When Marge Cafarelli opened the Santa Barbara Public Market in April 2014, she thought the community would support a small grocery store in the front of the building, like the ones she’d seen in Madrid and elsewhere. She was wrong.
“Santa Barbara didn’t adopt it,” said Cafarelli, who now feels Santa Barbarans are more suburban in their grocery style. “We couldn’t change people’s shopping habits.”
By the end of last year — and following the less-than-amenable departure of a few other tenants, including one who sued her — Cafarelli knew change was needed. “It’s become more of a destination food place,” she said of the whole Public Market. “My responsibility was to give the store enough of an opportunity to succeed. When it didn’t, I had to pivot.”
She decided the place needed a beer garden, so she started working in January of this year toward that goal. Sourcing from hometown entrepreneurs such as Make Smith Leather Co. (tap handles and bench straps), Brothers of Industry (the woody interior design), Raoul Textiles (furniture fabrics), Mission Audio/Video (TVs), and herself (one of the chair models), Cafarelli recast the front of the market as The Garden, which opened last month. Today, rather than shelves of goods that dominated the old store, the front of the Public Market is a vibrant, buzzing place, looking out onto Victoria Street and, especially at night, beckoning passersby. It’s an airy atmosphere with five televisions, 41 beers and eight wines on tap (which can be ordered from your table), a variety of seating, and a casual walk-up food counter decorated with photo-wallpaper of Hollister Ranch.
“We’re really trying to bring the outside in,” said Cafarelli of the 125-seat establishment, which is family-friendly. “We think it will be something that enlivens the market.”
She and Chef Michael Blackwell (from the Montecito Country Club) are also striving to keep prices down. “We’ve got to be sure that we’re priced right and giving tremendous value,” she said. “Santa Barbara is very discerning in that regard.”
In addition, Cafarelli shifted the I`a Fish Market & Café to focus primarily on poke, which doubled revenues; put a grab-and-go station in the front of the building, which was the most popular part of the old grocery store; and got all of the tenants to expand their liquor licenses to include the common areas, thereby allowing more unrestricted flow. She’s also brought in Corazón Cocina as a new tenant (see story at left), and said that there is much interest in the three vacant spots, not to mention the larger restaurant across the patio. “We’re taking our time, and we’ll get the right tenant,” she said of that vacancy.
And Cafarelli, who’s lived partially in Santa Barbara since graduating college here decades ago, plans to keep tweaking as needed. “It’s a legacy project for me, and we’re gonna get it right,” she said. “Public Market 1.0 is working with the great tenants that have survived and evolved. We think that 2.0 is just gonna make things better.”
38 W. Victoria St., sbpublicmarket.com