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Bread Gives Rise to Cafe Expansion

Ventura gourmet sandwich chain Urbane Café has opened a new restaurant in Pasadena. It is the company’s fifteenth location, including restaurants in Thousand Oaks, Northridge, Camarillo and Simi Valley. The grand opening took place May 7 at the new storefront at 218 S. Lake St. near downtown Pasadena. After retiring from a career as a motorcycle racer, founder Tom Holt purchased a few juice bar franchises but soon decided he wanted to create his own restaurant. He felt Ventura lacked quality sandwich options and aimed to fill the void by opening the flagship Urbane Café there in 2003. The idea was to offer quick-service sandwiches prepared with healthy, fresh ingredients and homemade breads baked in an open-fire oven. “I love the romance and the feel of a big hearth oven,” he said. “To be able to see that freshness really matters. Bread is the foundation of every great sandwich.” The gourmet sandwich concept quickly took off and Holt began expanding into the Los Angeles area, San Diego and Ventura County. He now has about 450 total employees across the 15 locations. In the Valley, Holt also helped California Lutheran University develop its hospitality and tourism management degree, which the university will offer this fall, and donated money to the program. While Urbane Café has always brought a culinary approach to its menu, Holt said in recent years consumers have come to expect an even higher level of quality and variety. To keep up with these trends, he recently brought on a new chef to introduce menu options such as a Tri Tip Banh Mi Sandwich and a Mediterranean 5 Grain Bowl. “We realize that people’s palettes are changing, and we realize that we need to innovate to those changes,” he said. “Channels like the Food Network have really changed people’s perception.” Tujunga-based restaurant consultant Liz Thompson said the changes could detract from what made the restaurant popular in the first place. “I think Urbane Cafe has gotten away from what made its original store successful — simple sandwiches with great healthy ingredients that you can taste,” she said. “When you take great ingredients and mix them with up to three different sauces, the tastes don’t come through.” Holt believes his willingness to evolve has been central to the restaurant’s growth. He said he continues to stay involved with each of his restaurants to ensure the food and service are up to quality. “We consider it a family operation,” he said. “I’m in the store every single day and I eat our food every day.” He added that he has long targeted Pasadena as an area for expansion and is excited to do business in the civic-minded neighborhood. “We think that Pasadena is a natural fit and we’re looking forward to having success,” he said. – Ethan Varian

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