While it took five years for the sleek Oliver’s to happen in the spot that used to be homey Peabody’s on Coast Village Road, the new plant-based restaurant opened last October 29, firing on all cylinders. “We had incredible momentum building,” said Assistant GM Phillip Thompson, “lots of guests, good social media reviews, regulars after the first week, a big Thanksgiving.”
Then the Thomas Fire roared through the nearby hills. “We were trying to stay open for whoever was left in town,” Thompson explained, but soon they were in a mandatory evacuation zone. Once the smoke cleared, they reopened to people hugging. “People would come through the door and breathe again — it was special to feel and an honor,” he said. “The conversations people were having with each other seemed so healing.”
Then the flood came. “There was no mud on the property, but Coast Village Road was a militarized zone,” said Thompson. The re-reopening was delayed due to the boil-water notice, since water is sort of crucial for running a restaurant. But they’ve been open since Super Bowl weekend. “That’s why we built the restaurant,” said Brett Rasinski, who worked in New York City restaurants before coming west and is related to Oliver’s owner Craig McCaw, “to be part of the community.” That community gets to chow down on hit dishes like artichoke “crab” cakes, a wild mushroom tostada, and a pear-gorgonzola-cashew-dolce flatbread, but nary an animal with eyes has been harmed. “We were confident the focus would resonate, and it did,” Rasinski asserted. “When people leave here, they’re enamored as it’s incredible food whether or not it’s plant-based.” Chef Craig Riker said he’s worked everywhere from steakhouses to five-star restaurants (El Encanto, Mastro’s in Malibu), but explained, “I feel like I landed in the right spot. I get to use the best ingredients — what chef wouldn’t want that?”
His food is paired with wines and a bar program that features Juice Ranch products, a hometown touch that keeps the vegetarian theme. “Everything they stand for we stand for,” Thompson said. “It’s how to bring a healthful idea to cocktails.” The best seller so far has been the Johnny 5 Alive, a margarita variation named after its core Juice Ranch flavor ripe with apple, lemon, ginger, and cayenne mixed with tequila blanco.
Given that Thompson, Rasinski, Riker, and GM Jeremy Sewell are all hanging out midday when Oliver’s is currently only open for dinner (there are hopes that will change come summer), it’s a hint they’ve created one cool clubhouse. Summed up Riker, “It feels like you’re at home here.”
And that was McCaw’s goal, as the name isn’t just his middle name. It turns out Dickens’s Oliver Twist is one of his favorite novels. “You know how it has the famous scene with the line, ‘Please, sir, I want some more,’ but he’s denied,” Thompson said. “Well, Craig wants us to turn that around here. At Oliver’s we reply, ‘Of course you may.’”
1198 Coast Village Rd.; (805) 969-0834; oliversofmontecito.com