Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks title=
Modern Times Tasting Room in Downtown Santa Barbara (courtesy photo)
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By Lauren Bray, edhat staff

We're 45 days into 2022 and the hits to the foodie community keep coming. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on local businesses and the job market forcing several shops to transition or close up altogether. Not to worry, just as one door closes, another one quite literally opens as restauranteurs are ever hopeful in our little blue town by the big blue sea.

Here's a list of the most recent changes in Santa Barbara's food & bev industry.

1. Modern Times Closes its Downtown Tasting Room

It's a strike to the heart on Valentine's Day for beer lovers as Modern Times announces the closure of four out of eight tasting rooms. Santa Barbara is one of the rooms on the chopping block along with their Los Angeles, Oakland, and Portland spots.

The downtown location boasted State Street's largest outdoor patio with over 30 taps and a kitchen serving plant-based cuisine in a shared location with Shaker Mill and formerly Cubaneo but now Broad Street Oyster Co. in "Kim's Service Department" at 418 State Street. As a reader pointed out, the building is named for its former use as a car service station and after a local lady named Kim but whose last name remains a mystery.

"We wish that there were another way to resolve the financial issues we now face, but we have been put in a position—by the pandemic and global declines in the craft beer industry—from which this tremendously difficult path is the only way forward for us," the brewery stated in a Facebook post today.

In a more detailed blog post, the brewery announced a change in leadership brought attention to their financial woes with hints of regret for expanding too fast, too soon.

In beer-loving town like this, it's only a matter of time before another local brewery snatches up this location, looking at you M.Special and Captain Fatty's. 

2. Goleta Coffee Company Closes as Loca Vivant Kitchen Takes Over

(courtesy photo)

Noleta's staple strip mall coffee shop known for its quirky road sign decor and classic 90s coffee house vibes is closing after 25 years in business. Goleta Coffee Company, located at 177 S. Turnpike, will officially close on February 15.

According to a press release, they'll be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. to celebrate its final day and will host a "special happy hour" from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. for employees and customers. All proceeds from the day will go toward the cost of covering severance pay for employees and many decor items will also be available for purchase. 

“We value our staff and believe offering severance pay, although untraditional in this industry, is the right thing to do,” said co-owner Stacy Rebich Hespanha. “We hope you’ll support our staff and celebrate our last day through this effort.”

Although, it's not the complete end of the longtime coffee company as it will transform into a new concept, Loca Vivant Kitchen. This is apparently taking place as the shopping center management chose Lighthouse Coffee to open in the center.

“Although the shopping center management has chosen a new coffee shop to operate in the Turnpike Center, we are optimistic and excited about the future for Loca Vivant Kitchen,” said Rebich Hespanha. “We value our customers and are looking forward to serving them through Loca Vivant Kitchen as a wholesale vegan-friendly, gluten-free bakery, offering locally-grown, prepared foods.”

When fully launched, Loca Vivant will be an Employee Ownership Trust, meaning the majority of the profits will be distributed annually to employees, and a smaller portion will be reinvested in the business and mission.

During the transition period, menu items will be available by pre-order for delivery or pickup from locations in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Once the wholesale kitchen is fully operational, LVK will offer its baked goods and menu items through collaboration with local small business retailers. Check out their menu here:

3. Lacking Chomps at the Harbor?

Chomp on the Rocks (courtesy photo)

In the Fall of 2020, we reported two new restaurants took over Chuck's Waterfront Grill and Endless Summer Bar & Cafe at the Santa Barbara Harbor. "SALTY at the Beach" took the rooftop and "CHOMP on the Rocks" took the downstairs.

CHOMP on the Rocks offered alfresco seating for 50 guests on its lower-level, harbor-front patio designed in a retro-inspired, modern take on a diner with black and white tiles, red leather booths and stool-tops. It focused on family-friendly items like burgers, Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, traditional sandwiches, onion rings and chili cheese fries. They'll also offered handmade shakes, malts, floats, sundaes, and an old-fashioned banana split. 

John Palminteri was first to report this week that CHOMP on the Rocks has now permanently closed. SALTY at the Beach is reportedly still open.

4. Embermill Plans to Relocate

Embermill opened at 1031 State Street in the Fall of 2019 serving up unique Caribbean food with Chef Harold Welch at the helm. Jamaican Jerk chicken, catfish, soft shell crab po' boy sandwiches, and fried okra were on the menu, and wow was it good. I've eaten there several times and am sad to see this place go... for now.

Chef Welch plans to relocate to another building by the end of spring and it's in the works, but it won't be on State Street he says. According to John Dickson (The Restaurant Guy), Welch stated the 1031 State Street landlord increased his rent from $8,000 to $14,000 per month so he's moving.

The building is most recently the former home of Aldo's Italian Restaurant and distantly, the historic Copper Coffee Pot.

(Photo: UCSB Library)

More Restaurant Updates

Here are a few more noteworthy updates to the local food scene that have happened in the last few months:

The Palms: A lot has already been written about the closing of this iconic Carpinteria establishment, but it's worth another mention. So long grill-your-own-steaks at a restaurant instead of at home, you'll be missed.

Mollie's: The tasty Italian restaurant in the former home of Tupelo Junction closed late last year. Apparently, a new Italian restaurant managed by the operators of Olio e Limon Ristorante is scheduled to open sometime soon.

Timbers Roadhouse: This old Goleta haunt reopened with a yeehaw this past October.

Padaro Beach Grill: It's reopened after a kitchen fire in December 2021.

