Food & Drink

Saturn Cafe Closes Its Downtown Santa Cruz Location

Owners say they are looking for a new Santa Cruz location

Saturn Cafe is leaving its location at Laurel Street and Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

If you’ve felt like the Covid-19 pandemic has done a number on businesses in downtown Santa Cruz, then prepare to see stars, because the latest casualty is out of this world. 

Saturn Cafe, known for its all-vegetarian and vegan comfort food, announced on its Facebook page it will close its doors at the Laurel Street and Pacific Avenue location for good. 

“Sadly, we will not be reopening our 145 Laurel Street location, which has been our home for over twenty years,” the post reads. “We will be relocating to our new neighborhood in Los Angeles.”

Once a bastion for late-night burgers, nacho fries, non-dairy shakes and maybe a nightcap beer or two, the Santa Cruz Saturn Cafe was the chain’s original location, opened in 1979 by Don Lane—who would later become mayor and a prominent local politician. Over the years it went from its hippie-vibe roots to an eclectic space theme in the late 1990s to early 2000s to its latest, more mellow incarnation.

But throughout it all, it was always known as a staple in town, gaining love and notoriety from locals, tourists and college students alike, as well as national publications like the Washington Post

However, in more recent times, the downtown restaurant was closing earlier and earlier, even before the pandemic hit. While it continued to stay open and serve food throughout 2020, Santa Cruzans paying attention may have noticed the lights have been dark for several months. 

“The reason is the pandemic,” Ernesto Quintero, co-owner of Saturn Cafe since 2005, writes in an email to GT. “We had a 75% decline in sales during the pandemic.”

According to the restaurant’s Facebook page, food was served at least until Nov. 28. Quintero writes that, on top of the decline in sales, their lease also expired. It became “a huge factor in not reopening the Laurel Street location.” 

It was the last remaining Saturn Cafe in the Bay Area, having closed their Berkeley restaurant in July 2019 after almost a decade. Their Los Angeles location, in the Eagle Rock district, opened last July 25—in what many took as a sign of hope for the business. 

But for anyone needing their Diablo Burger fix, don’t despair! The closure announcement comes with a hope tastier than their tomato soup. Owners say they are currently looking for a new Santa Cruz location, although no details on when or where they will open have been given as of yet.

“I would love to reopen in Santa Cruz for many reasons, one is that I love Santa Cruz,” writes Quintero, who now lives full-time in Los Angeles. “I would want a local business partner to help run a Santa Cruz location because I think the community would be better served if one or two owners had a more hands-on approach.”

Quintero also wants it known that he hasn’t forgotten about the East Bay, and residents to the north won’t have to wait 29 years for Saturn’s return.

“I’m actually in talks with a potential partner for a small East Bay Saturn (Oakland or Berkeley),” he writes. 

So while we anxiously wait to dig our teeth into our next Space Cowboy Burger—with shoestring fries, the best fries—we find comfort in knowing this won’t be the end of Saturn in Santa Cruz, just another period of adjustment in a long line of Covid-19 torment. 

“Saturn without Santa Cruz has been so hard for us to take in,” the announcement says. “And after over forty years, who wants to think about Santa Cruz without Saturn?”

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