In 1992, to appease the 15,000 reporters and political junkies converging on New York City for the Democratic National Convention, restaurant guide publisher Tim Zagat and restaurateur Joe Baum launched the city’s first-ever Restaurant Week, in which numerous eateries offered a prix fixe lunch over four days for $19.92.
Today, a quarter century later, New York City’s “Restaurant Week” is a major misnomer: It actually lasts two weeks in January and even longer from July into August, featuring nearly 400 locations across the five boroughs. Countless cities across America have also jumped on the bandwagon, with states even promoting Restaurant Months, including California’s effort each January.
“Frankly, we thought it would be a short-term money loser but have long-term PR benefit for New York and the restaurant industry,” Zagat wrote in the Atlantic Monthly in 2010. “[R]estaurant weeks have become a tradition in city after city because they appeal to both customers and restaurants. In short: they are a win-win.”
Both the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria now offer restaurant weeks each January, but Santa Barbara — where the restaurant-per-capita ratio rivals regions worldwide — is finally jumping into the game this weekend. From February 23 to March 4, more than two dozen restaurants from Carpinteria to Goleta will be offering three-course, prix fixe menus ranging $25-$45 as part of the first-ever Santa Barbara Restaurant Week. (A previous attempt at a monthlong version called epicure.sb fizzled a couple of years back.)
“Restaurant Week could not be more perfectly timed, with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival just concluded but not yet into our busy season,” said Mitchell Sjerven, whose restaurants bouchon, Wine Cask, and Intermezzo are all involved. Thanking lead sponsors Jordano’s and Mission Linen for offering special deals to participating restaurants, Sjerven is also hopeful the promotion will give the restaurant biz a boost of “much-needed camaraderie” after the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides.
“I see it as a great opportunity for restaurants, some of whom may have struggled to keep the doors open, to be busy again,” said Sjerven. “Personally, I can’t wait to use it as an excuse to get out and try one of my competitors! I truly believe the marketing strategy of promoting all of the participants together will increase traffic for each restaurant.”
Chef Peter McNee of Convivo agrees. “There’s just been so much drama and disaster in the community over the past couple months,” said McNee. “This will give people a reason to just eat out and have some sense of normalcy, at least for an evening.”
He’s excited to attract newbies to his “nomad Italian” seaside restaurant on Cabrillo Boulevard, and crafted his $35 menu with offerings that will be familiar to his more steady fans: insalata mercato, lamb meatballs, or Roman artichokes for the first course; bucatini, braised pork shank, or jamón serrano pizza for the second course; and affogato, lemon tart, or panna cotta for dessert.
“This menu gives a wide variety and a real taste of what we do every day of the year,” said McNee. “These are all classic dishes that have a big wow factor. They’re the big reasons why we have regulars because these are the dishes they keep coming back for.”
Santa Barbara Restaurant Week is the brainchild of event chair Leslee Garafalo, who manages Tre Lune restaurant in Montecito, and cochair Hope Zweig, who’s worked in the industry for 30-plus years and is currently with the compliance and management company Restaurant Solutions. They enlisted the PR help of Leigh-Anne Anderson of Anderson PR; marketing expertise from Emily Solomon of The Food Marketer; and graphic design by Christina Rivera.
Garafalo grew up in Thousand Oaks but then lived for 17 years in Denver, where she raised her children while working in the restaurant and special-event business. She participated in Denver’s first Restaurant Week in 2004. “I saw it grow from two dozen restaurants to over 200 today,” explained Garafalo. When she moved to Santa Barbara in 2014, she saw that many restaurants could use a similar boost in the off-season and started assembling the team last spring.
“With everybody’s skill and qualifications, we just put it together,” she said. “We all have full-time jobs, and we’re doing this on the side. Hopefully one day it will be profitable, but this year we’re putting all of our sponsorship money and participation fees from the restaurants toward marketing just to get it off the ground.”
That dedication is winning over many of the participating restaurant owners. “This has been organized by a solid group of ladies,” said Maria Rickard-Arroyo, director of marketing for Los Arroyos, whose sit-down Goleta and Montecito locations are involved. “They’re really, really passionate about networking and promoting our local restaurants. It’s reflected in the list of participants. We all trust that they’re going to fulfill what they’re planning and make this a fun event. I hope it continues.” n
S.B. Restaurant Week Participants
Visit sbrestaurantweeks.com for more details..
Blackbird Restaurant @ Hotel Californian
Cava Restaurant and Bar
Chuck’s Waterfront Grill
Enterprise Fish Co.
The Dining Room @ Belmond El Encanto
Jane Restaurant (Goleta and S.B. locations)
The Little Door
Los Arroyos (Goleta and Montecito locations)
Max’s Restaurant & Cucina
The Palace Grill
Santo Mezcal Restaurante
Smithy Kitchen and Bar
Toma Restaurant and Bar
Tre Lune Ristorante