Pea Soup Adventure
Don and I finally sampled the soup, at Pea Soup Anderson's.
This sign itself (in Buellton, CA) was worth the stop! And yes, it's Pea Soup Anderson's. Not Anderson's Pea Soup. This is where we ate.
There are two Pea Soup Anderson's, This one with the windmill, is off of I-5 in Santa Nella, California. We spotted it in 2020, while traveling.
I made Don pull in so I could read the sign and take a pic! It was the pandemic and we weren't dining in any restaurants then. It killed me to not experience this odd place.
Dining Adventure in October 2022
2+ years later, Don and I planned a pea soup stop, on another trip. We learned about the Buellton location, when flipping through our 1950 cookbook. The Buellton restaurant was featured in the book! We knew we wanted to go to that one because it was the original restaurant. It opened in 1924 (with another name) and attracted travelers on Coast Highway 101.
There was no windmill at the Buellton restaurant. There also didn't appear to be too many travelers stopping for soup. The lot looked almost empty. But there were many interesting buildings on the sprawling grounds. We passed a curious building with stained glass and headed towards the doors in the tudor building.
Tudor & Neon
As we got closer, I wondered if the place was even open. Was this another case of pandemic closure? The exterior looked a little worn. I kept fingers crossed that the biz was open, as the Pepsi banner on the left suggested.
My eyes were drawn to the neon letters on the roof and some whimsical artwork to the right. But I was even more curious about the history behind the brown boards and tan stucco. The rambling structure looked like an old lodge of some kind.
Around the Corner
The entrance was indeed closed. But that was only because we were at the wrong door. The main entrance was around the corner facing another street.
Wow! What was the deal with this building, that went on and on?
There was a glowing OPEN sign near the door! A good sign.
I stepped back and tried to imagine the history behind this iconic place. I had already read that Anton and Juliette Anderson began selling split pea soup (Juliet's family recipe) back in the 1920's.
They started with a small cafe, then added a hotel and dining room in 1928. I'm guessing this was part of that "newer" addition.
We stepped inside and I was a little taken aback by the smell. Was that a pea soup smell? No, I think it was just age. I can usually get past that. We made our way through a large gift shop before finding the dining room.
The spacious area wasn't exactly packed with diners, but it was after 2:00. We had lots of choices for seating.
Those big cushy chairs at the counter were sort of luring me.
Usually you don't get the luxury of leaning back when you enjoy swiveling at a counter. This looked like it was designed for oldsters like us!
There were soft, rounded booths as well.
In fact this whole place was kind of booth heaven!
My photos look neat and tidy, but there were a few tears in the vinyl and some hints of age. So many older, classic restaurants suffered from the pandemic.
I studied the dividers and wondered if the frosted glass was added during the pandemic? Then I noticed the etched glass, with those familiar characters, that I had spotted on billboards long before we arrived.
Hap-pea and Pea-wee
These are the mascots that have been attracting attention since the 1930's.
The image of these cartoon chefs splitting peas with hammer and chisel, can be seen all over the property. At some point, artist Art Clokey, (who also created Gumby) was hired by the Andersons to make stop motion commercials with these characters.
One of these hardworking guys seems to enjoy his work more than the other.
Lots to Read
A very sleepy-looking host took us to our table and handed us some entertaining menus. I enjoyed reading up on more history. Anton was from Denmark. Juliet was from France. Their only child Robert, got into the family biz after graduating from Stanford in the 1930's. Robert took on the nickname Pea Soup Anderson, along with the restaurant in 1947. Did anyone really call him Pea Soup?
I had my own reading material waiting in my bag. The 1950 cookbook was put out by Ford Motor Company during the time when Robert was running the restaurant. Our yawning host clearly was not someone who would be interested in seeing an old book. I hoped our server might be more lively and interested.
Ricky and the Book
We lucked out big time, with Ricky. In the quiet dining room where no one seemed to be talking above a murmur, Ricky came to life when I showed him the cookbook. He had questions for us and we did for him. He was happy to pose for a photo.
