The Scoop from Rusty’s Pizza CEO Tyler Duncan
It may be the longest, most anticipated pizza parlor opening in Summerland history: five years in the making. At long last Rusty’s Pizza is finally open in Summerland at the former Stacky’s Seaside spot on Lillie Avenue.
The day I spoke with Tyler Duncan, CEO of the family business launched by his parents in Isla Vista in 1969 – just a few years before he was a twinkle in his daddy’s eye – Duncan had just received news from the Health Department.
“Almost five years to the day!” Duncan said, over a phone conversation in the time of COVID,“and they just signed off!”
We spoke about pizzas (including his favorites), food delivery logistics, what foods travel well and which don’t (pizza is perfect delivery food) among other things, in the midst of a pandemic.
Sorry Summerland, don’t expect balloons, fireworks, pizza samples, a brass band and more for a big opening shindig. Some kind of celebration will hopefully take place later – when we can all gather again. However, the doors opened and the first Summerland delivery trucks rolled on Cinco de Mayo, so Duncan and the 9th store in the Santa Barbara chain made its target opening date.
“It’s an opportunity to do a soft opening, get used to the store and make sure everything is working properly from a staffing and operational perspective and clicking like it should,” said the CEO, who eats pizza two to three times a week. Although difficult to choose his favorite, he cited the pepperoni, olive, and pineapple combo for its sweet and salty flavors, as well as the fairly new Chile Verde pizza, a “not too spicy” green sauce pizza with marinated pulled pork.
“What took so long to open?” I asked.
“It’s very difficult to find anything for lease in Summerland that is a conforming restaurant. We bought Stacky’s, kept it open for a year and tried to run it as Stacky’s while we went through the permitting process, but it just didn’t work,” he said. “We used to have a small shop in the Von’s Shopping Center in Montecito. We were trying to find the right spot to service Montecito, Summerland, and part of Carpinteria.”
Summerland fare is the same as all Rusty’s Pizza menus – the company just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year. Although the Summerland space is too tiny for Rusty’s popular salad bar, they will deliver pre-made salads. In addition to pizzas, hot wings, salads, and even gelato, Rusty’s recently added bottles and half bottles of regional wines from Brander, Fess Parker, Rabble Rose, J. Lohr, Kunin Syrah, and 805 beer.
In homage to Stacky’s popular boat-shaped patio, a new patio that wraps around to the left of the building promises to be a great spot to dine under shady umbrellas during the summer, with social distancing or whatever precautions are in place as California works through new dining out regulations in the time of COVD-19.
Tyler, who was born (in 1973) and raised in Santa Barbara, noted that the company realized that Summerland was a vibrant, interesting corridor for folks coming to and from Santa Barbara from Ventura and Oxnard.
“We love Summerland’s history, antique, fun feel… and the great beach during summer that is thriving. It’s like a mini Cabrillo Boulevard!” noted Duncan.
Not one to toot the company’s own horn, Rusty’s has a long history of generously helping out neighbors (as well as the Santa Barbara Zoo) and has recently been reaching out with free pizzas to local heroes like Abe Powell and The Bucket Brigade mask makers (sounds like the name of a band, eh?), the S.B.P.D., and hospital workers.
Rusty’s has been able to keep 99% of their staff working during this time – some with reduced hours – and Duncan noted that if you think you are seeing more Rusty’s Pizza delivery cars on the road, it’s only because, well, there is less traffic on the road!
Safely Delivering and Distancing
Rusty’s Pizza started delivering with a “no-contact delivery” option and everyone wears masks and gloves. In order to add a tip to your driver when you order, they had to retool all their software.
“What’s more important,” said the CEO, “is how the food is handled. The driver has an empty box wrapped in plastic and sets the pizza down at the door on a buffer box. They back away 6 feet, you grab the food and then we leave.”
Although they’ve lost onsite dining business inside the pizza parlors and use of their popular event/party rooms, all high-touch surfaces are being wiped down more than usual and workers in the restaurants are “all gloved and masked up. I’m really proud of everybody and their mindful attention,” said Duncan. “We’re doing everything we can to be here for the community and making everything as safe as we can.”
In case you wondered who “Rusty” is, the name was inherited from the first restaurant space called “Rusty’s Roast Beef” that Tyler’s dad Joe Duncan opened in Isla Vista in 1969. Joe and his wife, Carol (who was honored last year with The Spirit of Entrepreneurship’s “Rock Star: Lifetime Achievement Award” from Women’s Economic Ventures), didn’t have much money to buy a new sign, so they cut off the “roast beef” part of the sign and replaced it with “Pizza.”
The rest, as they say, is pizza history.
“Pizza is the world’s most deliverable food,” said Tyler. “It’s easy to deliver a pizza and it’s been done since the 1980s. The product itself holds well – hot bags help keep it hot and special boxes with air vents keep it from getting soggy. Personally, I don’t think other foods, except for Chinese or Thai, deliver as well.” Hamburgers, he notes, not so much.
For those isolated at home alone, there are individual sized pizzas. Personally, I love leftover pizza for breakfast and often crack an egg on top and put it under the broiler.
I ordered one of the boss’s favorites from the just opened venue, it arrived promptly and I can vouch for the tasty Chile Verde pizza. Order thin crust – or even extra thin if you like your pizza crust crunchy. It paired quite nicely with a wee half bottle of Fred Brander’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc.
“When things are slightly normal,” Duncan concluded, “we’ll have a big celebration!”
Hopefully, with an appearance by Rusty’s popular mascot, Duncan the Dinosaur.
We can hardly wait.
To order, call (805) 564-1111. Online menu at www.rustyspizza.com.