The Swiss, a popular steakhouse tucked away at 516 N. Broadway, is edible proof that the northern neck of Santa Maria has a lot to offer.
“If we can get them in the building, then I’m sure we can get them back again,” said the restaurant’s head chef and owner Eddie Plemmons.
The steakhouse drew regulars when it opened in 1941 (then-named The Swiss Chalet); and has continued to draw them since Plemmons bought it nearly five years ago in 2009 and renamed it simply ‘The Swiss.’
Signature rib-eyes, Santa Maria-style BBQ tri-tip sandwiches, and a spacious Western-themed bar and restaurant are just some of what keeps the regulars, well, regular.
Each meal is prepared from scratch.
“The cooks are always chopping, always preparing. This just isn’t an open-a-bag-and-cook kind of a place. We cut our meat; we grind our own hamburger. We do everything in-house,” he said.
Most patrons are locals with the occasional traveler thrown in, often referred by a nearby hotel.
“Every year, it’s a small increase and things are getting better now,” Plemmons said, referring to economic growth. “We opened up in the recession; that’s when money was hard. Now, people are starting to spend a little bit more; jobs are coming up. It’s showing and we’re starting to see it. Our numbers are growing. If it stays its course, we’ll be happy.”
Born and raised in Santa Maria, 43-year-old Plemmons has been toiling in the restaurant business since age 14, when he worked as a dishwasher and busboy. He eventually became a line cook before opening his own barbecue-themed restaurant and catering company.
After ‘The Swiss Chalet’ sold to owners who were unable to keep it running it was left vacant for a time, and landlord Sam Manos encouraged Plemmons to acquire it.
“He knew I was in catering and ready to make that next step forward and we started talking. We started doing improvements and the next thing you know, here we are,” Plemmons said.
“It just kind of fell into place. I was looking, but not pursuing. It just kind of happened, and it was a good thing.”
Remodeling included extending walls, transforming a seating area into a decorative lobby, and refurbishing bathrooms.
Moderation was key.
“We wanted to leave this charm of what it is; we didn’t want to go over-the-top,” Plemmons said, adding that “no one’s trying to be something they’re not here.”
The Swiss staff, which includes Plemmon’s wife, is now about 30 employees strong.
Although seafood dishes dot the restaurant’s menu, at its core The Swiss is a steakhouse (the rib-eye being its top seller) and that includes “anything BBQ,” said Plemmons.
The owner values customer input and maintains a reciprocal relationship with his patrons.
“We’ve adjusted our menu over the last few years; and we’ve also added things by request,” he said. “There are several menu items on there now that were requested by customers.”
Nothing on the menu is stagnant.
“ ... We can change flavors because we’re preparing each meal for each plate,” he said.
Although individualizing a meal is always an option for patrons, recipe consistency is a priority.
“It’s important for us that if you came here on a Wednesday and you enjoyed something when you come on Sunday, it’s going to be the exact same thing you got on Wednesday, even if it’s a different cook. That’s where our goal is,” he said.
Supporting staff and encouraging teamwork have become paramount.
“I can’t do it by myself. So, I have a crew here; everyone wants [their meal] altered a little bit; just to get everyone to cook on the same level is a little bit of a challenge,” Plemmons said. “It’s a lot of hands-on training and everyone kind of helps everybody. Nobody is just turned loose and told ‘go do this.’ They work until they have a routine and to where everyone is kind of cooking at the same level.”
Though The Swiss is primarily known for its steak and barbecue, its homemade chili beans with meat is a crowd-pleaser. Here’s the recipe for a family of four:
Chili Beans with Meat
1. Fill a 1 gallon pot with water.
2. Clean, sort through a pot full of raw pinquito beans, removing rocks. Then rinse well.
3. Season 1⁄2 to 1 pound ground beef with a 1⁄2 tablespoon of cumin, 1⁄3 cup of Kosher salt, 1⁄8 cup of pepper and 1⁄3 cup of granulated garlic.
4. Chop 1 to 2 medium yellow onions.
5. Add onions, 1⁄3 cup of chili powder,
a 1⁄2 cup of Ortega green chiles, 1⁄2 to
1 pound of bacon, and a 1⁄2 tablespoon of cumin to the 1 gallon pot.
6. Boil on the stove for 31⁄2 hours or until done at desired heat.