Decades of Fresh Fare for Loyal Locals
It’s a typical daily sight at the intersection of San Ysidro and East Valley roads in Montecito’s Upper Village: a collection of diners feasting on breakfast or lunch at tables on the shaded porch surrounding San Ysidro Pharmacy. A tiny space in the back of the building accommodates the kitchen and tables for those who prefer to sit inside on any given day.
Guests have gathered at those tables since 1984, but Montecito Coffee Shop’s roots actually date back much further—to 1929, when Louie Miratti established El Camino Pharmacy on what was then Coast Highway (now Coast Village Road). El Camino Pharmacy had a diner and soda fountain, where loyal patrons gathered for decades.
In 1954, Miratti assumed operation of San Ysidro Pharmacy in Montecito’s Upper Village. Thirty years later, when El Camino Pharmacy’s then-owner Bob Goodell lost his Coast Village Road lease, he took over Miratti’s business and moved to the Upper Village. Tom Ruklic, who operated the El Camino soda fountain, joined forces with Goodell to share the building. He moved the restaurant business into the adjacent space in back of the pharmacy. Waitress Debbie Ousey came up the hill as well.
Ousey took over as owner in 2003. Regular customers continue to gather at the small collection of tables for farm-fresh breakfast and lunch in a casual vibe. The shop employs 13 loyal staff. “Federico has been the lead cook here for 28 years,” says Ousey. “Daniel Severiano, one of our waiters, started as a dishwasher when he was 15 years old and now he’s 28.” A 15-year employee, Paul Birch, is the baby of the bunch.
Some of the menu items—the signature curried chicken salad with apple and golden raisins and the roast turkey sandwich—date back to the El Camino days as well. “Customers really liked Tom’s simple fare soup. And from the very beginning of time here, Tom had always roasted turkeys fresh,” Ousey explains. “We continue that tradition, and also use the fresh turkey stock in our soup bases. The simplicity here generates a certain crowd—those who appreciate simple, fresh American food. We all enjoy coming to work,” she continues. “It’s just a good vibe. I’m so fortunate that everyone loves being here and working for their community. I still love being here—I’m not sure about my feet though!”
Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.