Tina Takaya
Paul Wellman

There’s incredibly palpable warmth when you are welcomed into Opal Restaurant and Bar. Unlike other restaurants where one server takes care of your needs, the entire Opal staff hones into your table during a meal, providing a strong sense of community. And no matter what day of the week it is, the atmosphere always feels like Saturday night — you’re at the right place, at the right time, and you’re the most important party in the room.

At the heart of it all is co-owner Tina Takaya, Santa Barbara’s queen of dining hospitality. A passionate and savvy business owner, Tina works hard to make Santa Barbara a vibrant town, volunteering her spare time to help the Downtown Organization as well as other nonprofit organizations. In 2013, she was the deserved recipient of the George Gerth Volunteer of the Year Award.

She recently took time from her busy schedule to answer the Proust Questionnaire.

What do you like about your job the most?

I love watching guests truly enjoy themselves. When they tell me that they feel at home at Opal, it feels amazing. During the fires and evacuations, longtime regulars of opal snuck down past the police to come eat at the bar. They said that they needed to be at Opal where they felt loved and at home. Ahhh!

What is your favorite memory of working at Opal?

The beginning process. I guess it is actually like having a baby, you forget the hard parts (17-hour days, etc. I love and appreciate the cultivation of Opal throughout the years and I feel the same about the cultivation of relationships as well. We have an inordinate amount of longtime staff along with many regular guests who have also become friends. I feel so fortunate.

What is your favorite thing to eat and why?

This is so difficult because I eat everything and so far the only things I don’t like are marshmallows. I am a texture person. I guess if I have to pick, it would be Japanese food. I grew up with soy sauce, tofu, and pickled radish as our table condiments. I can really eat it morning, noon, and night, and never get tired. Of course you can’t beat a good ribeye, caviar, truffles…yum, oooh now I’m hungry!

What is your motto?

I was going to say “Life is short. Eat dessert first” only because I am in the restaurant biz. However, it is really, “Life is short, be kind to everyone because we don’t always know their story.”

What is your current state of mind?

I am constantly moving and anxious to keep creating and making Opal restaurant and bar better as well as other things in life but at the same time trying to find the balance in life. I am not sure I know that it’s possible?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being in Santa Barbara, waking up to a great cup of strong coffee, a walk through the back garden observing my bees, meeting my boyfriend for lunch and a chat, and having a great high energy fun night at Opal. Or a top-spin cross-court “Rafa” forehand passing shot. Or on a global thought, I’d say world peace, which is of course truly perfect happiness.

What is your greatest fear?

My biggest fear is that many children do not get the security of love, laughter, and the appropriate discipline they deserve to help them to deal with the world ahead of them. I was very lucky to have wonderful parents who gave me great tools for life. I can’t imagine if I didn’t have that because life is never without obstacles either way.

Who do you most admire?

My dad. He was so affectionate and taught me so many things. He would say: “At the end of the day you only have your own integrity.” “You should always feel proud of how you participate in life.” “Learn to laugh at yourself.” “Take risks because the worst that can happen is you start over and you know how to do that.” He brought me up to embrace the difference in people and to be generous because “you don’t die with a sack of money on your chest.”

What is your greatest extravagance?

I hate that this question follows world peace, and I know I should say great food, great wine, and travel. But the truth is I do love Prada purses and a beautiful pair of shoes.

What is the quality you most like in people?

I love people who are open-minded, empathetic, and sympathetic all bundled into a great sense of humor.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

The fear in people that makes one have the need to judge, control, and feel better than others.

What do you most value in friends?

Their honesty to always be who they are and say how they feel. And knowing that they support me in spite of my flaws.

What is your most marked characteristic?

My willingness to try anything and my ability to stay calm and happy when things get hectic.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Life is always happening and when something is out of our control. I always say, “It is what it is” and “If there is an answer then solve it. If not then try to understand it and move on.”

Which talent would you most like to have?

Singing of course! I will always love the memory of walking home from kindergarten — back then it was safe — then walking down the driveway greeted by my half Siamese cat, Tabby, and hearing the sound of my mother singing. Her voice became louder as I walked closer to the front door, which was always open. I would sing with my mother and always felt her passion. I love to sing but only hope to be that good — next life.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My overly efficient MO and how hard I am on myself. I expect too much and feel let down when I am unable to conquer long time flaws.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The personal growth journey from childhood — shyness, less confidence, and bullying — to adulthood: learning and knowing that there is always a solution and that I am okay with who I am but I still always know that growth is forever. I also realize that, as soon as I conquer something, the next lesson is always waiting. Also, I traveled full circle around the world for a year in the ‘80s. I was able to learn so much about people and their cultures as well as learning that I am capable.

Where would you most like to live?

Santa Barbara — lucky me! How can we live in S.B. and not feel that way? The weather, the mountains, the ocean. The environment is the key because anywhere we go, it is up to us to surround ourselves with people and situations that feel good to us.

What is your most treasured possession?

My relationship with my dad is my most treasured possession! I pick him up every Thursday morning in Ojai, we go to cardio rehab in Oxnard, and then to breakfast afterwards. All along we laugh and talk non-stop. I love our visits, kind of like “Tuesdays with Morrie” but better because he’s my dad.

What makes you laugh the most?

What makes me laugh is someone who can make fun of life and can laugh at themselves. My boyfriend makes me laugh the most.


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