Business on Stearns Wharf picks up with return of outdoor dining
Thursday afternoon was relatively slow and calm down on Stearns Wharf, but several locals and tourists still enjoyed the sunshine and serenity atop the ocean waves.
While indoor dining is still prohibited per the health officer order, many hungry visitors dined outdoors at the Harbor Restaurant, Santa Barbara Shellfish Company and Char West.
Blanca Aispuro is the manager at Char West, and said that although the restaurant remained open selling food to get through the most recent shutdown, getting outdoor dining back has made all the difference.
“Now that we opened outside, it’s been better … A lot busier,” she told the News-Press. “Since everything started, it was really, really, really slow … Then to-go was the same thing, but now that we opened the outside, we can see the difference.”
Nearly every table at Char West was filled with customers munching on fish and chips or Char West’s local favorite the Gordo Burger. Ms. Aispuro said that once the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center opens back up in March, things will just about be back to normal.
“Every weekend, it’s really busy, and there’s a lot of families. They (the Sea Center) are opening in March, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to start to pick up a little more. It’s like another step — we’re almost there,” she said.
There weren’t too many customers at Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room Thursday afternoon, but according to Emily Marsh working behind the bar, the past three weeks have been great for the winery.
“The weekdays are quieter since everyone’s back to work, but weekends have been insane,” she told the News-Press. “Valentine’s Day weekend especially was crazy busy. I think people are just excited to spend money again, and then the nice weather too has been super beneficial.”
Ms. Marsh said that over Valentine’s Day weekend, Deep Sea Wine Tasting Room had at least an hour wait for six hours both Saturday and Sunday, and a 30-minute wait on Presidents’ Day.
“Being the only winery out on the water brings a lot of tourists,” she said, adding that most, if not all, are from Los Angeles or other parts of California.
And customers know the drill these days when it comes to COVID protocol, she said.
“We’re in the swing of things, so nobody can really say anything,” Ms. Marsh said. “When we were dealing with it last year, it was different, but it’s a little late to throw a temper tantrum now.”
Giselle Cantua manages Great Pacific Ice Cream Company on the wharf, which had some sort of a line all afternoon.
“It’s been slow compared to past years,” she told the News-Press. “But, it’s picking up.”
The ice cream shop didn’t have to adjust much for the shutdown — the only difference is they can now serve cones, many of which were being ordered Thursday afternoon. Ms. Cantua added that it’s mostly families that swing by for a cool treat, and the weekends are the busiest.
Matt Malinsky, one of the managers at the Harbor Restaurant, also said the weekends have been packed on Stearns Wharf.
“You can even tell walking up to work how busy the whole town is,” he told the News-Press. “Weekdays have been pretty slow … This morning when we opened up, we had a nice rush, but it has died down now. It’s really the weekends that have been by far the busiest.”
Longboard’s Grill has been open daily, but the Harbor Restaurant is only open on the weekends. The two restaurants are adjacent, but Mr. Malinsky said the Harbor Restaurant’s high-end steak and seafood menu isn’t as good as Longboard’s Grill’s burger, sandwich and tropical cocktail menu for outdoor dining.
“The Harbor Restaurant does a lot better when we can seat inside,” he said. “But we’ve put something up outside so our servers can get back to work … Being outside, you can have a bunch of heaters, but when that wind hits, it’s hard to stay warm.”
Mr. Molinsky said COVID protocol compliance has been much better this time around reopening as opposed to the last time.
“That first time we reopened was a nuthouse and I feel like nobody paid attention to any rules, and then obviously no matter how much we tried to enforce it, people just really wouldn’t listen,” he said. “But after this second shutdown and coming back this time, everybody’s much more willing to follow all the procedures we have to now.”
All in all, the manager said he’s grateful to “get back to it.”
“Everybody’s happy to be making money again and all that,” Mr. Molinsky said. “It’s definitely nice to have more human interaction. Some form of normalcy is nice to have back, but we are all looking forward to being able to serve inside again.”