Larry Stone worked for Charles “Chuck” Rolles in Waikiki, and although Rolles founded Chuck’s Steakhouse of Hawaii, Stone ran it as if it was his own.
“I guess he was willing to take a chance on people,” Stone said. “I worked hard and ran the business like it was my own.”
Stone graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in public administration. After deciding to take another route, he used his background in food service and surfing and flew to the islands.
“Some suggestions were to get into the management more, but when I saw what that entailed, I didn’t want to do it,” Stone said. “So I moved to Hawaii to work, to get a job and have the lifestyle living in Hawaii.”
After three years as a manager, Rolles gave Stone the opportunity to start a new location for Chuck’s. Stone researched areas throughout the West Coast and settled on Santa Barbara.
But the property at 3888 State St. didn’t look like it does today. Lemon groves surrounded the building that once housed La Sumida Nursery and a law office upstairs. A market called Kelly’s Corner occupied what is now La Cumbre Plaza, but Stone said it wasn’t exactly an area of booming businesses.
“Back then it was considered a risky business climate because it wasn’t dynamic and UCSB wasn’t very established,” he said.
When Chuck’s opened on Jan. 6, 1967, the menu featured five items — sirloin steak, filet mignon, New York steak, beef kabob and lobster — and each entrée included a trip to the salad bar.
“We could tell people liked what we were doing because they didn’t have that kind of food and service in Santa Barbara,” Stone said. “We always used the best quality meat, sold our food and wine at a more reasonable price, and did a lot of volume without a lot of frills.”
Back then, many restaurants required a formal dress code. But Chuck’s offered family style food, a unique salad bar, live music and a late-night dining experience.
“We changed the whole dynamic of dining,” Stone said. “It was kind of like going to a picnic with family and friends.”
Stone would cook every night, tend bar some nights, wait tables and manage the books. He said he had to prep late every night because the restaurant was serving so much meat.
Chuck’s manager Brad Scheutet first worked at the restaurant when he was a teenager. He said Stone’s attention to detail and push for improvement was something he has emulated throughout his life.
“When I came to work I felt like it was my own business,” Scheutte said. “That’s the common thread he passed on to all of us.”
The steakhouse celebrated its 45th anniversary in January. Former Chuck’s employees such as Paradise Café owner and Santa Barbara Councilman Randy Rowse, Beachside’s Dave Hardy and Chuck’s Waterfront Grill Chief Financial Officer Steve Hyslop reunited. Some of the former employees hadn’t seen each other for 30 years, Hyslop said.
“(Stone) instilled a concept of great customer service and treating people like they like to be treated,” he said. “We could take the same philosophies and apply them to any business.”
In 1967, a 12-ounce New York steak was $4.50 and a bottle of Beringer zinfandel was $4. Forty-five years later, the prices may have changed but the philosophy hasn’t, Stone said.
“It was a pleasant experience to see everyone and catch up,” he said. “I thanked people for coming here all these years. We want to let them know we care.”