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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 9:57 pm | Fog/Mist 56º


Santa Barbara Locals Show Sojourner Café Some Love After Owner’s Plea for Help

Restaurateur is grateful for customers and their suggestions, still working to make the business viable for the future

Sojourner Cafe owner Donna Mudge has been reaching out to the community to help save the East Canon Perdido restaurant, which has been bringing in more revenues since she announced it was having tough times financially.
Sojourner Cafe owner Donna Mudge has been reaching out to the community to help save the East Canon Perdido restaurant, which has been bringing in more revenues since she announced it was having tough times financially. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk file photo)

The Sojourner Café is valued, as evidenced by the “angels” who have stepped up to support the longtime Santa Barbara staple, according to owner Donna Mudge.

She’s been heartened by the community support since putting out a call in a Noozhawk story in February, letting locals know the eatery at 134 E. Canon Perdido was in trouble and in danger of closing if help didn’t come soon.

Since then, Mudge has seen people she hasn’t laid eyes on in years — and a noticeable rise in revenue.

“Immediately after — like the next day — we were just influxed with customers coming in with, ‘Oh my gosh, I saw the article. We had no idea. We’ll be coming back. We’re here to support you,’” she said. “A lot of people came in and asked, ‘What can I do?’ The community has been awesome.

“I even had one woman come in and say she had seen the article and had lived here all her life and never been in, and would now start coming in.”

Mudge bought the 37-year-old restaurant from the original owner in 1999, having worked there as a part owner, prep cook, line cook and server for 11 years.

Within the past couple years, however, fewer people were coming in and enjoying the restaurant’s famous array of freshly made desserts.

New and seasoned customers have resurfaced since the article, with more suggestions than Mudge can count.

One came from a local who offered to buy white tablecloths for the Sojourner’s outdoor tables — a much-needed pop that’s helped the tables look more attractive and inviting.

“It’s helped so much,” Mudge said. “Everyone has got an idea. There’s no such thing as negative feedback because it’s all useful in one form or another. If nothing else, it has helped re-energize me.”

Back in February, Mudge was seeking a business partner or investor, an idea she’s still interested in pursuing. She’s gotten some bites, but nothing official yet.

A crowdfunding campaign or fundraiser could also work, since some folks have asked to donate money.

“People offered to help even in the smallest form — $50 here, $80 there,” she said. “One of the things I’ve learned is how much the community loves this restaurant. I need to keep the conversation going, and I need to keep the people coming in.”

Mudge, who’s been getting out on the floor more to talk to customers, took some advice from a friend and restaurant manager and kept the restaurant’s regular menu while switching up the specials list.

Customers are digging the new grass-fed beef burgers and alternating weekly Paleo Diet dish — the Sojourner’s way of keeping up with trends.

She’s also excited that El Presidio district is getting better marketing from the neighborhood’s new wineries.

More revenue is coming in, but Mudge said it’s about on par with last year when the restaurant wasn’t closed every Monday (like it is now).

“I’m moving forward one step at a time,” she said. “I still have catching up to do.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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