Esau’s — one of Santa Barbara’s signature breakfast and lunch spots for more than 50 years — may be forced to find new quarters because the restaurant’s landlord refuses to negotiate a new lease. According to Esau owner Scott Stanley, landlords Abe and Mike Safina have declined to discuss renegotiating his lease at 403 State Street, which expires in October. “I could understand it if they wanted to bring in some new operators who could pay $15,000 a month,” Stanley said. “I could understand it if they wanted to knock this place down and put up something fancy in its place. But there’s nothing. There’s no reason given. It’s crazy.” Stanley, who bought the business from the restaurant’s original owner 28 years ago, is not going down quietly. He hired a public relations company to help him launch a media campaign to pressure the Safinas to the bargaining table; some of his patrons have initiated a petition to save the landmark greasy spoon, renowned for its bountiful portions, friendly service, and unpretentious style. If the worst comes to pass, Stanley plans to pull out his fixtures, put them in storage, and go shopping for new digs. And he’ll continue to operate the Esau’s in Carpinteria, which he opened four years ago.
News of Esau’s peril hit many longtime Santa Barbara residents hard, especially since it followed on the heels of announcements that Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens and Pascual’s — two long-running restaurant/bars with intensely loyal patrons — are going out of business. Esau’s predicament has city planning officials wondering whether the Safinas have grand plans for the corner of State and Gutierrez streets. Three years ago, the brothers inexplicably refused to extend the lease of Tad’s liquor store — adjacent to Esau’s — which has sat vacant since. By clearing both Tad’s and Esau’s, the Safinas could be laying the groundwork for a substantial downtown redevelopment effort just a stone’s throw from the projected site of the Ritz-Carlton timeshare condos. The Safinas — who reportedly own 32 downtown properties — are legendarily tight-lipped about their affairs. Mike Safina answered all queries about Esau’s with, “I don’t know,” while his brother Abe — a regular customer at Esau’s until recently — responded, “I’m not discussing that. I’ve got no comment about anything.”