An era will come to a close this week-end, as the Brown Pelican Restaurant-nestled sandside at Arroyo Burro Beach for the past 25 years-is set to serve its final meal on Sunday, November 25. A purveyor of beachfront breakfasts, sunset cocktails, and classic California dinner cuisine, the Pelican’s long-term lease with the County of Santa Barbara-which was not renewed this past fall-is set to expire at the end of the year, forcing the family-run business to close its doors. Though the actual expiration date of the lease isn’t until December 31, owner Iraj Bozorgmehr explained this week that since December is such a notoriously slow month at the eatery, they will be shutting down operations after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
With a marked tone of disappointment in his voice, Bozorgmehr spoke this week about the end of a business that his father Jamshid (aka “Jim”) started up in 1982 after immigrating from Tehran. “This place is an institution to a lot of people-a real landmark of Santa Barbara,” Bozorgmehr said. “We had a good run at it, but it’s over now.”
While it is not yet official-the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is slated to authorize a new concessionary lease for the Arroyo Burro County Park building on December 4-the White family, longtime owners and operators of the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company and Cabrillo Boulevard’s Fishouse, are expected to take over the facility in early January, according to Mike Gibson of the county Park Department. Up against six other applicants, including one from Florida as well as Bozorgmehr himself, the Whites won out after an extensive bidding process that featured what Gibson called a “rigorous review” of-among other things-the proposed business plan, possible facility improvements, industry experience, and financial history.
While he declined to comment on the specifics of the actual winning business plan, Gibson said that the building is planned to undergo at least a few months’ worth of interior renovations once the new lease starts up, with the Whites’ tentative grand opening sometime in April. As for his attempts to retain the lease, Bozorgmehr said simply, “There are no hard feelings. We are walking out of here holding our heads up high. : We made a competitive offer, but in the end, I guess the county just wanted a change and decided to go in a different direction.”
Partly as a result of the creek mouth that drains just to the south of the restaurant, Arroyo Burro Beach has an infamous history as one of the most polluted stretches of sand in Southern California. That fact lent the Brown Pelican its popular nickname, “the Dirty Bird.” Despite that association, the restaurant has enjoyed years of bustling business as a popular breakfast spot, a happy-hour watering hole, and must-go destination for tourists who fancy a table with a front-row view of the Pacific. Not just an iconic eatery, the Pelican has served as both a popular training ground for waiters and waitresses new to the South Coast as well as a semi-secret gold mine for veteran servers. As one former seven-year Pelican veteran said this week upon hearing the news, “I am not sure where else in town someone can consistently make $200 to $300 a shift. Heck, I even had my share of $500 nights there over the years.”
Recent years have seen the predominantly steak-and-seafood menu steadily rise in price-with some regulars bemoaning the fact that the quality of food has not reflected said rise-but the Pelican has remained a popular haunt with strong local ties. Though he is unsure what his next business move will be, Bozorgmehr, who has spent the last few months looking unsuccessfully for a new location, was proud to say that the Pelican’s annual Thanksgiving morning tradition of free coffee and doughnuts will continue this Thursday despite the fast approaching closure. “This place is so much bigger than me and my family,” said Bozorgmehr, “I just want to give people the chance to come and say goodbye.”