The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved SeaLegs Santa Barbara, a new seafood restaurant, to assume the new lease of the former Beachside Bar-Café on Oct. 19, 2021. SeaLegs Santa Barbara is slated to open before the end of Spring Quarter 2022. 

Beachside Bar-Café, a waterfront seafood restaurant known for serving the UC Santa Barbara and Goleta community and employing UCSB students, closed during the pandemic after operating in Goleta Beach Park for 36 years. The restaurant was a common eatery for students and families visiting the campus.

SeaLegs Santa Barbara is owned by UCSB alumnus Joe “Diggs” Dies and UCLA alumnus Omar Khashen. The two first became acquainted in Santa Barbara through a mutual friend who Khashen used to visit. 

Dies played for the UCSB men’s soccer team while majoring in English. After he graduated, he began working for restaurants on State Street. 

When the Beachside Bar-Café shut down, the county began requesting proposals to own and operate on the property. Dies said he read about the proposal requests in an article and sent it to a friend group chat, and Khashen quickly jumped on the opportunity. Dies said the restaurant carries sentimental value for the owners. 

“We knew right away that we could do something special there. I’d been to Beachside a ton. We used to have some soccer pregame and postgame meals there,” Dies said. 

The restaurant will serve seafood, just like Beachside Bar-Café and offer meals sourced locally.

[SeaLegs] is going to go back to the roots of culinary. There’ll be a heavy push of food and wine, especially locally sourced ingredients, locally sourced wines, spirits and beer,” Kashen said. “As much focus as we can put on local, we’re definitely going to. That goes down to staffing, vendors and even down to construction right now. We’ve tried to use as many local contractors as we could.” 

SeaLegs will also feature a “shake shack” next to the restaurant, serving milkshakes and other comfort foods for casual diners.

“If you want to go with your friends and just watch the sunset, walk on the beach or hang out on the pier and the weather’s really nice, there’s going to be food and beverages that I would say are more at the price point where if you’re a UCSB student, are more approachable.”

Kashen said that SeaLegs Santa Barbara plans to reinvent or keep certain menu items, drinks and other notable aspects of the Beachside Bar-Café to pay homage to its predecessor. 

“We’ll still have a seafood focus, but it’s not going to be your mom and pop’s beachside cafe. That brand was iconic, but it was also there so long that after that length of time, it los[t] its relevance,” Kashen said. “We found a cool couple of artifacts [from Beachside Bar-Café] that we’re going to incorporate into the design … we definitely want to tip our hat and pay respects to [Beachside Bar-Café], but this concept will be unique for sure.”

In addition to a menu more suited for the budget of a student, SeaLegs also plans to offer different packages for occasions like graduations to collaborate with the UCSB Athletics Department and to provide off-site catering for different departments at UCSB, according to Dies. 

The previous Beachside Bar-Café held an important role in providing jobs for students living on-campus and cultivating a community. Jackson hopes that SeaLegs provides a similar environment for student workers. The restaurant plans to provide around 100 to 125 jobs. 

“The proximity to the campus makes it ideal for students to work there. And I hope that they recognize that those are formative years, and the people that are working there are learning so much about themselves and who they are and what they want to do and what they want to be at the same time,” Jackson said.

While providing jobs, funds to the beach and a variety of culinary debuts, Khashen noted how he also expects to contribute a space for the community to gather. 

“When you’re into communities and you have these places that become landmarks and become iconic, they give people almost a home base or a clubhouse … I think we’ll have another kind of version of that,” Kashen said.

Along with employing members of the community and acting as a communal location, SeaLegs Santa Barbara’s sales will raise funds to safeguard Goleta Beach. 

“Goleta Beach doesn’t really have a traditional revenue stream. A lot of times these parks will charge for parking and that money will go into paying the staff that work there and different projects within the park, but because it’s free parking, [Goleta Beach is] pretty much only funded by the county,” Kashen said.  

“We wanted to create this fund that comes directly out of our sales that we pay into, and we’re able to work with the county on different projects, whether it’s an art project or a renovation of a certain part of the park,” Khashen continued.

Many UCSB alumni recalled fond memories at the Beachside Bar-Café during their tenure at the university, while also voicing excitement for Kashen and Dies’s new venture. 

UCSB alumna Jennifer Jackson, a previous employee at Beachside Bar-Café from 1994 to 1997, said that she enjoyed her time working at the restaurant and often saw students have graduation dinners or bring visiting family members. 

As a workplace environment, Beachside Bar-Café took special care in creating a “family” community for its workers, allowing the student workers to learn aspects of life and of themselves, Jackson said. 

According to Jackson, her job at the cafe enriched her experience at UCSB and offered an unforgettable community of students and local residents.

“I just felt like I grew up a lot there … you made connections with people that were just different than any other job or place,” Jackson said. “I’ll never forget it no matter what happens. I feel lucky that I got to be a part of that family.”

UCSB alumna Bethany Innocenti recalled positive experiences while dining at the Beachside Bar-Café when she attended the university from 1998 to 2002. 

“When you’re 21 and you’re going out on a date, it was kind of a spot to go because it was close. You could walk, you could take the bus, [it’s] pretty easy to get to,” she said. 

However, some alumni recalled the aesthetics and feel of Beachside Bar-Café to be dated. 

“It was a cool restaurant. It had a lot of history, but … it was a lot of older people. It didn’t really have a young, fun vibe to it,” UCSB 2006 graduate and economics major Brandon Mercade said.

Mercade said he looks forward to seeing how SeaLegs Santa Barbara brings new life to the historic location. 

“The location already had a lot of specialness [to it], and I think that getting a new group in there that’s going to kind of update everything, which hadn’t really been done in 20 plus years, I think it’s going to make a big difference,” Mercade said.

SeaLegs Santa Barbara is slated to open its doors before the end of Spring Quarter 2022. Although Dies said he feels the pressure for the restaurant to live up to the expectations of UCSB alumni and locals who patronized the former Beachside Bar-Café, he looks forward to SeaLeg Santa Barbara’s opening.

“We know that we have some large shoes to fill and we’re looking forward to that … we know that our food will be local, approachable and slightly innovative … and our happy hour will be a great value,” Dies said. “Whether you’re there once in a lifetime because you’re traveling up the coast or you live a few miles away and this becomes your local spot on the way home from work, we want to make sure that no matter what your experience is, you just want to come back.”

A version of this article appeared on p. 4 of the Jan. 27, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.