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After 37 Years, Change in Ownership on Menu at Santa Barbara’s Paradise Café

Release Date: November 17,2019

Paradise Café
The Paradise Café, at the corner of Anacapa and East Ortega streets, has been acquired by Acme Hospitality, which owns a half-dozen popular Funk Zone restaurants. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

By Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @JECMolina | November 17, 2019 | 10:00 p.m.

The Paradise Café is getting a new majority owner, but all will not be lost at the popular restaurant and bar in downtown Santa Barbara.

Randy Rowse, who is selling the restaurant after 37 years as its owner, says the Paradise Burger and shoestring fries will remain on the menu.

“This represents a tremendous opportunity to breathe new life into the local icon that Paradise has become over the years,” he told Noozhawk.

Rowse has cut a deal with Acme Hospitality, the group that owns more than a half-dozen energetic Funk Zone destinations, including The LarkLucky PennyLoquitaHelena Avenue BakeryMonkeyshineTyger Tyger and Santa Barbara Wine Collective.

“The basic roots of the concept will remain, but with the added excitement and expertise that Acme has demonstrated in our community,” he explained.

“High-quality, scratch-made menus, customer-friendly service and beautiful spaces are part of Acme’s trademark, and integrating these elements into an old local favorite will be a fabulous spark for downtown.”

The public shouldn’t notice much of a change, Rowse added.

“No closure is planned, but small, slow upgrades will happen along with a continuing operation and local community service,” he said.

Sherry Villanueva, owner of Acme Hospitality, told Noozhawk she is “honored to take the reins at Santa Barbara’s beloved downtown dining destination.”

She said she anticipates a brief closure from Jan. 1-5.

Chef Weston Richards, previously with the now-closed Les Marchands Restaurant & Wine Shop, will be leading the kitchen to create a locally sourced, seasonal, scratch-made menu. Villanueva said the wine program will feature small production Santa Barbara County favorites, with a few selections from abroad thrown in.

Small changes will be rolled out slowly over time with feedback from regular guests and staff as a guide, she added.

“As a long-time Santa Barbara resident and a frequent guest of the Paradise over the last 20 years, I am thrilled at the opportunity to steward this iconic restaurant into the future,” Villanueva said. “Having the business pass on to a local was important to all of us. Our plan is to keep as many of the popular elements as we can while breathing new life in to the café.

“This is an exciting moment for the restaurant community of Santa Barbara, bringing together two trusted restaurateurs in a historic, beautiful space to continue the legacy of the Paradise Café for many years to come.”

The Paradise Café, with its distinctive neon sign at the corner of Anacapa and East Ortega streets, has long been a destination for journalists who work in the vicinity, as well as employees of City Hall just up the street.

It’s also hosted more than a few election night parties over the decades, including one or two for Rowse, a 2½-term Santa Barbara city councilman who is leaving the council at the end of the year.

Rowse swooped onto the City Council somewhat unexpectedly nearly 10 years ago. He won the political lottery of sorts when the council appointed him — from among 46 applicants — to fill the remaining two years of Councilman Das Williams’ term after Williams was elected to the Assembly.

After his appointment, Rowse won election to two full terms on his own. After nine years on the job, he is the council’s longest-serving member.

— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.