The vintage brick and stucco building housed an Italian bakery in 1915. It evolved into La Paloma Café, which offered Mexican food to servicemen who were based at what is now UCSB during World War II. Fast forward several decades and past an aesthetic face-lift, and the Paradise Café has thrived for nearly 30 years — partly because of owner Randy Rowse.
“My head is always on a swivel. It’s just one of those things I’m always conscious of,” said Rowse, who continually checked over his shoulder during an interview with Noozhawk. “Who needs help, how many times did the phone ring before someone picked it up? It’s usually what just broke; in that case, I know where the duct tape is.”
It’s that customer service mentality that newly appointed Rowse said he wants to bring to the Santa Barbara City Council.
“One of the city’s main industries is tourism,” he said. “When you are in that business, it’s almost like every day you’re inviting someone to your house for dinner. It comes down to how gracious of a host you are. Everybody has to be treated like a special guest.”
After graduating from UCSB with a degree in environmental studies and geography, and after several stints in the restaurant business, Rowse and partners Kevin Boss and Larry Stone transformed the Anacapa Street restaurant in 1983. Rowse served as a bartender at Chuck’s Steak House at night and built up the Paradise Café during the day.
Rowse helped pour slab to set stones, and he moved bricks and tore down walls. He and his partners constructed the outdoor patio and opened the area between the patio and the bar. It took them a year to open as a full restaurant, serving lunch and dinner.
“It helps knowing the day-to-day presence of being a small-business owner and going through the ups and downs,” Rowse said. “Being an employer in California may be the worst place to be in the states, but having a pulse on local business is important.”
Marshall Rose, former vice president of the Downtown Organization and owner of Hollister Brewing Co. in the Camino Real Marketplace, said Rowse understands how business works and has a well-rounded background that will suit the council well.
“He needs to meet payroll, hire people, understand the needs of a community and deal with a lot of issues that make his small business successful,” Rose said. “He’s not just a one-tune guy, not just a small-business owner. He has unspoken elements that make up a well-rounded individual.”
Pat McElroy, battalion chief for the Santa Barbara Fire Department, said he has known Rowse since high school and lived with him in college, and that he has always had an engaging and intelligent approach to city issues.
“He’s conversant with many issues that the council has to deal with and concerned about the budget because he’s business guy who’s moderate and centrally focused,” said Bill Duvall, an attorney who knows Rowse through the Downtown Organization.
Many people agreed that Rowse isn’t someone who will dance around questions. They expect him to freely speak his mind.
“He won’t take staff’s opinion as the last word,” Duvall said. “He doesn’t want to waste time posturing. He will cut to the chase. It’s healthy to know what the person next to you thinks rather than listening to a vote unexpectedly.”
Rose came to a similar conclusion.
“When his mind is made up about a subject, I think he gets pretty fired up and moves on it. He isn’t afraid of stepping on toes,” he said. “(Rowse is) probably less political, a moderate centrist, thoughtful person who’s fiscally conservative.”
The last time someone was appointed to the City Council was in 1993, when Mayor Hal Conklin resigned because of term limits. Harriet Miller replaced him as mayor, and Phil Bugay was appointed to fill the vacancy. Bugay first met Rowse when they played rugby during their UCSB days.
“He’s running for all the right reasons; he’s not identifying with an ideology or political party,” he said. “He’s an independent thinker.”
But, Bugay said, there are difficult issues to tackle that stem from Sacramento.
“The challenge for the city is the budget. We have problems rolling downhill from Sacramento. State issues are going to radiate outward from Sacramento and affect every county,” Bugay said. “The budget is much more thorny, and consequences will be felt in a trade off between services and revenue.”
Duvall said Rowse’s grasp on the city’s inner workings and the reactions of his customers will help Rowse tackle the tough budgetary issues.
“We don’t think about it as what revenues we can produce as we run the downtown parking system. Our focus is what’s the customer experience,” Rowse said. “We need to have a positive, clean, safe and reasonable experience, because when people have bad experiences, they trickle down to everything else.”
Rowse said he knows he won’t be able to please everyone while on the council, but the key is to stay focused and on topic.
“What I do for a living is trying to make everyone happy; it’s going to be an adjustment for me,” Rowse said. “The way to make everybody happy is to make it work for the city. Everything we do has to be done in scope of what benefits the city — safe, clean and fiscally solvent.”
He said more emphasis needs to be on the best interests of the city rather than political affiliations because people are fed up. And Rowse said he has no intention of running for re-election.
“The politicization of this office is wrong. City office shouldn’t be left or right; we should take every item on its face,” he said. “There’s so much dysfunction in Washington. Why should we emulate that?”