Changes loom for Sebastian's General Store cafe in San Simeon

Stephen Hearst in front of Sebastian's General Store in Old San Simeon Village in 2009.
Stephen Hearst in front of Sebastian's General Store in Old San Simeon Village in 2009.

Noted restaurateur Ian McPhee is negotiating to take over café operations at the century-old Sebastian's General Store in Old San Simeon Village, across Highway 1 from the entrance to Hearst Castle.

The Hearst Ranch Winery tasting room would remain where it is in the building, as it is. The building is designated a state historical landmark.

The lease would mark a homecoming of sorts for McPhee, who began his entrepreneurial career at Ian’s restaurant in Cambria from 1983 to 1993. The Cal Poly graduate opened McPhee’s Grill in Templeton in 1994. He’s no longer affiliated with the restaurant at the Avila Beach Golf Resort.

McPhee said Monday he hopes to finalize the Sebastian’s deal soon, if all the remaining issues can be resolved. His predecessor there, Brian Lucas, said the shift could happen this week and that some remodeling already is underway. The restaurant is closed now, re-opening Friday.

Lucas and wife Abbey have operated the popular, casual eatery since 2008, when they leased half of the Sebastian’s building. Shortly before that, The Hearst Corp. had purchased the historic structure from the Sebastian family, which had owned it for 95 years.

The Lucases built up a faithful, hungry clientele for their hearty Hearst beef-dip, burger and meatloaf sandwiches, among other lunchtime entrees. The couple likely will take some time off to determine what their next venture will be, McPhee said.

McPhee didn’t disclose any financial aspects of the possible lease. He said if the deal goes through, he will pare down the menu to streamline kitchen operations and shorten the gap between customers ordering their food and getting their meals.

McPhee’s tempura shrimp with spicy peanut sauce and slaw might be added to the menu, he said. The restaurant also would offer “the Hearst Ranch burgers, a couple of salads, and three or four more sandwiches,” he conjectured Monday.

McPhee plans to remove the operation’s general store. He estimates he’ll gain room for more seating when he removes the display refrigerators, cabinets and shelving from which the store has been selling soda, candy, souvenirs and trinkets.

There has been a general store in the village since 1873 when Leopold Frankl opened one to sell supplies to whalers, miners, dairy farmers and those who transported products in or out by ship.