Just 1,900 residents. A two-mile-long main street. No stoplights.
Nonetheless, Los Alamos was plenty for Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, who founded the magazine Edible Ojai in 2002 and grew that into Edible Communities, a franchise-like network now 90 magazines strong across North America, including our own Edible Santa Barbara, run by Krista Harris and Steven Brown. The Edible empire of quarterly, perfect-bound, matte-paper magazines have become bibles for those seeking regional, sustainable, organic food, fueling both star chefs as well as farmers, ranchers, mixologists, brewers, winemakers, and even bitters makers.
Now Ryder and Topalian are putting their plates where their pens are, opening a new Los Alamos restaurant called Plenty on Bell. “Sometimes we ask ourselves, ‘How did we decide to do this?’” admitted Ryder, though she did once manage a restaurant almost 30 years ago. “We’re as shocked as anyone else.”
But it also seems like exactly what the couple should be doing. They’re happily settled in Los Alamos and developing a wonderful acre called Clayworks Farm (Topalian is a ceramicist). “We lived in Ojai for years and knew everyone — if you got to a four-way stop, everyone was, “No, no, you go.’ There’s a special charm to that,” explained Ryder. “Los Alamos feels like Ojai 25 years ago. We love the people.”
They also bought the Ghost Riders Tavern, a former biker bar, figuring it could be something, such as Edible Communities’ office or a retail store. Then one day, while lunching with their chef friend Jesper Johansson of the recently closed yet beloved Café Quackenbush, “Carole blurted out, ‘Why don’t you work there? We can turn it into a restaurant!’” Ryder recalled. “That’s how quickly the decision was made.”
Quick decisions don’t mean quick work, especially when it came to renovating Ghost Riders. “There are absolutely no remnants of it,” Ryder said. “People walk in and can’t believe it’s the same place. From the floor to the new roof — and, of course, we removed the stripper pole. We can fit a hundred people on the renovated patio. It never felt like that before.”
The menu — for now they’re open for breakfast and lunch, with hopes for dinner once they can get a liquor license (yet more Ghost Rider issues haunt) — blends enhanced, organic-ized favorites from Quackenbush with highlights from Ryder and Topalian’s travels. “We do a polenta and chorizo that’s like a place in Santa Fe, but Jesper has made it his own,” said Ryder, who’s also excited about the Bowl of the Week, which starts with Rancho Gordo beans that are so hearty and delicious that the dish can be finished with anything.
“The whole concept is to be more of a community, a gathering place,” explained Ryder, who plans to host events, workshops, and cooking classes. “The name comes from the idea ‘there’s always plenty.’”
That will certainly be the case this Sunday, February 6, as one part of Edible Santa Barbara’s action-packed Los Alamos Day. Ryder and Chef Pascale Beale will teach a cooking and recipe writing workshop while Topalian will lead a food photography class. “Everything will be hands-on, more experiential,” promised Ryder. And that should be plenty for everyone.
Open 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, Plenty on Bell is located at 508 Bell Street in Los Alamos. Call (805)344-3020 or see plentyonbell.com.