MAIN STREET — Sometimes you just want to write a nostalgic story about the closing of a classic restaurant: the memories, the old cook’s tales, and the regular who reads her newspaper with her coffee.
But this is Santa Monica so invariably, even on the last day of the Omelette Parlor’s 37 year run, conversation turns to politics and development.
Owner Bob Hausenbauer, who’s owned the restaurant since 1994, says that the landlords, American Commercial Equities (ACE), offered inequitable terms and that he’s been priced out of the city by the sea.
Marvin Lotz, an executive with ACE, would not comment on plans for the space.
“There are always two sides to a story,” he said in an e-mail. “Please understand I cannot discuss the specifics of a tenant’s lease. We are sorry to see the Omelette Parlor leave and wish him the best.”
With just hours to go before closing, fans of the establishment squeezed in a last meal. Everyone complimented the food, but they had more to say about the neighborhood.
Tom Dunn lives around the corner and he’s been coming to the Omelette Parlor for more than 20 years.
What’s his favorite item on the menu?
“Umm, take your pick. Everything’s good.”
What’s he think about the restaurant closing?
“Tragic. Everything else has been changed, built up,” he said. “I mean how many more shoe stores do we need that don’t sell anything? How many more corporate things do we need? You walk down the street and it’s a ghost town now. It used to be this friendly place. This place was like a landmark. The same thing happened on the [Third Street] Promenade. They drove everyone out, all the little people. For 10 years that was the greatest place on earth and then they just ruined it.”
Pat Forkin, of New York City, recalled protesting incoming chain restaurants in Manhattan in the ‘80s. The same thing is happening to Santa Monica, he said. He visits family in Santa Monica regularly and he always eats at the Omelette Parlor. The corporate chains are pushing out the local flavor, he said over triangles of French toast.
“They’re the only ones that can pay,” he said. “Because they have investors and food that is unbelievably bad, and it’s cheap. They all look alike. A place like this, they all have their own personalities. Now it’s all homogenized.”
Hausenbauer sat at a booth surrounded by fan’s of the restaurant preaching to the choir.
“Santa Monica is addicted to the dollar,” one of them said on the way out.
“I hope this place stays empty for the next two years,” said another.
Hausenbauer sat silently, looking grim.
Patrons have literally been crying all week, he said.
Most rewarding over the past two decades have been the relationships with long-term customers, he said. He’s watched toddlers turn into professionals in the time that he’s own the restaurant. That is the value of independently-owned places, he said.
“I don’t know what’ll happen to Main Street moving forward,” he said. “I think it’ll become much more like the promenade in the next 10 or 15 years. That’s just national chains and no local identity. The local identity in Santa Monica is about to permanently disappear and I’m pretty sure it already has.”
Malibu is currently considering an ordinance that would limit “formula retail” in the city. Formula retail is defined by Malibu as companies with more than 10 businesses worldwide. The issue is expected to go before Malibu City Council next year.
Hausenbauer hopes to open again within six months, somewhere outside of the Santa Monica border.
“A lot of people … look forward to going there for breakfast and for lunch, so it’s disappointing, it’s discouraging,” Gary Gordon, executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association, told the Daily Press last month. “This is a pretty big loss.”
Sunlight from the big windows covered Rita Perrella, who sat at the breakfast bar reading a book.
She’s eaten at the restaurant nearly every day for the past eight months, she said. She recently moved to the area. But they know her name, she said. They don’t bother her for sitting and reading.
Perrella doesn’t know where she’ll go next. She lives on the beach and she likes to walk to breakfast, but there aren’t too many options.
She doesn’t care to get into the politics of a changing neighborhood but she’s careful to mention something that happened in September, just before they announced their closure.
“They remembered my birthday,” she said, smiling in awe. “They got me cards and they sang me ‘Happy Birthday.’ I was totally shocked.”