Misty Orman leads an exciting and creative double life. With her husband, Brandon Ristaino, she co-owns Santa Barbara’s top modern cocktail bars, The Good Lion and Test Pilot. But she also has an equally successful and surprising alternate career: “I’m one of the top hand models in the industry,” she tells me with big smile, explaining that, for commercials, directors want a hand like hers that isn’t distracting.
Misty actually specializes in child hand modeling because of her hands’ demure size. I have to admit that, as she sips her latte while we chat at Crushcakes, I cannot stop looking at her dainty hands. Her niche is toys and puppeteering, and she recently worked on a commercial for the PAW Patrol toys. “I bring the pups to life,” she says.
In person, Misty is a total delight, and a terrific raconteur. She tells me so many stories so fast that I have to ask her to slow down so I’m able to keep up with my notetaking.
Misty was born in Dallas, Texas and got a degree in science and art from Richland Community College. She moved to Los Angeles in January 2003 to make a go of it in Hollywood. She landed work, but encountered a lot of pressure from managers who wanted her to lose weight.
One day during a photo shoot, a photographer noticed her hands and suggested she should do hand modeling. “It came at the perfect time in my life,” she reflects, “at a time when I was concerned of what I looked like.”
She married Brandon in 2014, but they weren’t happy living in Los Angeles. They wanted to settle in a great community, and fell in love with Santa Barbara during an anniversary trip to our city. They started looking for a location to open a bar that served the detailed and intricate craft cocktails they both enjoyed. Brandon had created drink menus all over Los Angeles and Misty once used to draw and design dream bars in her spare time.
“The location next to the Granada was perfect, timeless,” she says. They named their first venture “The Good Lion” after Ernest Hemingway’s whimsical short story, which actually mentions Harry’s Bar in Venice, with its dry martinis and negronis. (The first page of the story is cleverly displayed in the bar.)
Five years ago, Brandon felt that tiki bars were going to be popular again. “If you find a way to make tiki drinks that are not too sweet, we’ll do it,” Misty told him. That inspired Test Pilot, a “neo-tiki” bar in the Funk Zone that opened in 2016. Unlike traditional tiki bars, the décor at Test Pilot is light and clean. “I wanted it to be a bright and positive environment,” says Misty.
At both venues, Brandon runs operations and creates cocktails, but they do their tastings together. “I taste the cocktails,” she explains. “If I don’t like them, I tell him. I’m brutally honest.”
Soon, on lower State Street, they will be launching their third venture: The Shaker Mill, which she describes as “old world Havana-meets-Santa Barbara.” Misty explains, “We will be featuring mojitos, daiquiris, and cuba libres, but brought to a new level — think frozen nitro cuba libre.” They will also be doing large format cocktails that are meant to be shareable.
“Brandon and I are always entertaining new ideas,” Misty says. “We’re very hands-on opening a bar.”
Misty Orman answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your motto?
Live life to the fullest and have no regrets. Several times in my early life I’d been scared or anxious to go somewhere or attend an event alone. I started pushing myself in my late teens to go out and create new and interesting experiences. I’d force myself to just do it! You never know who you will meet and what you may learn if you don’t take that risk. I have had a lot of interesting and adventurous stories because of this.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I am from Dallas, Texas, originally and we have southern sayings that my friends and husband tend to get a kick out of. For example, if I’m putting something away at the house like laundry, I say I’m “putting them up.” Everything is “up.” Of course, I say “Y’all” all the time. I also use the word “cozy” and the phrase “relaxing time” a lot. Those are two of my favorite things!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Making a choice to move to Santa Barbara and then opening two successful craft cocktail bars in three years, with a third on the way.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My friends seem to think I’m an upbeat and positive person, so that may be my most marked characteristic. My husband teases me and says that my super power is love, he says I’m a empathetic and loving person.
What is your current state of mind?
Good, but a little overwhelmed with balancing two careers at the moment. Everything always seems to happen at the same time. However, I said to my husband just last week that I am very content and happy with our lives here in Santa Barbara.
What do you like most about your job?
With The Good Lion and Test Pilot bar operations, I really enjoy being part of our Santa Barbara community. Working with local charities, our local farming community, and being part of community driven events is a blast. Events like Fermentation Festival and the Botanical Garden Beer Festival spring to mind as fun events to be a part of.
Before we opened The Good Lion, I had a career in the entertainment business as a hand model and actress. I puppeteer dolls and action figures, bringing them to life in toy commercials. I get to work with awesome people and every commercial is a unique experience. It’s a fun and a creative outlet for me.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Travelling with my husband to places with beautiful views, delicious farm-inspired dinners, and great wine or a perfectly balanced craft cocktail (generally with mezcal or gin in it!).
What is your greatest fear?
I can’t think of a greatest fear but I do fear the impact of human activity on our environment.
Who do you most admire?
My husband. He has a positive passion for life and for learning that is contagious. He’s a kind and good person who works hard and follows his dreams.
What is your greatest extravagance?
We spend our money on experiences. Mostly traveling, delicious farm-to-restaurant style food, great wine, and cocktails.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I like people who are genuine and honest in who they are. Kindness and being open-minded helps as well.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
I dislike when people lie, exaggerate the truth, or make up stories to inflate their own worth or to get attention.
What do you most value in friends?
Genuine conversations. I prefer deep meaningful conversations as opposed to small talk.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would like to have a beautiful singing voice. I love to sing.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to have an impeccable memory. I admire people who can tell stories with all the facts, names, and dates accurately.
Where would you most like to live?
Here in Santa Barbara and in Spain, either in Barcelona or Girona.
What is your most treasured possession?
A diamond star necklace that my grandmother gave me before she passed. I always loved the necklace since I was a little girl. We spent a lot of time together when I was a kid.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My husband and our staff. They have the best sense of humor. I’m always laughing at their jokes and slacks. (Slack is a digital message board we use to communicate with our teams.)
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I can’t think of a historical figure that resonates with me. If we changed it to a TV character, I would say Khaleesi, Daenery’s Targaryen, from Game of Thrones.
On what occasion do you lie?
I’m a horrible liar. I usually end up telling the truth if I try to lie. Sometimes, I may lie if someone asks me if I like something and I don’t want to hurt their feelings.