Local Lowdown: Happy 50th to Chuck’s of Hawaii

The bar at Chuck's opening night, courtesy Chuck's of Hawaii.

The bar at Chuck’s opening night, courtesy Chuck’s of Hawaii.

Surprisingly little has changed since owner Larry Stone opened Chuck’s of Hawaii in 1967. The staff still wears Hawaiian shirts, the menus are still painted on Lancers wine bottles (Stone did the originals himself), the steaks and seafood are still solidly good, the Tiki Torches still burn brightly on upper State Street and the Mai-Tais are still the best in town.

As an avid young surfer, Stone worked for the original Chuck’s founder Chuck Rolles in Hawaii, who was looking to expand his operation.  Stone had friends at UCSB and liked the town—plus he knew he’d be able to surf here.  As for the location, the Sumida family had a new building available, and Stone thought it might work as a restaurant. “I didn’t have a lot of options, but…they let me have that space and I knew it would be close to Hope Ranch and to people who could dine out daily instead of just weekends.”

This was before La Cumbre Plaza was even completed, but “the shopping center it was a big hit” and so was Chuck’s. “Opening day we served about 100 meals,” recalls Stone. “We’ve always had such a great local following.”

Chuck’s before construction, courtesy Chuck’s of Hawaii

The formula is simple: high quality food in a casual setting.

And then there’s the salad bar. Stone laughs when asked about it, “I’m not saying it was the first salad bar (although others make that claim) but we get credit for being the first company that popularized the salad bar on the mainland.” Stone also gives much credit for the success of Chuck’s to his longtime employees like manager Brad Schuette, who started at age 15, and Steve Hyslop, who started as a dishwasher and now co-owns and runs Chuck’s Waterfront Grill in the harbor.

Stone laughs when asked if he ever imagined that Chuck’s would still be going strong 50 years later. “I wasn’t even thinking about what I’d be doing in five or ten years at that point, but I didn’t think I’d be running around in short pants and Hawaiian shirts as an old man.”

Chuck’s of Hawaii is located at 3888 State St., 805/687-4417, chucksofhawaii.com.

The scene at Chuck's opening night, courtesy Chuck's of Hawaii.

The scene at Chuck’s opening night, courtesy Chuck’s of Hawaii.

Leslie Dinaberg

Originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.