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Advice

Longtime Owners Pass the Spatula at Tom’s Take Out in Santa Maria

New owners are taking over from the Velasquez family, which has operated the West Main Street burger joint for nearly 40 years

After a 40-year- run, the Velasquez family, from left, Michael, Mark, Mimi and Mike, served up their last orders Wednesday at Tom’s Takeout in Santa Maria.
After a 40-year- run, the Velasquez family, from left, Michael, Mark, Mimi and Mike, served up their last orders Wednesday at Tom’s Takeout in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

After nearly four decades of serving up burgers, fries, milkshakes and more — with sides of insults and jokes — the Velasquez family marked its final day at Tom’s Take Out in Santa Maria on Wednesday.

The family-owned business — operated for the last 10 years by Michael Velasquez —sits next to a muffler shop in a non-descript building at 826 W. Main St., and soon will have new owners. 

“It’s just time, I guess,” Velasquez said, adding that he wants more time with his family, including his wife, Chellette, and their twin daughters and a son.

On Wednesday, Velasquez was joined by the restaurant’s previous owners, his parents Mike and Mimi Velasquez — plus his brother Mark, a photographer who appeared in the Bravo reality show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist — to commemorate the family’s final day of ownership.

“It wasn’t that hard, but of course it’s emotional because we owned it for so long, it’s part of the family,” Michael Velasquez said. “Most people think of their home as home, but this is our home. This is where we’ve always dealt with any family problems because we’re all here. 

“Some people gathered around the dining table, we gathered around the Take Out,” he added. “It’s the truth.”

A young couple he declined to identify has purchased the restaurant. They reportedly plan to keep the same menu.

After 20 years in the grocery industry, Mike Velasquez bought the restaurant in 1978 from the original owner — the Tom of Tom’s Take Out.

Mike Velasquez speaks with a customer Wednesday on his family’s last day of owning and operating Tom’s Takeout in Santa Maria. Click to view larger
Mike Velasquez speaks with a customer Wednesday on his family’s last day of owning and operating Tom’s Takeout in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Velasquez family kept the name through years with the theory of why change something that works, Michael Velasquez said.

For years, Mike and Mimi ran the restaurant with help from the boys. Mimi, now an instructional assistant at the Allan Hancock College Writing Center, spent the first 15 years behind grill, her sons noted.

Michael Velasquez and his younger brother grew up in the restaurant — he worked there at age 7 stocking supplies, later learning to cook, keep the books, and more. 

“This is really all I’ve known,” he said.

While the restaurant has a traditional menu, they were willing to make up just about anything anyone ordered, with no request too odd.

One customer used the menu like “a palette of paints” in crafting her orders, Velasquez said.

Mark started it, he said, by combining ingredients to make something to eat for himself and his brother, and offering the unique creations to customers.

“It just got to be a thing. People were like, 'Did you know they can make anything over there?'”

Want a Spam burger or Spam and eggs? They would serve it. 

A magazine article about a high-end restaurant’s $100 dessert of vanilla ice cream, maple syrup and bacon inspired something similar and much cheaper.

“So we made that here for like two bucks. People were tripping out, and people who had it, loved it,” he said.

During the late pop star Michael Jackson's Santa Maria criminal trial in 2005, a now defunct website listed local restaurants of note for the influx of media folks. 

"If you go, feel free to give the big guys behind the counter a hard time because they're going to give it to you," a local photographer wrote.

In the days since posting an announcement of the looming ownership change, past and current residents have flooded the family with appreciation and made plans for their final trips to the restaurant while its under the Velasquez ownership. 

“As long as I can remember, you ‘boys’ have always been there. Advice and honesty when no one else was brave enough to speak it. Thank you for just being yourselves,” one customer posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

One former resident called from Alaska to share what the restaurant meant. Others brought their kids for a Tom’s meal.

Customers wanted to take selfies in the restaurant and share about the role the restaurant played in their lives.

“It’s been surprising. It’s been very emotional,” Velasquez said.

Others want the Velasquez brothers, alumni of St. Joseph High School, to serve something not on the menu — their special brand of insults. 

“People want to to be made fun because that’s what they’re used to,” said Velasquez, who jokingly offered to call one customer to deliver the insult after the restaurant is sold.

The boys got their sense of humor from their dad, Velasquez said. 

The sale comes six months after the business fell victim to its first-ever burglary.

“That hurt,” he said. “I still don’t think it was a local because I think too many people respect us in the community. I really think it was someone from out of town.”

On Wednesday, a steady steam of customers visited the eatery, which remained open until the food ran out. By 1 p.m., many of the favorites, such as tater tots, were already gone. 

A longtime customer Wednesday brought a vintage Tom's Take Out T-shirt carefully preserved in a plastic bag to get the family members' signatures.

Through the years, Tom’s has attracted a wide cross section of customers — people fresh from prison craving a Tom’s burger along with law enforcement officers and judges.

“I get them all. I run the gamut of Santa Maria,” he said. “They all come here. They’ve come here for a long time. They know us, they know our family.

“Our customers are like family to us,” he added.

His father, Mike Velasquez, echoed the comments.

"One of the things we'll miss is our customers," Mike said, adding that without their customers — many of whom became friends — the business would not have survived. 

As people expressed sadness, the Velasquez family members repeatedly reminded they aren't leaving Santa Maria. 

"This isn’t a 'good-bye' as much as a 'see you soon.' Thanks, Santa Maria, so long and so much more," the family said in a final Facebook post.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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