The recent closure of the popular Flower Child restaurant in the heart of downtown Santa Monica is just one of several closures and openings in the area, suggesting even eateries owned by large corporations aren’t immune to an uncertain economic future while some locals are hanging on.

From the moment it first opened in July of 2016, the Flower Child restaurant (at 1332 2nd St) proved popular with locals and tourists alike, with consistently high customer reviews on sites like Yelp. Then with little or no warning, it was closed in the first week of 2023.

The Daily Press reached out to the parent company, The Cheesecake Factory Inc, for an explanation, since the other two outlets in Southern California (Newport Beach, Orange County and Del Mar, San Diego County) remain open and unaffected.

“After seven unforgettable years in our Santa Monica location, we made the difficult decision to discontinue operations at this location only so we can focus on new growth. Our two other California locations, and 30 restaurants across the US, will be business as usual,” said Anita Walker, Vice President of Marketing, Fox Restaurant Concepts, a subsidiary of The Cheesecake Factory Inc.

Joining Flower Child in our fading memories were two more recent closures, the Santa Monica outlet of Heroic Italian (at 516 Santa Monica Blvd) and Pink Daisy Cafe (at 321 Santa Monica Blvd). While the former has other outlets in Beverly Hills, Berkeley and San Francisco, the latter was an independent eatery. Flower Child currently has 31 outlets in 11 states.

“Restaurants are an important component for tourism and also for locals and people in the region who love all of the dining options Santa Monica has to offer. I believe we would benefit from having more restaurants,” said Andrew Thomas, CEO, Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. “I do know that turnover is sometimes an unfortunate reality of business in any area, not just Santa Monica,” he added.

One independent local restaurant still surviving in Santa Monica is Rita’s Gate of India (at 1450 5th St) and its owner Rita Huda is no stranger to struggle. This is the third location on the Westside and Huda has survived two economic recessions, the Covid pandemic and even fire, which is why she had to relocate from her former site at Santa Monica Blvd and Ocean Ave to this one six years ago.

“When I found this location, it was not a restaurant, it was an empty space, so I had to put all my money in and take out a loan against my house. I built this place from scratch, kitchens and everything,” Huda said.

However, despite her persistence, Huda continues to fight an uphill battle for the restaurant’s continued existence.

“Whenever we cook, the aroma fills the street, everyone tells me that. And I do not compromise with any of my ingredients, not with my spices and not with the quality, but it gets harder to find the right ingredients and more expensive, always more expensive” said Huda. “It is absolutely getting harder every year,” she added.

However, there are five new restaurants arriving in the Downtown area. Tacos 1986 (at 135 Colorado Ave) and Bar Monette (at 109 Santa Monica Blvd) are already open, with Ugo (at 1237 3rd St), Kitchen United (at 1315 3rd St) and Impasta (at 413 Santa Monica Blvd) due to open soon.

“Of course every business has its own set of challenges to overcome to be successful,” said Thomas. “That said, increased foot traffic is something we need if we’re going to sustain our economy and help our local businesses survive a potential recession.

“This brings people to our Downtown area and, hopefully in addition to dining, they’re seeing a movie or theater, a magic show, buying clothing, jewelry and so on. Obviously traditional retail is also a destination, but we’ve seen the impacts to this sector as a result of online shopping.

“I believe we can overcome a downturn and be a great place for businesses to open and thrive for years to come,” Thomas said.

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Scott Snowden

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.