Esau’s in Peril

Esau’s — one of Santa Barbara’s signature breakfast and lunch
spots for more than 50 years — may be forced to find new quarters
because the restaurant’s landlord refuses to negotiate a new lease.
According to Esau owner Scott Stanley, landlords Abe and Mike
Safina have declined to discuss renegotiating his lease at 403
State Street, which expires in October. “I could understand it if
they wanted to bring in some new operators who could pay $15,000 a
month,” Stanley said. “I could understand it if they wanted to
knock this place down and put up something fancy in its place. But
there’s nothing. There’s no reason given. It’s crazy.” Stanley, who
bought the business from the restaurant’s original owner 28 years
ago, is not going down quietly. He hired a public relations company
to help him launch a media campaign to pressure the Safinas to the
bargaining table; some of his patrons have initiated a petition to
save the landmark greasy spoon, renowned for its bountiful
portions, friendly service, and unpretentious style. If the worst
comes to pass, Stanley plans to pull out his fixtures, put them in
storage, and go shopping for new digs. And he’ll continue to
operate the Esau’s in Carpinteria, which he opened four years
ago.

News of Esau’s peril hit many longtime Santa Barbara residents
hard, especially since it followed on the heels of announcements
that Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens and Pascual’s — two long-running
restaurant/bars with intensely loyal patrons — are going out of
business. Esau’s predicament has city planning officials wondering
whether the Safinas have grand plans for the corner of State and
Gutierrez streets. Three years ago, the brothers inexplicably
refused to extend the lease of Tad’s liquor store — adjacent to
Esau’s — which has sat vacant since. By clearing both Tad’s and
Esau’s, the Safinas could be laying the groundwork for a
substantial downtown redevelopment effort just a stone’s throw from
the projected site of the Ritz-Carlton timeshare condos. The
Safinas — who reportedly own 32 downtown properties — are
legendarily tight-lipped about their affairs. Mike Safina answered
all queries about Esau’s with, “I don’t know,” while his brother
Abe — a regular customer at Esau’s until recently — responded, “I’m
not discussing that. I’ve got no comment about anything.”

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