The influx of tourists also means the proliferation of shiny corporate chains, which offer out-of-towners familiarity and consistency. “When I opened 24 years ago, Santa Monica was a sleepy beach town,” says Gentry. “This was pre-Promenade. Then Starbucks came and made a Frappuccino. They pushed out the independent coffee shops, the funky places, and they got the competition to come, like Coffee Bean and Peet's.” Then there’s Santa Monica Place -- once heralded as the city’s crown jewel of a mall, replete with a spanking-new dining deck -- which hemorrhages restaurants (casualties include Pizza Antica, Redwood Grille, and Xino). Now, its pride and joy is a perpetually busy Cheesecake Factory.
But while tourists may appreciate the comfort and convenience of chains, locals crave a little more diversity -- leaving Santa Monica’s dining scene in a tricky position. “Cheesecake Factory’s always going to be the highest-grossing restaurant in the immediate vicinity of somewhere, but there’s a lot of people living here, too,” says Nick Meyer, the current Beverage Director at Sprout Restaurant Group, which includes Venice’s Rose Café. “There’s a fine line you have to draw with being approachable but exclusive enough to appeal to locals. Cheesecake Factory will never have a Santa Monica-centric dish; they’ll just have their corporate menu that serves the lowest common denominator.” (Mayer formerly headed up the beverage program at Santa Monica’s highly regarded Brilliantshine, which closed in 2015 because of a reported partner split.)