Jill Shalhoob, the namesake behind Jill’s Place/Shalhoob’s Restaurant, 632 Santa Barbara St., can be seen walking the restaurant floor most nights. “It’s the kind of place where people expect to see me and want to chat,” she says.  (Jenn Kennedy photo / www.kennedypix.com)

Owning a restaurant is harder than it looks. The menu, staffing, location, entertainment and atmosphere are just a few of the factors that can make or break the numerous eateries competing in Santa Barbara. After years in business, Jill Shalhoob of Jill’s Place/Shalhoob’s Restaurant, 632 Santa Barbara St., has managed to find the sweet spot that keeps locals coming back.

If you’re a meat eater, it’s more than likely that you’ve enjoyed a Shalhoob burger at some point. They are known as the best in town.

The Shalhoob family has been in Santa Barbara since the early 1900s. Jill Shalhoob, a fourth-generation Santa Barbaran, is the daughter of Jerry Shalhoob, who started Shalhoob Meat Co. in the same building where Jill’s Place is today. He opened a small retail butcher shop in 1973, which became a wholesale meat company selling to businesses throughout Santa Barbara County.

Shalhoob worked for her father in the trenches: the cutting room. She credits her sense of business to her father, who taught her how to treat customers and employees.

After remodeling the original butcher shop cutting room, Jill Shalhoob started Shalhoob Deli & Catering in 1987 by serving deli style lunches and off-site catering. Specializing in grilled meats, the business quickly grew into a local favorite.

In addition to her father’s success in the meat industry, Shalhoob watched her grandmother run a successful restaurant, Arnoldi’s. In 2002, when she decided to expand her business into a full bar and restaurant called Jill’s Place, Shalhoob modeled her offerings after Arnoldi’s traditional menu. Shalhoob also adopted several favorite comfort food dishes, including pork chops, rib-eye steak and buttermilk-fried chicken, which are served with a soup and salad starter.

“Our Cobb salad is arguably the best in town,” Shalhoob said.

During the eight years the restaurant has been open, Shalhoob said she has learned some business lessons.

“I’ve seen that consistency on my part makes the business run better,” she said. “Customers need to know what they can expect from us in their dining and service experience to keep them coming back.”

For that same reason, most nights you’ll find Shalhoob walking the restaurant floor.

“It’s the kind of place where people expect to see me and want to chat. It’s part of their decision to come here,” she said, adding that most of her customers are locals and that business comes from word of mouth.

Shalhoob acknowledges that business has been off during the economic slowdown, but her restaurant has weathered it better than many others both because she has a loyal customer base and a diversified business. In addition to the restaurant, she runs a catering business, which includes corporate events and office lunches. She recently won a contract with Crane Country Day School to provide hot lunches to its students and faculty three days a week at the school’s Montecito campus.

Shalhoob said December is an exceptionally busy month with corporate holiday parties and dinner bookings. She also hosts an annual Fiesta party with several local live bands. Shalhoob brings in Al Reece, who plays the piano and sings cover tunes for the dinner crowd from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. weekly.

Shalhoob sits on the board of the Pacific Pride Foundation and supports its annual golf tournament, the Pride Festival and the AIDS Walk through hosting various catering and fundraising dinners.

Jill’s Place is open Monday through Saturday and offers nightly food specials and a weekday happy hour from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at jennkennedy@noozhawk.com. Click here to see more of her work.