The Legacy of Russ Burton and The Habit Burger Grill

Isla Vista is a small university community, hence, food options are few and consequently well-known by students. One such restaurant is The Habit which is located on the active, red light disregarding the corner of Embarcadero del Norte and Pardall Road. A 1973 article from the Daily Nexus,  dives into the legacy of its existence, still present 50 years ago. The Habit Burger Grill franchise, was at the time less than four years old, and the original location only a couple miles away in Goleta which opened in 1969.

The article sheds light on the interesting tale of the location’s owner Russ Burton. Given that it was half a century ago, it would be relevant to remind the community of the restaurant’s historical origins and the man behind it. 

Many students in college are passionate and driven to do something that gives us purpose. In this pursuit, it’s easy to need clarification as to what path we want to go down, and what field or subfield we find most interesting and important to us. If you’ve been there, so has Burton. Burton, pictured below sitting cross-legged and looking like a contemplative philosopher, was indeed a Renaissance man. Besides providing for the hunger of UCSB students, Burton was a man of many talents, which involved working on plays and movie scripts, public relations, and journalism. After graduating from USC with a degree in journalism, he became a movie critic. From there, he went into acting and writing screenplays and worked for the Encyclopedia Britannica. Then, he moved on to do PR work and speech writing for Governor Pat Brown and his successor Ronald Reagan. Along the way, he figured he might as well just become friends with figures like Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, and Ernest Hemingway.

Daily Nexus | 1973

His endeavors led him on adventures abroad where he became the type of man who at one point disappeared from his career to live in Mexico and came back with new ambitions. A man who traveled to Japan became a Buddhist, went on pilgrimages, and returned to the US with a wife. Now a Buddhist, his goal was to write about the destructive tendencies of competing for success and how our culture enslaves our spirits.

Daily Nexus | 1976

The previous photo shows Burton working the line at the Habit he owned. He was known to work there himself and was a charismatic man who conversated with students about his novel aspirations. The revenue from The Habit became a path to becoming what he wanted to be, a fiction writer. Another article from 1976 by the Daily Nexus recalls an exchange between a student and Burton who tries to encourage the college student with his own story, “Ten years ago I left a public relations job with Universal Studios due to the usual disillusionment and pressure. I’m trying to show that you can drop out and make it”. 

Like many older individuals of his time, he believed society was in decay, “suffering from intellectual atrophy”. He argued that television was causing the corruption of storytelling which was simplified into entertainment. Imagine if this man had to see your ‘For You’ page on TikTok. Even in 1973, he wanted to return fiction to the days of the 1920s and 30s, the days of Steinbeck and Hemingway. He wanted to revitalize the art of storytelling and the explorations of the human spirit within fiction. He etched Hemingway’s name on the back of chairs in the Habit restaurant. Personally, I’m sure those aren’t around anymore, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lucky student happened to find references to Burton or fiction literature in or around the Habit today Regardless, if you’re finding your path at UCSB, remember the adventures of Russ Burton. Is this Goleta habit still there or is it replaced by the Isla Vista one?

Michael Broman. Michael is a fourth-year History of Public Policy and Law major. His specific interests are in United States History, Roman History, and Political Philosophy. Outside of the Journal, he works part-time in Montecito and competes in basketball. In his sparse free time, he loves exploring the city and its people, the gym, sports, watching movies, playing video games, and is always finding new music.