About nine years ago, my naïve notion that caterers were just cooks who couldn’t make it in the restaurant business was shattered to pieces when, under the glow of candlelight in the chapel of La Purísima Mission at a dinner honoring vintner Richard Sanford, I became enchanted with a bowl of smoked-boar-and-pumpkin soup. The culprits — who also served truffle tamales that evening, among other eye-opening delicacies — were Jeff and Janet Olsson, owners of New West Catering. It was the first of my frequently repeated lesson as to why they’re the best chefs for any event in Santa Barbara wine country: They are able to seamlessly blend boundary-pushing culinary creativity with the rustic, homegrown charms of the Santa Ynez Valley.
Last December, after 14 years only focused on New West — which they purchased in January 2000 with the primary motivation of relocating to the Central Coast — the Olssons opened their first restaurant, Industrial Eats, right next door to their catering headquarters on the warehouse-lined, now action-packed strip of Industrial Way in Buellton. Ever since, come lunch or dinner time any day of the week, you’ve had to jostle for an open seat.
“The germ of the idea was a retail outlet for the stuff that our friends and customers were always asking to buy,” said Jeff, referring to the many meats he cures himself and the specialty items he buys for catering. “That sort of grew into this.”
“This” is a casual, cafeteria-like format (you order from the cashier and take your number to your seat) with a friend-inducing layout (big tables ensure sitting with strangers) and a who’s who of wine-country clientele (which means, due to those big tables, you might wind up dining with a Richard Sanford or Rick Longoria or Kris Curran). But the main draw is the awesome food (from wood-fired veggies and flatbreads to sandwiches, salads, and a full deli case, including cuts of meat and fish to cook at home) and decently priced drinks ($9 for a good cup of Santa Barbara’s finest wines, some put in kegs just for this restaurant). The Olssons happily admit that this whole combination came together somewhat magically.
“I didn’t even know what our initial concept really was — we just agreed to take over the space,” said Jeff, with Janet nodding nearby beneath the butcher-paper menus listing the “Pizza” and “Not Pizza” options overheard. “I still don’t know what it really is.”
Among other surprises is the popularity of the non-meat dishes, being that New West was always known more for the beastly side of the kitchen (and the restaurant doubles as a craft butchery). “People are going nuts for vegetables roasted in our pizza oven,” said Jeff, pointing particularly to the cauliflower with vadouvan curry, cashews, and raisins.
I helped devour one of those a few months ago, along with chicken liver and guanciale on grilled bread and white shrimp with pancetta, garlic, and chile. Then came the pizzas: I’ve so far gobbled up one topped with Sriracha, farm egg, and crispy pig ear salad; shawarma-lamb, feta, ziki, and harissa; and just last week, a special of pancetta with dandelion greens and fontina cheese. They taste even better than they sound, and the menu changes slightly each week, which is one reason why the Olssons believe that “most of the people who come here have probably been here about 50 times,” including a few who come three times a week on average.
While this is their first restaurant, Industrial Eats marks a homecoming for the Olssons, who actually met while working at the Miracle Grill in New York City. “She was an illegal Irish waitress, and I was a line cook,” said Jeff. “The rest is history.” They lived the restaurant life together, from Manhattan to D.C. to Dallas, eventually catering their first event together in 1992, which happened to be their wedding. They were moving somewhere new every two years until they took the leap by buying New West. “It was terrifying to buy a company and not get a paycheck,” recalled Jeff. They grew the catering company steadily in size and reputation, now employing about 150 part-time people, but they are really enjoying the roughly 20 people they employ full-time at the restaurant now, whom they get to mentor and nurture on a more steady basis.
The only bad news is that New West is cutting back on the number of events it does due to Industrial Eats’ success, but the Olssons are okay with that. “It changes your position on the food chain to have a restaurant,” said Jeff. “It puts a new light on you.”
Industrial Eats (181 Industrial Wy., Buellton; 805-688-8807; industrialeats.com) is open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.