The day after he had an operation, Cafe Buenos Aires owner Wally Ronchietto fielded dozens of calls from worried employees, hysterical clients, and confused suppliers who heard the restaurant had been sold. Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Sound featured an article, written by santabarbara.com’s John Dickson, that claimed Petros, a two-location, high-end Greek restaurant based in Los Olivos, had bought out Cafe Buenos Aires.
While Petros’s head chef and owner Petros Benekos showed some interest in the downtown property, Ronchietto said, ownership didn’t change hands. “There was nothing concrete, nothing signed,” explained Ronchietto, promising that the quasi offer was not much different than the 50 or so similar bids he’s received in recent years. “We didn’t even talk numbers.” He was somewhat coy, though, about maybe selling the 19-year-old Argentinian restaurant in the near future. “I’m not saying he won’t eventually buy it, but so far there’s been nothing more than an expressed interest,” said Ronchietto.
Benekos couldn’t be reached for comment, and a manager at the restaurant’s Los Olivos location (there’s also a Petros in Manhattan Beach) said he wasn’t privy to what was going on, but that wasn’t unusual. “Petros [Benekos] plays things pretty close to the chest,” he said.
When word got out that he had supposedly signed the place over and would be out of the 1316 State Street building by the end of March, Ronchietto said he received a call from Wells Fargo, which said the bank was going to freeze his accounts and that it’d like to meet. A bride-to-be phoned him, crying, wondering what was to become of the wedding reception she’d booked at the restaurant. And an employee of 14 years drove to Ronchietto’s home, demanding to know what was going on and whether he needed to look for a new job. “They have no idea the nightmare they caused,” Ronchietto said of Dickson and the Daily Sound, which later printed a correction. “They are totally unprofessional.” Ronchietto said he called the paper seven times on Tuesday and left several messages, but never heard back. He eventually received an apologetic email from publisher Jeramy Gordon later in the week. Both Gordon and Dixon weren’t immediately available for comment.
Dickson, who posted the same story to his Web site on Tuesday, included an update on the report Wednesday, explaining Cafe Buenos Aires was in fact still owned by Ronchietto and that the information he passed along came from a Petros “representative” in Los Olivos. He said he tried to contact Cafe Buenos Aires, “who declined to comment.” Ronchietto, however, accused Dickson of sloppy reporting, claiming he never spoke to either restaurant owner — Ronchietto said he’s still not sure who Dickson talked to at his restaurant — and that Dickson based his story on the word of one uninformed Petros employee.
Ronchietto said he’s since spoken with lawyers about possibly suing, but was advised against it. His attorneys brought up Montecito Bank & Trust’s pending lawsuit against the Daily Sound for breach of contract, telling him that the only things Ronchietto could get from Dickson or the paper would be “a bicycle and broken radio.”