Given some might know Brad Sherman best as the drummer for Area 51, one of the funkiest outfits in town, it’s little surprise that he says, “I love the funkiness of Aldo’s, the funkiness of the dining room. Everything has been yuppified and gentrified and sterilized in our world, yet Aldo’s retains its soulful spirit, a spirit that has been lost with the corporatization of State Street.”
Sherman will do his best to retain that soul, bringing 21 years of experience at the Sojourner Café—which is decidedly off State Street, and not just in geography—to bear on his new purchase, which he has owned since December 1, 2010. Indeed, on the last Sunday of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, he kicked off Brad’s Famous Brunch, which featured a variety of benedicts (many vegetarian) but also the guitar playing of Bruce Goldish and tastings from kombucha start-up Wild Cultures and the Organic Soup Kitchen. “I’d love to have events here,” said Sherman. “The courtyard is magnificent. I say yes to poetry on the patio, yes to music on the patio.”
Sherman has had to rethink what Aldo’s, which occupies part of the historic Janssens-Orella Adobe and was preceded by the fondly remembered Copper Coffee Pot, means to Santa Barbara. “At first, I thought it was all tourists driving it, given the phenomenal location,” he said, “but then I found out many locals come in regularly. Eventually, would I like to be considered the natural Italian restaurant in town? That would be amazing. But do I want to alienate the regular customers and shift too much from Italian comfort food? No.”
Sherman calls the Aldo’s menu a “really beautiful combination of northern Italian and southern Italian,” but still hopes to be as organic and as seasonally driven as possible (without prohibitive pricing); he’s already shifted to fair-trade, organic coffee. He’s also looking at ways to offer more vegetarian options—perhaps tempeh meatballs—and realizes that “there is definitely room for accommodating people with special dietary needs,” so he’s looking into gluten-free pasta, among other options.
But it’s more than the menu that concerns Sherman. “If you want to get crunchy granola hippie about it, which are my roots, people end up at a place without knowing why,” he explained. “It becomes an energy field that starts at the back of the house and pushes through the dining room and goes right out the front door. You throw love into the mix, and it becomes a place people want to frequent.”
Sherman had been thinking about purchasing Aldo’s for four years from long-time owner Mark Sherman (no relation). “I was thinking about branching out, and back then he was offering the spot, but I was also raising my daughter and didn’t want to do anything that would occupy me so much that it would interfere with that,” Brad Sherman recalled. “Plus, I was so much a part of the Sojourner family.” In the intervening years, both Shermans had opportunities that didn’t pan out, so in June 2010, they began to work out a deal. Said Brad, “[Mark] believed in me so fully, he decided to back the entire thing. It’s a pretty outrageous story.”
The story is even more amazing, as the two Shermans have in some ways changed places. “We both have the same last name and are Jewish guys who grew up about 30 minutes away from each other in northeast Pennsylvania,” Brad explained. “Now that my daughter, Geneva, is 18, she’s more self-sufficient [she works as a server at Aldo’s, actually], and I could go have my dream. Mark, instead, wants to have more time with his kids. It’s almost as if we’ve swapped lives.”
Brad also insisted on a shout-out to Karen Gabai. “If it weren’t for her, if this was a sink or swim situation, I’d be sinking,” he said. “She’s one of the most capable people I know and a vital force behind a lot of the operations. She’s been getting a lot of the advertising going.”
Alas, Sherman won’t be able to get his drumming going as much as he’d like for the next stretch. “This is my new gig. It’s a thinking man’s game, so that I can do something that gets me out of my head is one of the most important things I can gift myself,” he said. “The drumming is an important part of my expression, so I get out of my head and into my body.” But in the meantime he’ll definitely be at Aldo’s, making customers welcome, fine-tuning an institution.
Itch your ache for Italian under new management at Aldo’s (1031 State St., 963-6687, sbaldos.com).