July 17, 2024
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30 years of South Coast Deli: Santa Barbara tech scene boosts local sandwich shop


With four locations in Santa Barbara County, South Coast Deli caters to the lunchtime business crowd from Goleta to Carpinteria. (courtesy photo)

When Jim St. John launched South Coast Deli in Carpinteria 30 years ago, his goal was to bring an edgier menu to the region and as a result, he added a scoop of culinary innovation to an emerging technology hub.

Basil mayo, cranberry-thyme cream cheese and a killer garlic dressing for Caesar sandwiches struck a chord with an emerging tech culture, and over the years the deli and the corporate culture have grown together.

In the early days, Carpinteria was the major focal point for tech and workers at BEGA lighting, Dako, Nusil and QAD flocked to the original location, giving it a base of business in the corporate world that’s endured through three decades.

“We would be nowhere without the tech and business community,” St. John, who grew up in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, wrote in an email. The original location was close to the headquarters of enterprise software firm QAD and it was an early adopter of South Coast Deli’s take out sandwiches and catering fare. “We owe our early survival to QAD,” St. John said.

Later St. John acquired a second location near the Goleta Valley Hospital and renovated Hansen’s deli and liquor store into a single operation. At that time UC Santa Barbara spinouts and firms like Raytheon were beginning to spread out along the Hollister Avenue corridor parallel to Highway 101.

With perfect timing, South Coast Deli caught a rising tide of tech. “We had a lot of the same people coming in,” said St. John. “Many had switched jobs and were now working at the business parks” that were popping up along Hollister and Ward Road.

Years later, Deckers Brands built its global headquarters at the Cabrillo Business Park near Patterson and Hollister and that brought in workers familiar with the South Coast concept, plus new employees, visitors to the headquarters and shoppers checking out the Deckers Brand stores.

Today, South Coast Deli has four locations, including two in downtown Santa Barbara, and its influence on the business culture is profound. “In our 30 years we’ve seen a lot of small startups become huge corporations, large corporations fade away, and others maintain just as we have,” St John said.

One of those startups that grew up was Sonos, the audio products company, where founder John D. MacFarlane was a regular lunchtime customer in the company’s early days. Now it’s a public company competing against Amazon, Google and Apple with cutting edge speakers. South Coast Deli’s Chapala Street location benefited from digital advertising pioneers and software firms that sprouted up in downtown Santa Barbara after the dot.com bust.

At its Carrillo Street location, just a half a block off State Street, South Coast Deli has also tapped into the bankers and lawyers who populate the area, and many deals have been struck over sandwiches eaten at one of the outdoor tables or brought into the office for lunch.

“It’s my go to place; I just ate there on Friday,” said Sabrina Tinajero, a business banker with Wells Fargo. “It’s always the place when we are having a meeting we order from there.”

Attorney Mike Schley said he discovered South Coast Deli after it opened in Goleta “because there were not many other good lunch options in that neighborhood.” Now he is a devotee of the Carrillo Street location and its “high-quality, reasonably priced breakfast and lunch experience.”

Recently, the two downtown locations have benefited from the rise of co-working locations like Kiva, formerly Impact Hub. And while many hotels and private clubs cut back on breakfasts during the pandemic, on a recent weekday morning it was one of few places available with a breakfast menu.

Longtime banker Frank Tabar runs the Farmers & Merchants Trust operation in Santa Barbara where his clients include some top investment firms in the region. “It is a great place to have lunch with friends,” he said via email.