Little Alex's: Montecito residents were in an uproar after learning their favorite Mexican restaurant was closing after 32 years. Edhat readers were furious and wrote to us they suspected the shopping center booted the longstanding eatery in favor of getting a more "upscale" establishment to match their new rebrand as the Montecito Country Mart. Whether that's true or not, we can't say. 

Sea Legs: A new nautical-themed restaurant named "Sea Legs" is planned to open in the former Beachside Bar-Cafe spot at Goleta Beach. 

JJ's Diner: Located at 413 State Street has closed. This spot has housed numerous short-term eateries such as Onus Donuts, The Mex Authentic, Pace, Billies, and Lettuce B. Frank. I had breakfast there once and the classic diner food wasn't bad but the coffee was. It's hard to call yourself a diner with weak coffee.

Wingman Rodeo: This hot wing spot has taken over the kitchen inside the Neighborhood Bar on W. Montecito Street.

Beans BBQ & Catering: A new tasty BBQ joint is opening at 1230 State Street next to Brasil Arts Cafe. No for sure opening date yet but their social media page says it's getting close and they started a GoFundMe to help with opening expenses. 


[Ed Note: A few more updates were added below courtesy of edhat reader tips]

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SBTownie Feb 17, 2022 07:39 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

The government should use eminent domain to evict McDonald's and other tenants that attract seedy, and even dangerous and loitering patrons. Adding the 7-11 on State downtown had to be one of the stupidest things done in a long time. I'm joking, but not about eminent domain. If only. We were on State this past weekend and there was a guy in full blown hospital garb menacing loitering around Mickie D's. A few months ago we were in the same area, the so called "arts district" and had to run into a paseo to escape a young guy wearing County Jail sweatpants and harassing people.

a-1644945505 Feb 15, 2022 09:18 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

What part of “we are still in a pandemic” don’t landlords understand??? That’s outrageous to jack up Embermills rent almost double! GREED! Wow! The chocolate and gelato shop catty corner at Figueroa closed over a year ago due to a rent increase! Surprise! It’s still empty!

Voice of Reason Feb 15, 2022 02:18 PM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

@12:43 You and many others here should take some finance, economics, and/or business classes at SBCC. You're basing all this off of one comment from an unhappy ex-tenant, when there are many significant variables at play not mentioned, a few of which I detailed below.

Voice of Reason Feb 15, 2022 10:33 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

Chevy, you're proving my point. Did the Embermill spend tons of money to renovate the buildings with only a two year lease? If so that sounds like a very very bad business decision. Would you do a high-end renovation on home or apartment you rent a year at a time? More likely, the landlord spent the money renovating the space and agreed to rent it to Embermill on a short-term basis with both parties knowing things would be renegotiated in two years. Also at play are property taxes, even at the full asking rent it takes more than two months to cover the property taxes each year, add another month for property insurance which has been skyrocketing. Then the real estate brokers get a 6% commission so that is almost another month out of every 12. So now you have 8 months of rent out of 12 each year to cover debt service, recoup the cost of the improvements, reserves for future maintence, reserves for future vacancy, delinquency reserves, and other expenses associated with owning a commercial property and that "windfall" everyone is thinking is down to a trickle.

Chevy67 Feb 15, 2022 09:53 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

@9:37 - So you're accusing a restaurant owner signed a lease, renovated the building, marketed the location, hired staff, etc just to close in 2 years because he knew rent would jump 80%? Nice try. The landlord is greedy and slimy to nearly double someone's rent like this after just 2 years. I get a small increase but this is absurd. And its not like businesses are clamoring for State Street real estate, look at all the empty stores. But based on your tone of comment I assume you already knew that and work for developers/commercial landlords

a-1644946676 Feb 15, 2022 09:37 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

You should not speak about things you know very little about. There are many other factors involved beyond a disgruntled former-tenants one-line rant. Embermill opened only two years ago, which means they opened knowing it was a short-term lease.

Voice of Reason Feb 15, 2022 09:14 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

Restaurants are an extremely difficult business to run profitably and here in SB, they make even more challenging with the layers and layers of red tape and the high cost of both money and time to cut through it. In the face of this, the city is going to allow "micro-businesses" to procure a $25 permit a year, with not other inspections, certifications or fees, and a food cart can plop right in front of State St. restaurants whose operators spent a year or more procuring the health department and building permits just to open. Similar for the local retailer who will soon have a sidewalk vendor selling competing goods right in front of their store.

notme Feb 15, 2022 09:03 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

When we moved here in 1985, we heard that the only place in CA with a higher restaurant turn-over rate was San Francisco. We also quickly learned that restaurants here were described (as they are in this article) by what they used to in, "Have you eaten at Embermill?" "No, where is it?" "Well, it USED TO BE Aldo's [or, the Copper Coffee Pot]."

a-1645090597 Feb 17, 2022 01:36 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

And Rex was a regular there. I'm sad now.
John Dell, it needs to be said.

I also miss Flicka very, very much. Judy Pearce:

a-1645090293 Feb 17, 2022 01:31 AM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

I have no idea, but ask John Dickson, The Restaurant Guy! And those who follow him; there's a message board. I'll look for the historical thread for you.

This must be the thread, as there's over 250 responses! Some great history here!

There's this in article form, it lists restaurants starting in 1875, created by Antonio Gardella:

el_smurfo Feb 15, 2022 01:37 PM
Restaurant Roundup: Modern Times to Close & Other Foodie Heartbreaks

LOL, The Nugget must be a money laundering operation to have so many locations serving such mediocre food. As a child, the one in Summerland was my favorite restaurant so I took my kids there and it was expensive, greasy and insipid food.

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