Sometimes it seems restaurateurs flip a coin choosing a cuisine for new spots, with heads meaning Mexican and tails meaning pizza. That means no one, especially creativity, wins. That’s where Daniel Dunietz stands out, bringing Buddha Bowls (901 Embarcadero del Mar, (805) 961-4555, buddhabowlsiv.com) to Isla Vista.
“The challenge I’ve had is people are creatures of habit,” he explained, so they don’t necessarily want to eat things out of the box, or bread bowl, as the case may be. “My way to solve it: pictures. So when you see it, you say, ‘That looks delicious. I want it.’” Now photos of his bowls, from the Mediterranean to the mellow, abound, featuring food photography so well done you almost might think Buddha Bowls is a chain you’ve never heard of.
But the spot is sui generis, an idea the Evanston, Illinois, native has been developing since high school. A UCSB grad, Dunietz signed his lease in February of last year, walked in June, and opened in October. He fell in love with Isla Vista when looking at schools, claiming, “I saw the demographic: a liberal, open-minded, laid-back beach community of younger people and thought, ‘It’s perfect.’” He started UCSB in economics until it “got so theoretical” and wound up an English major because he likes to read and write, skills that have been crucial for launching Buddha Bowls. He also praised the Technology Management Program. “I didn’t get the certificate,” he said, “but it was like a class in entrepreneurship.”
The idea to put fresh veggies, maybe some chicken, and a good sauce into a bread bowl and then heat that up took a bit for Dunietz to develop. “It’s been an evolution and is still an evolution,” he explained. “It started with bagels. I wanted to call it Blunts and Bagels, a drive-through bagels and dispensary. And then it hit me I don’t think people should be driving high.” He scooped out some bagel, added hummus, and liked it, but realized the bagel wasn’t big enough. Then came bread bowls, whose tops, or “snaps,” as he calls them, can also be sold to the more carb-o-phobic.
“I’ve never been much for the hoity-toity,” he explained. “Cooking isn’t magical stuff, but there is something about sautéed onions and vegetables. If you keep tweaking, it will taste good.” His bread comes daily from Tri-County Bread Service, but he does pretty much everything else from scratch, including a popular clam chowder. “I like to squeeze my own lemons; the pre-squeezed stuff is not the same,” he said. “That’s part of the vibe here: It’s like home cooking, not the usual I.V. drunky food party party.”
So why Buddha Bowls? “That’s the whole idea of the universal, bringing people together,” said Dunietz. “I’m not just selling bowls, I’m selling the culture of Isla Vista.”