About the Colony

Atascadero hungry for new restaurants

Just about the same time that I was noticing a number of new eating places in Atascadero, I began to take a mental inventory of all those restaurant facilities that are sitting empty.

They include local mom-and-pop eateries and some belonging to corporations, such as the abandoned Coco’s on El Camino Real or the old Wendy’s sitting in a corner of the former Albertsons center.

I will have lived in Atascadero 50 years come this summer. When I moved here in 1966, it was virtually impossible to get a cup of coffee and a slice of pie after about 7 p.m. There just weren’t any restaurants to be found with the exception of two that I remember.

One was Martha’s BBQ on El Camino Real, just north of the Santa Rosa Road overcrossing. Martha’s barbecue-flavored beef and pork were out of this world, and it seems everyone went there, because more often than not there was a waiting period.

A restaurant I really loved was known as Red’s Steak House, located on Curbaril Avenue as you head east toward the Salinas River. It was close to where Valle Avenue intersects Curbaril today. I would take visiting relatives there because I knew they’d get a steak that was so very tasty.

The restaurant was operating out of what is a regular residential structure. In fact, if I remember right, you ate in tiny little rooms that were probably bedrooms when the house was originally built. The front door was painted bright red. The house is still there, by the way.

In the middle of the town you had Virgil’s Drive In, which was located where the parking lot for Rabobank is today. And just behind Virgil’s, up against the freeway, was another little burger place. There was also a small restaurant where Sylvester’s is now.

But they all sort of folded up in the evening.

How anxious were Atascaderans for a family-style, open-at-night eatery? When Sambo’s Restaurant opened in the early 1970s, it held an open-house the night before the official opening. The line went from the door (today’s Denny’s) to the sidewalk and up the block across the Atascadero Creek Bridge.

The restaurant was a phenomenal success.

Smaller restaurants have come and gone. It is a difficult type of business to own because you never know for sure who’s coming to dinner. You might be the “in” place for a while, and then you’re not.

I’ve always admired those business owners who took the chance.

And fortunately for Atascadero many are taking the chance today, offering American, Italian, Korean, Mexican, sushi, steaks and more.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.