Phillip Frankland Lee and partner Margarita Kallas-Lee are still not up and running at their new restaurant collection inside the Montecito Inn on the Central Coast, but they count themselves lucky. Reached by phone yesterday morning, Phillip Frankland Lee had only good things to say about Montecito’s response to the deadly mudslide that claimed the lives of nearly two dozen people, from the city and county government agencies to consumers ready to spend heavily and invest locally in projects that matter.
Ongoing concerns about water quality have hampered the return of all but one restaurant in Montecito, and that eatery had to bus in its own water from a tanker truck just to get up and running again. It also took a couple of weeks just for the 101 freeway that runs through Montecito be cleared enough to let commuter travel through, crippling a community — along with neighboring Santa Barbara — that relies on tourist dollars to feed its restaurant scene. In the interim, the state shuffled ferry routes along the coast to bring people to both sides of the affected area, and cleared the way first for Amtrak to return to service. “Traveling up those first few days by train,” says Lee, “It was literally standing room only.”
The outlook wasn’t initially great for the Montecito Inn property, which has anchored the coastal community for almost 100 years. Waist-deep mud backed up against the doors to the restaurant, and the hotel’s first floor suffered extensive damage during the January 9 mudslides, as customers inside huddled in a conference room for safety. Lee’s all-day hotel restaurant The Monarch was actually slated to have its first day of business the following morning.
Now the future looks more promising, with the city telling Lee and others that approval to return to cooking could happen “any day now,” though nothing is certain. In the meantime, a large MONTECITO STRONG banner hangs out front of the hotel property, and a solid beam of light is glowing from the rooftop 23 hours a day for the next week to commemorate the lives lost in the mudslides.
Lee managed to transition his opening team down to his Encino group of restaurants to work during the catastrophe, and is now sending them back north to prep for an official unveiling in the coming weeks. He and the family behind Montecito Inn would love to time a reopening to February 16, the 90th anniversary of the upscale property. Each of the property’s multiple restaurants, including a Frankland’s Crab & Co. and an ice cream shop by pastry chef Margaritas Kallas-Lee, would come online in succession thereafter. “All things considered,” says Lee, “Just cleaning up some muddy floors means we got very lucky.”