When Arti and Scott Stanley first walked into Esau’s Café in the early 70s, they never dreamed they’d own the place one day.
More than 40 years later the family-run restaurant in Carpinteria is still going strong, thanks to a little luck, and a lot of on-the-job training.
The Stanleys met as teenagers and moved to Carpinteria from the San Fernando Valley in their early 20s. They immediately fell in love with the surfing at Rincon Point and the nearby Channel Islands.
“Every job we took, we took the job because we would be able to surf,” said Mrs. Stanley who explained the young couple started out working in computer factories in Goleta before getting into the restaurant business.
Mrs. Stanley spent time serving at Harry’s Café and the original Miramar while Mr. Stanley worked as a waiter at Chuck’s Steakhouse for seven years.
“We were fortunate enough to eat at Esau’s, and one day I looked back at Tom Esau and asked, ‘Do you wanna sell the place?’ He said, ‘Son there’s 10 people ahead of you,'” laughed Mr. Stanley, who said the owner eventually agreed to sell to him the original Santa Barbara location on State Street months after their conversation.
The young couple needed money though. When Santa Barbara Bank and Trust rejected their loan application, Santa Barbara developer Bill Levy, a frequent Chuck’s patron, intervened.
“I called (Mr. Levy) and I told him what was going on and he said, ‘Let me call you back.’ When he did, he said ‘Ok I got you an interview at Santa Barbara Bank,'”said Mr. Stanley who recalled that the loan officer who rejected his first application approved him the second time around.
Just like that, the Stanleys owned a restaurant. Mr. Esau open the restaurant in 1961. The Stanleys took over in 1978.
Mr. Stanley spent three months working for Mr. Esau to learn the business and Mr. Esau returned the favor after the sale went through.
“It was never like one day he was here and the next day he was gone. People didn’t really know it was sold and that was the plan,” said Mr. Stanley.
Over the years Esau’s menu has swelled into a six-page anthology of American classics, accented with Mexican and Hawaiian-inspired dishes.
Mrs. Stanley said the restaurant has stayed true to the classic recipes like biscuits and gravy, corned beef hash and Mr. Esau’s famous pancakes.
“He always had lines out the door and so everything we did was to keep it Esau’s,” said Mr. Stanley.
Food comes in fresh every day from local suppliers and the coffee is imported from volcano grows in El Salvador.
The one thing that has changed over the years is the location. The Stanleys left State Street in 2006 and then a location Chapala street shortly thereafter due to out-of-control rent costs.
They’ve settled into their Linden Avenue restaurant, located just up the street from Carpinteria State Beach, in 2005.
“We like to say we finally got a reasonable landlord, after all the trouble in Santa Barbara,” said Mrs. Stanley. She said the business regulations and permitting are also more business-friends in Carpinteria.
The Stanleys say that make it a point to hire from the community and their team gets strong contributions from local high school students.
“It’s super important to raise kids up and teach them work skills. We were given a chance so we want to do that for others,” said Mrs. Stanley. Her own children Bo, Taylor and Drake grew up in the restaurant and continue to help out as adults.
“Because we’re family owned when you hire someone they become like family, and when people come in we remember them. That’s really important to us,” said Mrs. Stanley.
Esau’s Café is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. They close at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.