Montecito Café to Cafe Jane

“Suddenly, we’re new in town,” says Jane Houston of Santa Barbara’s newest café, which shares her name. This is a strange feeling for the Houston family, known in Montecito for owning and operating Montecito Café for the last 25 years. Now, Jane Houston is able to similarly experience part of what her parents must have experienced when they opened in Montecito years ago. She sits in the brand-new Café Jane next to the Arlington Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara, giving me a minute while the staff sets up for dinner. She is one of the managers in charge of opening the new location, and is enjoying the relief of early success tempering the unavoidable stress of a restaurant’s first few weeks.

Opening a new restaurant is a gamble at any time, but to do so during an economic downturn requires serious confidence. Confidence comes from success. So popular is the original Montecito Café, in fact, that news of a new location gave rise to fear and a surprisingly fast traveling rumor that the original Café was closing. Houston shakes her head with some bewilderment. “We’re unchanged, and going strong in Montecito,” she reassures, in no small amount charmed by the minor panic surrounding even the idea of the old café closing.

Café Jane, like Montecito Café, fits into that broadest of en vogue culinary categories: California Cuisine. “It’s gourmet comfort food,” says Houston, “and ‘Californian,’ for us, means ‘from scratch.’” Café Jane shares most of its menu with the old Montecito Café, boasting organic meat, rich French influences (such as mayonnaise made from scratch every day), and a bright atmosphere full of natural light and natural wood.

Houston says similarities between Montecito and Santa Barbara have made the expansion easier. Not many changes were necessary in catering to the larger city. One of the most important things to understand about the area, says Houston, is that Santa Barbara is a small town at heart. Like Montecito, Santa Barbara is no bustling and impersonal city. In this spirit, Café Jane offers a bohemian element for diners. A long table sits in the center of the restaurant, where small separate groups are seated together. “More than once,” she smiles, “people have ended up buying each other dessert.”

Café Jane is made to be a little more casual than the original. The menu features more sandwiches and burgers than the Montecito Café, catering to a busier downtown lunch-break clientele. There is a private thirty-person room, as well as small tables waiting for walk-ins; if you’re planning on stopping by, call to be on the safe side. Houston describes the first two months of the new Café with one word: “Busy.”

A winning reputation has followed the business across town. They have their place in the community solidified. The business bloomed first in Montecito, and is rooted there. In the days following the outbreak of fire this fall, power failures didn’t stop Montecito Café from doing its part. Left without cooking equipment, the restaurant remained open to serve complimentary soup, salad, and comfort to evacuees. “We need to keep our identity,” assures Houston. It was intimidating, she says, for her parents to open a restaurant in a place with a stereotype of being populated by discerning world travelers. The Houston family has earned its success. “They’re one of the toughest crowds,” says Houston of Montecito, confident that the same success will be found in Santa Barbara.

“And we love being challenged to impress.”

Café Jane (805-962-1311) located at 1311 State Street, is now open