Pea Soup Andersen a California Roadside tradition

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yePea Soup Andersen, the name has a certain ring to it.  It could almost be a children’s rhyme, “Pea Soup for you, Pea Soup for me, Pea Soup Andersen too, all three!”

Okay, maybe not, but the name came up over and over again when I was traveling in the area of Buellton, California where the first, of the two Pea Soup Andersen restaurants began.  My friend, Linda Spanberger who was traveling with me is a pea soup aficionado. When she comes for Easter sometimes she takes home the ham bone and makes her own homemade pea soup.  While the Andersen version is vegetarian, she was game to try this rib sticking tradition that is a tourist draw in this beautiful country filled with vineyards and near the historic Danish community of Solvang.

We tried the soup and found it quite good.  While I am more a French Onion soup girl, I enjoyed the pea soup and loved the atmosphere. The place is much more than just the great menu, it is a story.  Anton Andersen was from Denmark and his wife Juliette from France together they founded Pea Soup Andersen’s in 1924 after Anton bought ground in California.  The area was thriving and when they brought a highway through Buellton, the time for a restaurant seemed right.

split pea soup

The first restaurant the Andersen’s opened was small and called “Andersen Electric Café” in honor of the new electric stove.  Part of their success was due to the location on the highway to Hearst Castle.  Many stopped along the way while Hearst publishing was in its prime.  Reporters carried stories of their restaurant recalling Anton Andersen’s ability to remember faces and names.  In 1928, the Andersen’s built a hotel and dining room and named the café “Buetmore”. While Anton had been trained as a chef, Juliette’s French cooking and special dishes obtained popularity, especially the family soup recipe for  vegetarian Split Pea Soup. This proved so popular that they changed the name of the restaurant.

To keep up with demand they had to locate suppliers of split peas and after three years from the day that the first split pea soup was produced they realized they needed a whopping  one ton of peas.   Today they use a ton of peas every month.  Pea growers from Idaho have even recognized the site as the kick off for “National Split Pea Soup” which is the second week in November. Today the soup has been popular for over 91 years.

pea soup vat

Anton and Juliette’s son Robert returned to the business after college and made the diner even more popular by placing ads on huge billboards.  During World War II, Split Pea Andersen closed to the public and the hotel was used to house military personnel stationed locally.  The restaurant was called the “CoNAMar corner” a canteen that served all branches of the military.

After the war, they reopened.  In the diner I noted a huge statue of one man with a hammer and another holding a pea, this came about after receiving permission to use the images of a cartoon of two chefs. Robert Anderson had an artist create two chef’s they called Hap-pea and Pea-wee the names chosen by a contest.  Of the two, Hap-pea is holding a mallet ready to smash the chisel that Pea-wee is holding over a pea.

There have been other changes and expansions, but the theory of serving hearty fare to travelers remains. The restaurant has a banquet area, gift shop and more.  The Andersen Split Pea soup recipe is available in many versions online and they sell peas with the recipe at the restaurant.  They currently sell over two million bowls of Andersen Split Pea soup a year.

Was it a tourist attraction?  Yes.  Was it worth stopping by?  Yes!  If in the area consider trying a bowl of the split pea soup that is accompanied by bread and a drink.  Stop in and see a true American Roadside attraction.  Log on to the website http://www.peasoupandersens.net/ for more information!