The sign on the front door of the once-iconic restaurant has disappointed a community of diners since it was posted Sept. 15: “The Buggy Whip thanks you for your patronage. It is with much regret that we must close.”
With no fanfare, business partners Larry LeSieur and Steven Segal put up the sign and walked away. Customers have learned of the closure as they have shown up for lunch or dinner, only to find the doors locked and the restaurant dark. This is the second time the Buggy Whip has closed. The first was in 2012, reopening last October.
Neither LeSieur nor Segal could be reached for comment on the shuttering of what was a hot dining destination in the 1960s and into the early 1980s. The restaurant was more of an afterthought in the decades that followed, as it became less formal and as small businesses moved out of the Fulton Avenue district, eroding the client base. Further, dozens of other restaurants were opening around Sacramento, serving more contemporary fare than the meat and potatoes on the Buggy Whip’s menu.
“It’s my understanding that Steven Segal’s vision for the restaurant was akin to a Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s steakhouse,” said Melinda Eppler, executive director of the Fulton Avenue Association, which promotes area businesses. “That just wasn’t the Buggy Whip. It had its own thing going, and (the new model) didn’t happen effectively. It’s too bad. So many people were excited that it had opened again. Unfortunately, it’s one more goodbye to an era that so many people fondly remember. It’s a loss as an eatery, too. We have a lot of good restaurants around, but nothing like that.”
Eppler added that there is some undocumented talk of the space “being picked up, so we might see something very different move in there. Which would be OK. Not everything lasts forever.”
Larry LeSieur took over the Buggy Whip in 1974 from his father, Aaron LeSieur, who opened it in 1959. It once shared the cachet of other destination-dining spots around town, including the Coral Reef, the Ram, the Oaks, Aldo’s and Bidell’s. Limousines pulled up regularly, dropping off men in suits and women in evening dresses. The crowd at the bar was often three deep.
By 2012, Larry LeSieur’s problems with the IRS and various creditors led to a voluntary bankruptcy reorganization. The restaurant closed in May 2012, matters were settled, and it reopened last October, partially refurbished and with some trendier menu items joining the prime rib, garlic steak sandwich and breaded veal cutlet. Generations of loyal diners were delighted with the reincarnation, and LeSieur was hopeful because Buggy Whip 2.0 seemed to be attracting a younger demographic.
In a conversation last November, he said, “I grew up in this restaurant, working as a busboy, a dishwasher and then a cook. I went away to school and then came back here. This is all I’ve ever done.”