Business Beat: Craig Allen

About three years ago, when Diego Barbieri first approached me about writing a business plan for a new restaurant concept he and business partner Ron True were contemplating, I was not sure what to expect. The restaurant business in Santa Barbara is highly competitive, and requires a significant up-front investment to have any chance of success.

But the more I spoke with the Arlington Tavern team the more impressed I became with the project, and with their enthusiasm and professionalism. Now, more than two years into the project, and with a proven track-record of success, Arlington Tavern has become a true culinary destination for those in the know.

To be successful in the restaurant business, you need a combination of key factors. The location is, by far, the most important. A restaurant with the best food in the world will struggle if it’s in a bad location. Nowhere is location more critical than in Santa Barbara, where locals think anything farther than a five-minute drive just isn’t worth the hassle.

Arlington Tavern, located at 21 W. Victoria St., is in an ideal location, next door to the “New Vic” Theater and immediately across the street from Alma del Pueblo and the Santa Barbara Public Market, at West Victoria and Chapala streets. This location didn’t seem quite so ideal, however, when construction was under way at both nearby projects, but now that they’re complete, foot traffic is significant, steady and impactful for Arlington Tavern’s sales.

The menu is also critical to success for any restaurant, and again, when it comes to Santa Barbara, the menu is a make or break factor. Arlington Tavern created the perfect menu for success, targeting only a few outstanding items for each section of the menu, and fitting everything onto a single page. Although highly focused, patrons will not be disappointed either with the selection or the culinary impact of the items offered.

One entree that really stands out (everything is fantastic) is the fried chicken. I have eaten at Arlington Tavern many times, but only recently ordered the fried chicken. While, at least for me, fried chicken isn’t something I would normally think to order at a restaurant, I heard so many positive comments about it that I had to finally try it. I was not disappointed. I have heard many say the fried chicken is the best they have ever had, and I concur. Cooked to perfection, with just the right thickness of the crispy crust, and presented on a bed of mashed potatoes, this dish will impress even the most discerning palate.

Specials are offered, based on locally available produce. One recent addition that is amazing is the melon salad, which offers watermelon cubes with balsamic vinegar, feta cheese, fresh greens and some interesting spices; a perfectly refreshing appetizer for a hot summer day.

There are some exceptional desserts as well, and the beer and wine list is chock full of local favorites. Although the number of items is relatively small, there is plenty of variety available to please a broad range of tastes.

Another key factor necessary for success in the competitive restaurant space is customer service. Many restaurants, even those with good locations and menus, will fail if their service is subpar. This is certainly true in Santa Barbara, where there are so many dining options available.

Arlington Tavern certainly has this box checked, with a casual but highly effective approach to serving its patrons. This was clearly evident on Thursday night, just before the play Looped began next door at the New Vic, with an 8 p.m. start. Arlington Tavern was at capacity, with virtually everyone scrambling to finish dinner before attending the play, my group of six included. With every table full, and the kitchen and wait staff buzzing, every table was served effectively and promptly, so that all patrons were able to enjoy their dinner and make it to the play on time.

Finally, every truly successful restaurant must have a pleasing ambiance — the inviting feeling the patron experiences when entering the establishment. Arlington Tavern receives a perfect score on this as well. The atmosphere is casual, comfortable, inviting and fun, from the moment one enters. The selection of Arlington Tavern for the name was certainly apropos, because the overall feel of the space gives the patron an authentic tavern experience.

Although the factors described above are important, there is a magic that occurs when these characteristics are combined that elevates the experience to a new level. Arlington Tavern certainly has that “X Factor” that only the most successful restaurants can develop.

If you haven’t had a chance to try Arlington Tavern, place it on your list of restaurants to visit. It is open from 4 p.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, and 4 to 10 p.m. Sundays.

Click here for more information about Arlington Tavern, or call 805.770.2626.

Craig Allen, CFA, CFP, CIMA, is president of Allen Wealth Management and founder of Dump That Debt. He has been managing assets for foundations, corporations and high-net worth individuals for more than 20 years and is a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA charter holder), a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and holds the Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) certification. He blogs at Finance With Craig Allen and can be contacted at or 805.898.1400. Click here to read previous columns or follow him on Twitter: @MPAMCraig. The opinions expressed are his own.