By Raiza Giorgi


The restaurant at the landmark Mattei’s Tavern, which opened to much fanfare in December, will close June 3.

Restaurant owner and chef Maili Halme made the surprise announcement on Facebook, where the backlash was quick and, in some cases, bitter.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I look forward to returning to other pursuits. The future of the restaurant is in the hands of the Strange family, and they have asked the community to stay tuned for their upcoming plans,” Halme posted.

Many Facebook comments were directed against the Strange family, which owns the historic building in Los Olivos and leased the restaurant to Halme. Some postings suggested that the family had hit Halme with an unfair and unexpected demand to pay property taxes.

“It was no surprise, as we had it in the lease with Maili that property taxes for the restaurant building had to be paid twice a year. She came to us as she couldn’t make the payment, and we mutually worked out what we thought as a smooth transition exit plan. We released her from her lease and paid the property taxes with her initial deposit and the remaining balance,” Shamra Strange said.

“Mattei’s is special to our family, as we had our last family gathering there before my stepson passed away several years ago. The moment I stepped into that building I knew it was special, which is why we chose Maili to lease it. We wanted her there for as long as she wanted, but the restaurant business is difficult and it didn’t go as planned,” Strange added.

The hotel and tavern built by Italian Swiss immigrant Felix Mattei was an important link in the transportation chain through Santa Barbara County.

Mattei first saw the Santa Ynez Valley when he was driving a herd of horses through it; he decided after some years to build a hotel and restaurant in Los Olivos in 1886.

The property has gone through several owners in the past few decades. The Strange family bought the property when it went into foreclosure, they said, because they knew the history of the building and the importance it had for the valley. They wanted it to be restored to its former glory, and chose Halme because her dream matched theirs.

The family operates the hotel side of the property and outdoor events, and Halme’s portion was the interior of the restaurant.

“We love Maili, we love Mattei’s and the valley, and don’t want anyone to think we just are taking over and going to change it. We want to be a part of the community, and if we had it our way Maili would still be there,” Strange added.

Halme said that anyone with a restaurant gift certificate should redeem it before June 3.

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