The Natural Cafe owner Kelly Brown has announced that, after 30 years of running his restaurant at 508 State St. he is closing the eatery because of problems with increasingly aggressive homeless people, a proliferation of rats resulting from the downtown parklets and speeding bicyclists and skateboarders.
The Natural Cafe, a Santa Barbara-based chain, will continue to operate its restaurants on Hitchcock Way and at the Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta.
Mr. Brown announced his plans to close his restaurant on lower State Street in a letter to his landlord, Jim Knell and Sima Management explaining why he is not renewing his lease.
“I am writing to inform you that after 30 years, The Natural Cafe on State Street is closing it’s doors,” he wrote. “Although we have been dealing with the same issues since the day we opened, things have taken an extreme turn for the worse the last few years.
“Homelessness, whether its guest-staff interaction or aggressive panhandling, has always been challenging,’ he said, “but it has now turned into straight up criminality. Consuming alcohol and drugs in public, using planters for toilets, camping in empty storefronts or locking themselves in our bathrooms and showering, sleeping and using drugs is an everyday occurrence,”
In addition, Mr. Brown cited a “rat/vermin problem, which starts with the city and their lack of any program to address this has, in the last few years, become intolerable.
“Look under any parklet and you will find rats nests. Food is just falling on them from above,” he said.
He also noted the problem with bicyclists and skateboarders speeding down the closed street, running stop signs “and putting themselves and all pedestrians at constant risk.”
All of these issues have become exacerbated by COVID and the parklets, he said.
“Not sure why you call them parklets. For the most part, it’s cheap looking, trashy 2 x 4 wood structures that greatly diminish what was once one of the great main streets in the country.
“To be clear, the parklets were a great idea when we lost our dining room but most of us put up basic patio platforms as no one expected this to go on for multiple years, much less permanently,” he said. “We took our parklet down last month as it no longer looked good. The city has an outdoor dining program that is more than adequate. We have our dining rooms back. We need State Street back.”
The government’s job, he said, is to level the playing field. As far as Mr. Brown is concerned, the current parklet program favors the few at the expense of the many.
“We need to remove the parklets, clean up State Street and police it,” he said. “Why is it so hard for the city to do these simple things? Seems like Job No. One to me.