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Tenant Chosen for Elephant Bar Restaurant Space at Santa Barbara Airport

The Airport Commission approves a deal with High Sierra Grill House; the City Council will have the final say Feb. 10

A new restaurant — with a new vibe and owners familiar with its predecessor — is set to open in the old Elephant Bar Restaurant at the Santa Barbara Airport.

Three longtime restaurateurs and friends with Santa Barbara ties want to lease the large restaurant location at 521 Firestone Road from the Santa Barbara Airport, which owns the property that has been vacant since August 2013 when the Elephant Bar closed its flagship after 30 years.

After the Airport Commission approved the deal this month with High Sierra Grill House, all that stands in the way is final OK from the Santa Barbara City Council, which is scheduled to consider the contract Feb. 10.

The restaurant could open as soon as this summer, according to co-owner Manuel Perales, or nine months to a year depending on renovations, Airport Director Hazel Johns said.

Revitalizing the location would be an honor for the hopeful owners, who have been business partners for 10 years after meeting 20 years earlier while working in Santa Barbara Carrows Restaurants ­— a chain also founded by Elephant Bar creator David Nancarrow that has since closed up shop locally.

Together, the trio have opened six restaurants, including three Yosemite Falls Cafés and the first High Sierra Grill, all in Fresno.

Local co-owner Mario Medina has owned and operated Mulligans Cafe & Bar at the Santa Barbara Municipal Golf Course since December 1993.

Paul Ybarra, who grew up in Santa Barbara, opened Paul’s Place in Merced, where he now lives. Perales resides in Fresno.

“We’re all familiar with Santa Barbara,” Perales told Noozhawk on Thursday. “We’re going to take advantage of the banquet rooms. The menu is going to be different in Santa Barbara (than in Fresno).

If the City Council approves, the High Sierra Grill House will open in the former Elephant Bar Restaurant space at the Santa Barbara Airport, possibly as early as this summer. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

“It’ll probably be a little bit closer to the Elephant Bar’s menu when they first opened up. When they closed, they were more stir-fry. Whatever you’re craving, we’re going to have something for everybody.”

As a popular venue situated between the airport, Goleta’s business parks and UC Santa Barbara, Perales said, High Sierra Grill would serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring a full bar, live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and a Sunday buffet.

California coastal cuisine will influence comfort foods such as smoked pulled-pork sandwiches, tri-tip, burgers, pizza, salads, fresh mango fish tacos and even some “Gaucho”-themed dishes.

Owners also want to pursue catering and continue a tradition of opening large banquet rooms up to local organizations as luncheon spaces.

“We’re all really excited about this,” Perales said.

The size of the restaurant — 8,700 square feet, believed a deterrent to the average-sized eatery — fits in nicely with the group’s other restaurants, Perales said.

He said they’re eager to clean up the outdoor patio to add a gas fire pit, along with plans to reupholster booths, remove existing carpet, paint, and replace existing non-native plants with drought-tolerant varieties.

High Sierra Grill's owners are targeting an opening in August, which would be about a year after they began negotiating for the Santa Barbara property with Radius Commercial Real Estate & Investments.

Johns guessed the city would need more time to replace the restaurant roof, among other facility upgrades.

She’s hoping to sign High Sierra Grill to a 10-year lease, with three five-year options, effective upon completion of city improvements, for a monthly rent of $12,694.

“The owners have extensive experience in restaurant management,” Johns said. “I think having breakfast, lunch and dinner is very important for this part of Goleta. I think (they’ve) got a real, solid feel for Santa Barbara.”

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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