Scowley’s Burgers an affordable, tasty option for families
Robert Gaustad knew he had a tough row to hoe when he signed the lease for Scowley’s Burgers last spring. The prior tenant had abandoned the location, on the southern edge of the Plaza North Shopping Center, leaving a greasy mess unlike anything Gaustad had ever seen. What no one could have predicted was that within weeks of taking over the space, the pandemic lockdown would hit.
Not wanting to walk out on his lease, and with no idea how soon indoor dining would reopen, Gaustad immediately started the back-breaking work to clean the former Wingstop.
“That was the hardest job I have ever done,” he said. “The cookers were greased over beyond belief, but they were still worth something, so I wanted to clean them up. However, the pandemic had just hit, and I couldn’t get anyone to come out and do it.”
Gaustad took the clean-up as an opportunity to introduce himself to the Petaluma food scene through his numerous social media updates, which also served to help keep Scowley’s at the top of everyone’s list of new places to try.
Petaluma’s dinning public are supportive, especially when we feel engaged. The secrecy and surprise that may get other towns whipped into a frenzy is particularly short-lived here, often spelling disaster before a Petaluma restaurant really has a chance to present itself. Our locals are just as interested in the people behind the restaurant as the food itself.
To this end, Gaustad gained immediate fans by openly sharing his vision and responding publicly to questions, even reaching out to his new followers to find out their opinion on proposed menu items. He even got help from the local dining scene to find the best local suppliers.
By the time Gaustad opened in October 2020, Scowley’s already had a following of diners eager to try the burgers, dogs, salads and sandwiches. Gaustad’s prior restaurant was a neighborhood hangout and his initial interaction with Petaluma’s curious foodies certainly showed his interest in wanting to be involved in the community more than simply to sell burgers. And sure enough, Scowley’s has already been involved in community events, including a recent evening when Gaustad delivered free dinners to the volunteers of nonprofit Una-Vida to enjoy as they coordinate the weekly food pick-up for families in need.
Adding to the local feel, one of the first orders of business in prepping the new restaurant for its eventual opening was Gaustad’s commissioning of legendary muralist Maxfield Bala to garnish Scowley’s wall with a piece titled “Farm to Table.”
Gaustad was born Sacramento, lived in England for a short while and eventually movied back to the family’s hometown of Berkeley where he started kindergarten. Although his family has historically attended Cal Berkeley for college (since 1919), Gaustad was the black sheep and picked San Francisco State University for the film program.
After graduation, he moved to New York City to produce commercials. He eventually moved back to California, relocating to Los Angeles for the film business. In 1984 he got into computers and found the work both interesting and lucrative. Throughout his career he got to work with many innovative companies and got to see the development of the internet from the inside looking out.
After 9/11, Gaustad moved home to the Bay Area. “I was never a SoCal guy,” he said.
He got into food and had his first job as a chef at Red Grape, just off the square in Sonoma. He would continue to go back forth between hi-tech and food before a girlfriend from Santa Monica told him about a place for sale on University and Shattuck, right in the heart of Berkeley.
“The restaurant was serving Indian food and pizza,” Gaustad remembered. “We had it rebranded and reopened in two months, however we almost went under because it took the city six months to approve our liquor license.”
The restaurant, Bobby G’s, opened in 2006, survived the recession, and would end up being a neighborhood hangout for the next decade.
“We showed all the local games and always had live music,” said Gaustad, who is an accomplished blues harmonica player. However, by 2016, Gaustad had enough of seven-day work weeks and decided to sell his restaurant.
"It was a great experience, but as I was saying my goodbyes that last day, I thought I was being serious when I said I would never open a restaurant again,” he said. “My plan was to write a book about my experience in the restaurant industry.”