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Business

Advice

Santa Barbara Eateries Get Cookin’ in Nontraditional Kitchen Space at Showgrounds

Freeman’s Flying Chicken, Nite Bite and others feel right at home in leased commercial space at the Earl Warren Showgrounds

Freeman’s Flying Chicken is one of several local eateries that rent space from the Earl Warren Showgrounds. The new restaurant was contracted to serve as a vendor for the fairgrounds’ horse shows this summer.
Freeman’s Flying Chicken is one of several local eateries that rent space from the Earl Warren Showgrounds. The new restaurant was contracted to serve as a vendor for the fairgrounds’ horse shows this summer. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

There was a day last month when Freeman’s Flying Chicken actually ran out of chicken.

The relatively new Santa Barbara eatery is tucked away down Gate C of the Earl Warren Showgrounds and not used to being bombarded with customers, but owner Paul Freeman recalled the story recently with a laugh.

Hundreds of horse show attendees took advantage of Freeman’s special breakfast and lunch menu — the one cooked up when the showgrounds awarded the standalone eatery an exclusive catering contract to this summer’s equestrian events.

Hungry patrons also embraced the regular menu, which offers takeout or delivery rotisserie chicken dinners for busy families looking for an alternative to pizza. 

Growing a business can be tough, but leasing space at the Earl Warren Showgrounds helps take the pressure off Freeman’s seven-month-old business.

“It’s a slow process to build regular, repeat clientele,” he told Noozhawk. “We’re relying on people to know about us. It’s growing”

He’s renting commercial space from the state-owned arena at 3400 Calle Real — just off Las Positas Road — along with four other less traditional local food purveyors.

On the north side of the showgrounds from Freeman’s, Nite Bite and Nimita’s Cuisine share a commercial kitchen.

They rarely see each other, however, since Nite Bite delivers comfort food from 8 p.m. till late and Nimita’s caters or operates its food truck during the day.

Nearby, Georgia’s Smokehouse stores its two food trucks near a separate kitchen.

“It’s a good arrangement,” said showgrounds deputy manager Pat Cary, noting the property has four commercial kitchens and also leases space to a caterer called Locally Grown Kids. “It works out good for us. They do have to share (kitchens) when events come in.”

Sharing isn’t ideal but the low rent is well worth adapting, said Carlos Lomeli, a Santa Barbara native who founded Nite Bite two years ago.

He scoured local commercial kitchens after graduating from Santa Barbara City College’s culinary program to find the perfect place to craft late-night food, including burritos, macaroni and cheese and burgers — even selling Rori’s Creamery ice cream by the pint.

The showgrounds is a funky spot, but the location is centralized, near Highway 101 ramps.

Besides, renting is cheaper than buying and involves less commitment, Lomeli said.

“It’s not your standard location for food establishments, but all the businesses … are a little bit different,” he said. “Nite Bite is unique because we deliver until 3 a.m. We manage. It’s not your standard concept.”

Nimita’s Cuisine has also had to bunk up with visiting vendors, but owner Nimita Dhirajlal said the space is large enough for four caterers to share.

Dhirajlal, who’s also a local therapist, started her catering business in 2010, first renting kitchen space in Goleta before moving to the showgrounds more than a year ago.

“We specialize in local organic foods with an Indian twist,” she said. “The whole purpose of cooking has come from supporting the local farmers. I decided I wanted to support our community. I live on Las Positas, so it’s very easy for me to get to the kitchen.”

Nimita’s Cuisine also has a food truck with a soon-to-be set traveling schedule, said Dhirajlal, who would be open to catering showgrounds events in the future.

Brian Parks wanted to open a restaurant, but his wife wasn’t on board, so he launched Georgia’s Smokehouse food truck instead.

The compromise let Parks, former executive chef at Canary Hotel, move into a fully-equipped kitchen to save on upfront costs for a business catering to Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

The showgrounds is also a health department-approved storage location for food trucks, providing an area to dump waste and a place to plug in and recharge batteries powering lights, exhaust fans and a refrigerator.

“When we first started, we did share a kitchen with two other companies,” Parks said. “For startup companies, it’s a great first rental kitchen.”

Unlike his counterparts, Freeman must balance out the fact that his business has no street traffic — something the horse shows seems to help with.

In addition to catering, he’s brainstorming ways to expand the business this winter after the final show in October.

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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