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How Does Any Restaurant Survive in Santa Monica if Buca di Beppo Can't?

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A look at the tough economics of making it as a restaurant out west

A stock shot from Buca di Beppo
A stock shot from Buca di Beppo
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

With high real estate prices, rising labor costs, and an increase in how much kitchens are having to pay for produce and proteins (particularly with the weight of California’s ongoing drought), it’s getting harder and harder to make it as a restaurant in Los Angeles. Case in point: the loss of Santa Monica’s decade-old Buca di Beppo on 2nd Street.

Now to be clear, chains open and close all the time, for a variety of reasons. But big-plate Italian fare in the heart of the tourist quarter in Santa Monica? That’s still surprising, and even catches eagle-eyed Toddrickallen off guard. The notice left out in front of the darkened restaurant reads:

From all of us here at Buca Santa Monica, we wanted to say thanks for the memories .. We are sad to say goodbye, but look forward to seeing you again soon…

Meanwhile over on Thrillist, writer Tiffany Tse drills down into the economics of dining out in Santa Monica even more closely with a piece titled "Why Do Good Restaurants Struggle to Survive in Santa Monica?". Citing "years of disappointing closures," the author notes that traffic, parking, and the high cost of doing business might be enough to turn off even the most beloved institution’s lights. She goes on to list the nearly twenty-year-old JiRaffe as a sad shutter (though chef Raphael Lunetta has recently reemerged in town), alongside shorter runs for places like Cadet.

The shuttered Aestus in Santa Monica
Elizabeth Daniels

Other unfortunate closures of late in Santa Monica include Border Grill and Hostaria del Piccolo, plus shorter stints for spots like Aestus and Maru. It’s not an issue of foot traffic, considering Santa Monica saw an apparent 8.3 million visitors in 2015 — or maybe it is. As the Thrillist piece notes, all that congestion means "traffic is so much thicker that people don’t want to leave their ‘hood," says Ann Gentry of Real Food Daily, who closed her own Santa Monica location in April after 24 years.

There are many more issues (homelessness, rising rents, a need to cater to both tourists and locals alike) that combine to make Santa Monica a tough place to run a restaurant, and you should absolutely go check out the Thrillist piece for more. For a similar take along those same lines, you should also read LA Magazine’s take on why downtown Culver City is an equally hard spot to survive. And if you’re still craving the sort of big plate Italian fare you used to be able to find at Buca di Beppo on 2nd Street, you’ll have to look elsewhere in the city these days.