early 80's.

Shasta Guy May 25, 2019 07:17 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

I didn’t stumble across Roma until after old Cafe Sienna burned down. I heard that Roma and old Sienna were essentially two versions of the same espresso place.

Shasta Guy May 25, 2019 05:03 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Wow Roger, it seems like you and I are fellow Roma people. There’s still a Roma in Eugene right next to the U of O. When I visit my brother there I always get a Double Cap just like the old days.

a-1568723952 May 25, 2019 02:22 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Tom, Do you what happened to Perry's Pizza and Grandma Gertie's? We have been searching for Grandma Gertie's breakfast special type sannies for decades. Also, The Egghead

Factotum May 25, 2019 02:11 PM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

There was a Malaysian fast food place with the best, fresh spring rolls with their delectable peanut dipping sauce - so sorry to see it go - well worth a trip for non IV persons.

kane kena May 26, 2019 11:16 AM
The Nostalgia of Isla Vista Eateries

Vinnie and Rich were great fellows, and what ambiance in that tiny place. The AM radio spinning out Rat Pack crooner jazz, the NYC memorabilia. I've been unable to stumble across anything comparable to the Melvin or the Marvin sandwiches, or the combo Vinnie cooked up for me: the off-menu Merlin. Used to lunch there at least once or twice a week with my work pals. I retired their original frying pan used for the (name?) chicken parm sandwich when it became just too encrusted to use reliably any more. Sure do miss that place!

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