I am a local wine broker representative and have had my profile pictured in these pages. I have seen way too many restaurants fold over my 30 years in the business, and three years running a wine bar. My take on the restaurant scene is this: “Santa Cruz is the land of the bottom feeders.” People here do not spend, either because they cannot or will not. It is a way of life here.
Bottom Line on Local Restaurants
Re: “The Crash of the Flying Cigar” (Cover, Jan. 16): I am a local wine broker representative and have had my profile pictured in these pages. I have seen way too many restaurants fold over my 30 years in the business, and three years running a wine bar. My take on the restaurant scene is this: “Santa Cruz is the land of the bottom feeders.” People here do not spend, either because they cannot or will not. It is a way of life here.
When I visit a new restaurant that is about to open, and is willing to listen about the area's diners, I state this line. Initially, there is resistance, but after a year or so the owner almost always states that I was right. There have been many times I have counseled a new restaurant owner, whose menu would be reasonable in most markets, to cut their prices before it opens by as much as 50%. Some listen, but most are often taken aback, with “how are we going to make money”? I reply that he/she needs to “eat it for awhile, at least for a year,” and seek to build up a local dining base.
Forget the tourists, I would say to the new restaurant, unless of course, the place is on the Santa Cruz Wharf. Gaining the confidence and support of locals is key to making it here. Tourists, I would counsel, will find the “locals” spot; where the locals eat is usually the first thing a consigner at a hotel is asked by tourists when seeking a dining spot. To me, Cigare Volant was focused on out-of-town diners; it was not local friendly. Ristorante Avanti, Cafe Cruz, Omei, Hindquarter Bar and Grill, Tortilla Flats, Michael's on Main, Manual's Mexican Restaurant, Aldo's Harbor Cafe, La Posta, and Gabriella Cafe are still here after many years of operation because they focused first on localsówith good quality food, and a lot of it at Santa Cruz prices. These restaurants basically “bit the bullet” for many years and accepted the Santa Cruz demand for prices below the restaurant norm. The new restaurant kids, Bantam on the Westside, Suda on the Eastside, and La Casa Nostra up in Ben Lomond seem to also get it in my opinion, and they too will succeed.
I do not accept the premise that failure to work hard is the reason for the failure of a restaurant. I know some will say hard work and being attentive and being present at your restaurant are necessary for success, and most definitely they are. But almost every restaurateur I deal with works very hard, often 10-plus hours, 6 or 7 days a week, with the day off spent doing restaurant related work: books, shopping for the restaurant, or just cleaning it or fixing things. To be sure, the failure of restaurants here boils down to the willingness of Santa Cruz diners to step up and pay the prices needed by restaurants to survive. Just because one lives here in Santa Cruz County does not convey an entitlement to cheap prices and I feel there is a large body of people here who really believe they are entitled to lower prices in restaurants here rather than in Monterey, San Jose or San Francisco. There is a saying, “you get what you pay for,” and here in Santa Cruz we will get what we pay for: low-level restaurant food.