Like many fine things in our town, this story begins with a drink at the horribly missed Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens. “I walked out of Jimmy’s one night and saw that ‘for sale’ sign and thought to myself, ‘That sign is a message from god,’” Bob Lovejoy half-joked, remembering how he spotted the Canon Perdido location that became the first Three Pickles. “Luckily, because of health department concerns, we couldn’t open for two months, and that turned out to be a blessing, giving us time to develop our core products.”
Those products include a pastrami sandwich, the Presidio, which can even make this East Coast snob weep with deli-cious joy. “It was important to get pastrami with a little bit of marbling to it,” explained Clayton Lovejoy, Bob’s son and co-owner. “I probably tasted about a hundred pastramis before I found the one I liked. Then we slow-steam, rendering off a lot of the fat. Then you just barely melt the cheese over that. The secret, though, is our rye bread, for me.” That bread, baked daily by a little Italian bakery in the San Fernando Valley (they refused to provide any more details), is driven to Ventura, and Clayton, who lives there, drives it the rest of the way into town.
Or, into “towns,” as the case might be, for Three Pickles is now in Goleta as well as Santa Barbara, in an un-signed, un-commercial looking location off Fairview, close to the airport. “We were looking to expand, and the Towbes Group came to us,” Bob explained. “We have no grease, no grill; everything is toasted or steamed, so we’re a clean-food tenant. We think there’s a real call for our type of quality sandwich here. There are a lot of employees nearby, and that’s what drew us out here.”
Just a week open, the new location outdrew the downtown one on a Thursday and Friday. It will soon have another special draw: breakfast items like bagels and egg sandwiches and the only Peet’s Coffee concession in the vicinity. “They’re pretty tall, and I’m a little guy,” joked Bob about the just-installed coffee urns. “I’m going to need a stool to get up and fill them.”
But breakfast or lunch, the Three Pickles credo remains the same, said Bob: “Everything is fresh. That’s how we look at it, and that’s the way we like it to be. We try to put quality first, and we don’t skimp on anything. Our hot sandwiches average eight or nine ounces of meat. We didn’t want to go cheap and go into competition with Subway or those kinds of people.” Such beliefs led them to do serious searches for the best ingredients, like their signature pickles, and then there’s the marinara sauce for the famed eggplant and meatball subs that’s made fresh daily by Bob McCourt. “He’s the third pickle,” explained Bob. “I gave him a share of my portion of the business to reward him for working with me for 30 years. He’s also our resident Italian-it’s his grandmother’s marinara recipe.”
That family angle is obviously important at Three Pickles, and it’s what got Bob to Santa Barbara and into the restaurant business. “I grew up in Burbank, but moved to Santa Barbara right after college,” he said. “My grandfather was a professional polo player, so we’d come see him play here a lot, and then my friends and I were all surfers, so we’d come up for that, too.” Turns out restaurants also ran in the family, and Bob talked about opening one for years while working as a tile and marble contractor. “My knees are shot-you can’t do that for forever,” he explained. “It’s been rewarding-everyone’s so nice, and having people like our food is a thrill. You think you have something people will like, but you don’t know for sure.”
The success of both locations suggests Three Pickles won’t end up in a business pickle. Their sandwiches are so good, people will even risk “subs our way”-that is, loaded with onion, tomato, dill pickle, oregano, olive oil, mustard, and mayo. “Downtown, we get a lot of deli stack orders, as people don’t want a messy sandwich if they’ve got to go back to work,” said Clayton. “But this is a signature of ours. Once you’ve had the subs our way-and no one makes it like that-you get those flavors, and you have to keep going back to that.”
Delight in deli at Three Pickles’ two locations: 128 East Canon Perdido Street and 420 South Fairview Avenue. Call 965-1015 or visit threepickles.com. The Goleta location, which will celebrate its Grand Opening on Friday, November 6, is now also open for breakfast.