Ricky said he'd been working at Anderson's for 22 years. He'd moved from Mexico to Buellton when he was 14 and had never been in the restaurant until he got the job. (I think I got that right) He also said it took him about 10 years to finally taste the soup. Now he likes it and has a cup a day!
The vegetarian soup recipe in our book looked pretty easy. It was fun to look at the illustration again, after seeing the building. The image still didn't exactly match what we saw from the parking lot. Lots of changes.
However, the book's recipe perfectly matched the framed recipe, displayed on the wall. I should try to make it sometime, since Don loves split pea soup.
Don and I both ordered the pea soup, but he's the real fan of the creamy green stuff. Don doesn't have any childhood memories of a getting horribly sick after eating a grandmother's pea soup. I do.
But when in Rome! I just had to order the soup. It was in the book after all. Plus it came with Danish Pumpernickel bread! Actually that's not my favorite either.
But I loved that it was served in a retro bowl, with a basket of onion cheese rolls. I had a choice of coffee, soft drink or milkshake and took about 1 second deciding on that!
So I had split pea soup AND milkshake together! I ate it all and didn't get sick!
Since I ate all my soup, I was rewarded with this image! I could have covered them up with more soup, over and over. My order was the "All You Can Eat Traveler's Special". I didn't test the limits. I had one bowl.
Enjoying the Walls
We chatted a little more with Ricky before we departed. He was such a pleasant part of our experience. He steered us towards more photos with such sincere enthusiasm.
It really was amazing to study the old photographs and imagine the excitement and energy of this place. Even when it was closed during WWII, the hotel housed and fed the military.
We wandered through the gift shop on our way out. The bakery goods and candy were neat and tidy, but there were also many empty shelves and no customers.
I found it a little sad. Was this just a slow day? When the shop was added in 1941, business was booming with travelers and tourists. Even in 2012, they were selling 500-600 gallons of pea soup a day.
The place was sadly quiet. I wondered about the metal equipment. Was that for making pea soup? And why didn't I at least buy a bag of Pea Soup Mix, after I took the photo?
Before heading outside, I studied a framed photograph with an aerial view. It showed the property in 1942, before Hwy 101 expanded and some buildings were removed.
The photo helps, but it's still confusing. I wish I could compare to another aerial view from 2022. Don and I headed outside to see what we could figure out. I read later, that the 35,000 square foot property, is now for sale. Sad... but maybe good.
More of the Pea Guys
As we explored, we found more of the cartoon chefs. Don found one image that showed the poor guys getting a break from splitting peas. They were holding glasses of champagne! Cheers to that.
There were no other folks wandering nearby to take our photo, hamming it up as Hap-pea and Pea-wee. I really wonder how long it's been since 2 people posed their faces in those holes.
Reminders of Another Day
We strolled around the side of the building that was once the Anderson's hotel. What is that second floor space being used for today?
In 1965, Vince Evans bought the business from the Andersons. He had big bucks and ideas. He added onto the business and the whole thing became sort of an amusement park, with an aviary filled with parrots, a children's train and an animal park. He opened up the location in Santa Nella in 1976. The little truck in the corner, looked like a reminder of that past.
Walking and Wondering
I guess we should have asked Ricky more questions. He might have known stories about some of the buildings we found behind the restaurant. What was the place like when he started working around 2000?
click on the images to enlarge
We could see a motel that was added much later, further back. It also looked a bit weary, with less charm than the larger tudor hotel. I so hope that new owners can buy and preserve some of this curious history. It doesn't sound like there are any Andersons or Evans family members left, to carry on the history.
One More Look
Before we got into the car I took one more peek at the mystery building.
It looked like a building from the 1904 World's Fair, that could have housed a carousel. And just today I found an article about Vince Evans and this property. In 1979, he purchased a 100-year old pub in England and had it moved here. This was it! Sadly a year later he died with his wife and daughter, in the plane he was flying. Such a sad story.
Good Luck Andersons!
So good luck to Pea Soup Anderson's and to our waiter Ricky.
I hope someone or some group, with lots of funds and great ideas, purchases this business. I hope they give Ricky a position where his enthusiasm and appreciation can be put to good use. I need to be able to come back! I'm just starting to like split pea soup!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.