The Snyder family of Pace food + drink is so good at the restaurant game, their eldest son, Ryan, was born on trade. Back when Jeff Snyder owned San Francisco’s RSVP Restaurant, people would exchange services for dinners — even ob-gyns. “Not in our day and age,” recalled his wife, Kim Snyder, “but 29 years ago, it was possible.”
The Snyders’ latest baby has been the 50-seat Pace itself, which they opened at 413 State Street in February 2012 to instant acclaim, including a Foodie Award from this newspaper. Prior to that, Jeff worked at L’Auberge del Mar in San Diego, but the family wanted a spot of their own. After some false starts, this property came on the market and was ideal. “An open kitchen, right on State Street, and who doesn’t want to live in Santa Barbara?” said Jeff. “We were doing it as a family and wanted to set the boys up.” Those boys, Ryan and Cole, “poured their hearts and souls into it for two years,” said Jeff, but it turns out restaurants are not what they want to do.
Instead of just selling the business, though, the Snyders are going to give it away. “We want to find someone passionate about this business and give them an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Jeff. That opportunity includes the restaurant and beer and wine license; the lease paid for a year; insurances paid for a year; $20,000 in working capital to help cover expenses; and mentoring from the Snyders. “After 35 years in this business, this is our opportunity to give back — it’s like Pay It Forward,” insisted Jeff. “If we can come downtown in a year or two and walk into the restaurant we used to own and it’s a success, then we did our job. I can’t even imagine how we’ll feel.”
The contest to win Pace involves creating a video, writing an essay, and, if a finalist, an on-site meeting and cooking demo. A panel of food-industry professionals (including this writer) will help make the decision, but the final decision is Jeff and Kim’s. “Who knows who might be the final person? A hard-luck story? An up-and-comer?” pondered Jeff. “Or maybe someone who moved away from Santa Barbara and wants to get back to town?”
The winner will have to be able to secure the commercial lease and ABC license after the year is done. “They will probably have a different concept,” expects Jeff, who said he is not selling his recipe book. “But they might want to start with something similar to what we do and then build on that to keep our clients comfortable. One plate at a time has always been our motto.”
As for the Snyders, they are more than willing to offer guidance to the winners and then take some time off. “I’ve had so much fun just being able to work with my boys,” said Jeff. “Wherever they go, they won’t work as hard as they did here. In the meantime, the guys are in their twenties, and they want to do the things 20-year-olds want to do.” Jeff and Kim could imagine opening up a new spot a few years down the road, featuring, in Jeff’s mind, “Food, music, and art — what we tried to stuff into this small little spot.”
As for now, they’re trying something that may have never been done. “There’s an excitement to it,” said Jeff of the concept, which was initially imagined by Kim. “I’m always the half-cup-full guy, the eternal optimist. If you do things for the right reasons, it will all end up right.”
How Do You Win a Restaurant?
All applications, which must be submitted through the contest page of winourrestaurant.com, will require the following:
Video: Explain on camera why you should be chosen. “Passion” is what Jeff wants to see. “We want someone who has the same mindset as us,” said Kim. “We’re not a turn-and-burn restaurant. We want our customers to be fulfilled.”
Essay: A written explanation, via Word doc or PDF, explaining the concept of your restaurant.
Entry fee: $500.
Deadline: May 12, 2014.
If named one of 10 finalists: A walk-through, interview, and cooking demo.
More info? Call (805) 845-8388 or see winourrestaurant.com.
The Highs of Pace food + drink
The Open Kitchen/Size: Kim pointed out how the open kitchen makes a meal at Pace a cooking show. “We’re almost like a sushi bar,” added Jeff. “We all get to say ‘hi’ when people come in and ‘thanks’ when they leave.” Continued Kim, “With how small and intimate this place is, there are nights everyone is talking to each other, with the tables so close.” As Jeff put it, “It’s really more of a French bistro feel: There’s animation, action; no one feels left out.”
Killing It: “When someone you don’t know leaves and says, ‘That’s the best meal I’ve had,’ that can’t be beat,” explained Kim. “If you please 60 percent of the people who walk out the door, then you’re usually doing well. Here, I think 98 percent of the people are pleased.”
The Lows of Pace food + drink
The Tourist vs. Local Conundrum: “For the tourists that just Yelp us and have no expectations,” Jeff explained, pointing to their 4-and-a-half-star average on more than 130 reviews, “they don’t necessarily understand that we’re a family cooking from scratch, and it sometimes takes a bit.”
It’s a 24/7 Job: “Even on your days off, you’re doing something,” Cole explained. “I’ve had bad dreams that I’m cooking burgers and they’re falling apart and the orders keep coming.” Even when it comes to slaving away, Jeff added, “If you’re passionate and you really love it, you won’t consider how much you’re working.”