For its small size, Isla Vista is absolutely jampacked with restaurants. I suppose it’s something demanded by students, who are a combination of starving, busy, and lazy. But just because we have a lot of places to chow down doesn’t mean we have a lot of variety. You want burritos? I.V. is your heaven. You want anything else? Too bad, so sad. You also pretty much have to resign yourself to eating something that will send fat straight to your thighs.
That is, except for Silvergreens, a buoy of health in an ocean of salty, sugary, greasy, carby food options. And that’s just what owner, founder, and Gaucho Jay Ferro wanted. And he’s been successful enough in this endeavor that the I.V. eatery has branched out with a new location in downtown Santa Barbara.
“When I graduated [from UCSB] in 1994, there were good burrito and pizza places, but not that many healthy alternatives, so I was filling a market gap,” Ferro said.
Silvergreens has since been riding the ever-growing healthy food wave that seems to have taken Americans and especially Californians by storm in the past few years. Ferro said his initial concept for Silvergreens started with salads. Salad bars were growing quite popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so Ferro took the idea of the leafy, healthy salad and used it as inspiration for creating a menu of soups, sandwiches, and burgers, in addition to salads.
As most college grads are prone to be, Ferro was curious and questioning of things others took for granted. So, he wondered, why shouldn’t restaurants have to tell customers what exactly is going into their mouths, just the same way packaged food does? A bag of chips tells an eater how many calories it has and how many grams of sodium will be dropped into the stomach. Why can restaurants get away with putting a plate of food in front of you without letting you know what’s on it? Once he started looking into it, he realized why: Customers are a picky bunch. Starbucks employees are probably the best experts on the subject of finicky customers, but anybody who has worked in the food industry is well acquainted with the customer who knows what she wants and demands the restaurant get it right. It’s impossible to give somebody precise nutrition information when they hold or add this or that item.
But Ferro was determined to get food facts to his customers, so he worked on technology that would tie nutrition information about a specific order to the cash register and, thus, a customer’s receipt. And that’s how Nutricate was born. In 2006, customers at Silvergreens in Isla Vista were the first in the world to get specific nutrition information printed right on their receipts. The information is linked to the customer’s specific order, so if you have no mayo on your Thanksgiving Turkey sandwich on wheat, your receipt will reflect that choice.
And that’s exactly what Silvergreens is about: choices. Regional general manager (and UCSB alum) Ron Gleiberman said Silvergreens wants to help their customers make healthy choices.
“With the obesity in America, there’s no better solution than to tell people what they’re eating and give suggestions on how to get healthy,” Gleiberman explained. In addition to nutrition information about a customer’s order, the receipts have fun facts about health and tips on how to live a healthier, greener life.
The green movement is one that resounds loudly with the I.V. crowd, and perhaps is one of the reasons the restaurant has fared so well in our little half of a square mile. Gleiberman and Ferro also chalk its success up to lots of passing foot and bike traffic, friendly service, and just plainly delicious food.
“Silvergreens is one-of-a-kind, especially in I.V., which is mostly greasy spoon-type places,” Gleiberman said.
But Ferro never intended for the restaurant to be a student-only type of place, so now Silvergreens will be opening a new restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara at 791 Chapala St., just across the street from the Paseo Nuevo mall. Since the crowd wandering around downtown is just a smidge different than the locals in I.V., Silvergreens Santa Barbara will look different than the one on the corner of Pardall and Embarcadero del Mar. It will also have a kids’ menu, staff will bus the tables, and the menu will have a few more frills.
Of course, the core of Silvergreens will remain the same at both restaurants: It’s all about healthy choices. Though it might not be the cheapest of options, they’re open late and I can feel confident that I’m not putting complete crap into my mouth when I munch on a Chicken Ranch sandwich. Really, who can ask for more?