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Restaurateurs Join Forces to Bring Back Wine Cask

Former owner Doug Margerum and Mitchell Sjerven of bouchon fame plan to reopen the popular eatery in November

Former Wine Cask restaurant owner Doug Margerum and Santa Barbara restaurateur Mitchell Sjerven have teamed up to bring back the venerable restaurant, which closed in February after a dispute over unpaid rent.

Margerum owned and operated the award-winning institution from 1981 until 2007, and Sjerven, who owns Santa Barbara restaurants bouchon and Seagrass, said in a news release that both took the restaurant’s closure personally.

Rather than sit back and let the Wine Cask remain just a memory, the duo decided to combine their passion and talents and will reopen the restaurant in November.

“It wasn’t so much the business side of the equation — things happen, restaurants are tough even in good times — but the personal aspect of seeing what had been the formative decades of my professional career just evaporate,” Margerum said in the news release.

The Wine Cask closed Feb. 17, less than two years after Margerum sold it to Los Angeles-area restaurateur and senior care specialist Bernard Rosenson. According to published reports, the property’s landlord, SIMA property management, said the closure stemmed from an eviction caused by months of unpaid rent.

When he owned the Santa Barbara Wine Cask restaurant, wine retail shop and Intermezzo, Rosenson also operated a Wine Cask retail shop in old town Calabasas. That site remains open and offers wine tastings several days a week, according to its Web site. The Web site is similar to that utilized by the original Santa Barbara Wine Cask’s retail store.

Bernard’s Wine Gallery offers wine club memberships, and information on buying and serving wine, and purchasing and selling private collections, according to the Web site.

Sjerven said he believes that he and Margerum can re-create the Wine Cask’s long-standing reputation among Central Coast winemakers as the go-to place. Many longtime Santa Barbara County winemakers cut their teeth on the restaurant and adjacent wine store, and when the businesses closed, the void was palpable.

It was not clear this week whether the duo plan to reopen the retail wine shop, or whether Margerum plans to resurrect the Santa Barbara County Futures events.

In planning for the return of the Wine Cask restaurant, the two said they understand that dining trends have changed, especially in the current economy.

“The modern diner yearns for a greater connectivity to the food and wine they savor while simultaneously avoiding the pomp and circumstance of what fine dining has come to mean,” Sjerven said. “They want comfort, value and familiarity, and we aim to provide it.”

Margerum makes Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and other small-production lots at his winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. He said he will develop the new Wine Cask wine program with an “eye on the past history and another to the future.”

“So much has changed in the wine business just in the last 20 years, it defies belief,” Margerum said. “If you had told the handful of local wineries in Santa Barbara in the early ‘80s that in less than 20 years there would be nearly 200 wineries in the county, pinot noir would be the top grape in the area and Costco would be the leading retailer, no one would have believed you. Add to that the proliferation of tasting clubs and online purchasing, and it’s easy to see the retail landscape has — and continues to — rapidly evolve.”

Sjerven said he looks forward to returning Intermezzo, Wine Cask’s café sibling, to its former glory. The site was revered by locals hunting for a quick bite to eat after or before the theater or a movie.

Noozhawk staff writer Laurie Jervis can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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