In the pandemic’s parade of pivots, one Carpinteria catering company’s decision to ditch events — which do not currently exist — and become a standalone restaurant was both revolutionary and obvious.
“The most important thing was to stay in business and keep the team together,” Marc Borowitz, who opened his first Santa Barbara restaurant in 1984 and started Events by Rincon with his wife, Carol Borowitz, in 1996. They quickly evolved into this party-loving region’s top caterer — not to mention the exclusive caterer for the Santa Barbara Zoo since 2008 — with a primary staff of 40 employees, as well as more than 100 part-timers during the high season.
“Those core folks are very talented and extremely hardworking,” he said. “They know the hospitality and quality that we want to put into things. We didn’t want to lose them. That was the first and foremost thing.”
After hosting their last event on March 17, Events by Rincon went into hibernation. “This year we were slated to do 123 weddings,” said Borowitz, who typically hosts about 250 major events and hundreds of smaller ones each year, split evenly between weddings, corporate gigs, and nonprofit fundraisers. “This was going to be our best year. We were gonna crack a financial milestone. But that’s how the cookie crumbles, as my parents would say.”
Borowitz quickly ramped up the existing “Invisible Chef” program — in which people can order finished, safely chilled family meals to be warmed up at home — and pumped out about 500 dinners for Passover and Easter. That got them through the initial pandemic lockdown months.
“When it was obvious that this was going to go on for an extended period of time, it seemed like the best approach would be to try to use the assets we have,” said Borowitz, who took over a seaside space on Santa Claus Lane in 1999 and developed it into a beautiful banquet facility that hosted about 100 events per year. He also had a full liquor license, a restaurant license, a kitchen, chefs, and plenty of otherwise out-of-work employees who could be servers. Becoming a restaurant shouldn’t be too hard, they figured. Said Borowitz, “We made the decision, and three weeks later, we were open.”
Rincon Beach Bar was unveiled on June 26 and continues to attract new fans every week, offering an outdoor dining room with plenty of space between tables, an app that makes contactless ordering incredibly intuitive and easy, and a great menu overseen by Chef Ron True, who ran Arlington Tavern on West Victoria Street a few years ago. “We’ve got kinks, no doubt,” said True when I visited in mid-July. “But we’re figuring it out.”
Rather than develop a brand-new menu, Rincon Beach Bar simply enlisted its most popular catering items, including cedar-plank salmon, beer-braised short ribs, and a long list of small plates for sharing, such as bao buns, street tacos, and pulled pork sliders. They’re pouring fresh-made cocktails, too, and may one day start delivering to the beach.
“It’s been going great,” said Borowitz. “People have really responded to the contactless ordering. They’ve responded to the fun food. They’ve responded to the cocktails. People are going crazy over the fresh-made products.”
More than 75 percent of the employees are working again, albeit not quite as much as during high season and perhaps in different roles. “It’s a real morale booster,” said Borowitz, who said the new model is nearly self-sustaining. “It’s a different rhythm completely; there’s no doubt about that. But it is a positive rhythm. “
The Borowitzes have seen a lot of fluctuations over their years. Originally from Pacoima, Borowitz arrived here in 1981 to attend UCSB, where he spent five years but never graduated. “I finally realized that I didn’t really belong in college,” he said. “Some of us weren’t made for following the rules and turning in assignments.”
Instead, he worked in restaurants, learning the proper points of hospitality under Norbert Schulz and Brigitte Guehr, Santa Barbara’s original fine-dining power partners. “I owe a lot to them,” said Borowitz.
From 1984 to 1988, he ran Brandon’s Restaurant in the old Piccadilly Square, getting the boot when the Paseo Nuevo mall was built. After another restaurant called The Bear’s Picnic, the Borowitzes began catering for Pacifica Graduate Institute in 1989 and did so for 25 years.
They launched the catering company in 1996, first from a kitchen on Linden Avenue in Carpinteria, where Esau’s is now, and then moving to their current spot on Santa Claus Lane in 1999. The property was “a wreck” when Marc found it. “It had been abandoned for a long time,” he said. “My wife tells the story that, when I showed it to her, she cried for three days.” They turned the spot into a hidden party palace, with plenty of space both inside and out.
In the meantime, Events by Rincon amassed a warehouse full of supplies. “The joke with some clients is that we’re the fourth largest rental company in Santa Barbara even though we only do our own events,” said Borowitz. That vertical integration is a large part of their popularity — hosting an event at their facility can save a bride and groom three to four times the costs of doing it elsewhere.
Of course, that’s all on hold for now. But Rincon Beach Bar is paying some bills and likely here to stay, no matter what happens with the pandemic. “Carol and I feel real strongly that we want to keep the restaurant going no matter what,” said Borowitz, who’s holding out hope for hosting holiday parties while taking it all one day at a time. “There’s no predicting what’s going to happen, but we are stubborn and relentless.”
During my visit in mid-July, this is what we enjoyed.
Bacon Date Wrapped Chicken: Juicy, sweet morsels with the herbal kick of maple thyme drizzle.
Hawaiian Style Ahi Poke: Fresh mounds of tuna with macademia nuts, wonton crisps, avo, and spicy sesame served on Little Gem cups.
Black Bean Veggie Sliders: Tasting a bit like slow-cooked chili and served on house-made brioche rolls with chipotle mayo.
Five Spice Pork Belly Bao Buns: Homemade buns holding perfectly crisped pork belly gussied up with tropical slaw, sesame hoisin, sriracha mayo, and pickled cucumber.
Nashville “Hot” Chicken on a House Made Biscuit: Extra crisp on outside, super moist on inside, this honey-drizzled spicy treat is cut by pickles. There’s a kid-friendly version too.
Beach Bar Salad: A showcase of texture, with creamy avo, snappy jicama, crunchy tortilla strips, black bean salsa, and a Caesar dressing.
House Made Churro Bites: Inside the crunchy exterior is a melt-in-your-mouth gooey factor, enhanced by the Mexican chocolate sauce.
Carrot Cake: This gluten-free slice is covered in orange cream cheese frosting.
3805 Santa Claus Ln., Carpinteria; (805) 566-9003; eventsbyrincon.menu
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