Thanks for the Memories
Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant Has Closed After Serving Buellton Travelers For More Than 99 Years
The iconic Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant that helped put Buellton on the map for California motorists closed last month, as new owners prepare to begin their stewardship over this piece of California history. While official plans for the property have not been made public, we look forward to sharing more about the property’s restoration and improvement plans as they become available.
With so many questions ahead of us, let us instead take a look back at this beloved institution and the indelible mark it has made on California’s Central Coast
This is an excerpt from the Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant History page, which can be found here. All photos are courtesy of the Buellton Historical Society, all rights reserved.
An Electric Stove & An Idea
It all began on Friday, June 13th, 1924, when Anton Andersen, born in Denmark purchased a piece of the Golden State, California. Anton, who was trained in exclusive restaurants in Europe and New York, put his tuxedo in mothballs and donned a bib apron, soon to become his personal trademark. He and his charming wife, Juliette, opened a tiny restaurant and named it “Andersen’s Electric Cafe,” in honor of their prized possession, a new electric stove.
It was a complete about-face for Andersen, who had just come from New York, where he had been associated with world-class establishments such as Marguerey, Voisin, Louis Sherry and other notable establishments and restaurateurs of the day. He helped open the Los Angeles Biltmore until he tired of the rat race (as he put it) associated with city hotels. So, from catering to the gourmet trade, Anton and Juliette began their new venture by serving simple, wholesome everyday foods: hot cakes and coffee, ice cream sodas and such, to highway travelers. Their first customers were the salesmen, tourists and truck drivers who drove the main highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The cafe was on the road to the fabulous Hearst Castle at San Simeon and as this was the heyday of Hearst’s newspaper empire, many of the Hearst writers and reporters, such as Arthur Brisbane and 0.0. McIntyre developed the habit of stopping at Andersen’s. Their praise of excellent food and hospitable atmosphere was carried in their newspaper columns throughout the entire country.
In 1928, the Andersen’s sank a well and built a hotel and dining room for their now quite popular cafe. They named their new establishment the “Bueltmore,” a play on words referring to Anton’s days with the Biltmore.
The Origins of the Famous Pea Soup
Juliette was a gracious woman, warm and friendly to all those around her. She was from the east of France and an expert cook, so she prepared many of the recipes she had brought with her; the most popular with the customers was her split pea soup.
With the demand for their split pea soup increasing steadily, the Andersen’s soon had to locate large suppliers of peas far from their area. Just three years after the first bowl was served, they were amazed to realize they needed to order ONE TON of peas! When Anton faced the problem of what to do with one ton of peas, he solved it by putting them in the window, proclaiming the restaurant, “The Home of Split Pea Soup,” the slogan it carries to this day.
There’s no secret about Juliette’s Soup recipe…quite the contrary, for Pea Soup Andersen’s even has bags of split peas with the recipe for sale in their gift shop.
Robert "Pea Soup" Andersen
Their son, Robert, returned to the family business after graduating from Stanford in the 1930’s. Robert was by all accounts a very forward-looking man. When he returned to Buellton, Robert established the billboards for which the restaurant became known.
In the early thirties a cartoon appeared in the old “Judge” magazine. It was one of a series by the famous cartoonist Forbell, under the heading of “Little Known Occupations.” The cartoon showed the little known occupation of splitting peas for pea soup, with two comic chefs standing at a chopping table, one holding a huge chisel, splitting peas singly as they came down a chute.
Andersen obtained permission to use the idea for advertising. He even adopted his nickname “Pea Soup,” the eventual trademark and official name of the family business. In 1941, Robert married Rosemary Mohan. She immediately became active in the family business and opened a gift shop which remains today filled with wonder for children and adults alike. Their only son, Rob, was born in 1942.
World War II Era
During World War II, the restaurant closed to the public. The hotel rooms were used to house military personnel stationed locally and meals were served to servicemen and their families. Robert also purchased a small building across the street from the hotel and converted it to a canteen. The canteen was operated by the American Women’s Voluntary Services (A.W.V.S.), patterned after a program begun in England. The canteen was called “Co Na Mar Corner,” representing all the services: Coast Guard, Navy, Marines and Army. The local Valley members took turns providing meals for the servicemen on weekends.
The Birth Of Hap-Pea And Pea-Wee
After the war, Pea Soup Andersen’s opened with a flourish. Robert commissioned Disney-trained artist Milt Neil to re-draw the two cartoon chefs to use for promotion and they became the Pea Soup Andersen’s trademark. The big fellow (Hap-Pea) is shown having all the fun and the easy side of the work, as the little one (Pea-Wee) holds the chisel, looking sad and a bit frightened, always in danger of the big mallet. A contest was held and from thousands of entries the names Hap-pea and Pea-Wee were chosen.
Service Town U.S.A.
In 1947, the new coast highway was rerouted through the center of Buellton. Although the town businesses were forced to give up 20 feet of their property for the new highway, they felt it was worthwhile. A number of businesses developed to meet the needs of the highway travelers. In the same year the name of the restaurant was changed to “Pea Soup Andersen’s”, the name that remains to the present.
While the restaurant may be closed, Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn continues to be owned and operated by a local family and is not impacted by this change. They will continue to welcome guests for their travels year round. Please be sure to check out their site for information about upcoming specials and artfully curated local experiences only available with a stay at their inn.
Looking for $100 reasons to plan a midweek visit this winter? Be sure to check out Visit the Santa Ynez Valley’s Midweek Membership Club!
Visit SYV is awarding guests with an eligible two-night stay Sunday-Thursday with a $100 gift card that can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted throughout the valley. This includes stays at all of your favorite Buellton locations, including Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn!
Visit their website for full offer details.