The future is now set for one of the most iconic oceanfront restaurant locations in Southern California: a multifaceted food, drink, and events concept called Sea Legs Santa Barbara will take over the former Beachside Bar-Café on the shore of Goleta Beach, with an opening expected by the start of next summer. That decision was finalized on Tuesday at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors hearing, which voted 5-0 to approve the 10-year lease (with three five-year renewals) as part of the administrative agenda.
“We think their concept can be transformational for Goleta Beach and bring a lot more interest there,” said Jeff Lindgren, assistant director of County Parks. “There could be a lot of good reasons to go to Goleta Beach again.”
Sea Legs, which is tied to a successful hospitality brand in Orange County, beat out three competing bids for the county-owned establishment. The county expected more than four applicants when it widely publicized the open bidding process last May, but the persistent pandemic paired with the significant upfront investment required for the property apparently scared off more would-be bidders.
Lindgren said that the winning bid from co-proprietors Omar Khashen (director of operations for Sea Legs’ parent company, PRJKT) and Joe “Diggs” Dies (former UCSB soccer player with decades of hospitality experience) best grasped the unique clientele that would frequent the restaurant. They also understood how to market to that diverse community and recognized that serving quality food and drink while keeping prices affordable would be key to success.
“A lot of restaurants have come and gone in Goleta and not been able to survive,” said Lindgren, referring to the challenges of serving the surrounding area’s unique demographics: a mix of college students (and their visiting parents), permanent residents of all ages, business travelers, tourists, and passersby. “We were looking for somebody who had a concept that made sense and an ownership group that recognized they might need to be flexible.”
Of course, the last Goleta Beach tenant did make it. The Beachside Bar-Café lasted for nearly 37 years, and many in the community were crushed when Peggy and Dave Hardy decided to close their doors in January 2021, a year before their lease was up and due largely to the pandemic. “It’s what I wanted out of my life, to do something that can give back to society,” said Dave Hardy at that time. “It’s been a wonderful run.”
Good Resumes, Familiar Faces
“I’ve always wanted a reason to go back to Santa Barbara, and I didn’t want to wait until I was 50 or 60 and retired,” said Dies, a Palo Alto native who graduated from UCSB in 2002. He worked the bars and restaurants of State Street for seven years — he ran the nightclub Tonic when it had big-name deejays and bottle service, among other highlights — before heading to Scottsdale to run more ambitious entertainment and hospitality venues.
UCSB is also where Dies met Omar Khashen, who grew up in Orange County and visited his high school friends in Isla Vista often while attending UCLA. After college, he worked at Miyagi’s in Hollywood and then worked up the hospitality ladder in Las Vegas and Orange County, becoming the right-hand man of Sea Legs/PRJKT founder Alicia Whitney. “The whole time, I wanted to find a way to get back into Santa Barbara and open up a concept there,” said Khashen, who is currently house-hunting here. “This was 20 years in the making trying to make a return to the area.”
Sea Legs Santa Barbara is the first time these two have worked together, and it happened when Dies saw a Facebook link to an article about the Beachside closing. He shared that to a group chat with many friends, and suddenly Khashen and Dies were plotting together.
“The niche in Orange County where my company has seen a lot of success is oceanfront concessions on state beaches,” said Khashen, who was very comfortable with negotiating on government-owned locations. “We have seven concessions within state parks that are elevated experiences of what used to be there.”
He drove up the very next day, and they moved forward. “It’s too unique of a spot to just let it go and not put in an attempt at getting it,” said Khashen, who owns this particular concept with Dies but is licensing the brand through Whitney’s company. “It was all with the ultimate goal of opening something that I could really stamp my name on that was a place that I loved.”
Onward with Eye on Past
That place will take certain cues from the existing Sea Legs empire: a focus on California coastal cuisine that’s elevated but not overly expensive, with regionally respectful beer, wine, and spirit selections. They’ll enhance the location’s varied settings — the two bars, the main dining area, the primary patio, and the small rooms that could be rented for small events — and turn the small stand outside into an ice cream shack also serving scaled-down menu options, possibly with to-go cocktails.
There are emerging plans to turn the adjacent yard, which has always been used as a dusty storage area, into something special. It was too early for the pair to discuss details — and they want the restaurant to stand on its own first — but given the outdoor entertainment offerings of Sea Legs down south, something similar would be a safe bet.
And Dies, who would sometimes eat at the Beachside with his Gaucho team before soccer matches, wants to retain the best parts of the former restaurant’s vibe, from “aggressive happy hours” and a familiar dish or two to that popcorn machine. “There are a lot of things we’d like to celebrate,” said Dies, who plans to move here with his wife and three kids once Sea Legs is open. “It’s a very special place.”
The pair’s plan made the decision relatively easy for the county, although the other applicants were well qualified as well; one of those was decidedly local, while the other two had firm Santa Barbara ties. “We made it pretty clear that it will be difficult for you unless you become part of the community,” said Lindgren of how critical it is for operators in this area to embrace their neighbors.
Excited that they “aren’t just going to make it a restaurant, but help Goleta Beach become more of a destination again,” Lindgren confirmed, “We’re confident they can pull off what they say they can do.”