It’s been about a decade since Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone started shifting from a rag-tag manufacturing district home to hardscrabble artists and under-the-radar businesses into a bustling neighborhood full of eating, shopping, and, primarily, drinking options. But despite worries that the growth can’t go on forever, the trend shows no signs of abating, and, last month, one of the Zone’s most ambitious projects to date opened its doors.
Spread across more than 10,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor space on the 100 block of Santa Barbara Street, The Waterline is a multitenant, shared-space development with five distinct businesses that will serve up a combo of food, drink, arts, and crafts. It’s the brainchild of young entrepreneurs John Goodman and Barrett Reed, who, along with Goodman’s wife, Kassie Goodman, carefully curated the mix of tenants to offer hours of potential fun. “We wanted this to be a place where we would want to come ourselves,” said Goodman. “Ideally, people start their nights here, and then don’t have a good excuse to go anywhere else.”
The tastefully redesigned space features the sort of urban-industrial, recycled materials, warm-wood-on-cold-stone motif that’s familiar in much of the Funk Zone. The first two tenants, which opened on May 13, are The Nook, a walk-up, casual-yet-gourmet kitchen run by longtime Santa Barbara Master Chef Norbert Schulz; and the Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop, owned by winemaker turned retailer Peter Burnham. Opening on the other side of the building in August are tasting rooms for Blair Fox Cellars (including his Fox Wine Co., which he started in this same space when it was the Art Foundry) and Topa Topa Brewing Company (headquartered in Ventura), and The Guilded Table, a collection of art studio-galleries where visitors can see jewelers, photographers, leather workers, candle makers, and other artisans at work. There will also be areas for private and semiprivate dining.
For being just 31 years old, Goodman and Reed share quite the résumé. Friends since Santa Barbara Junior High, with dads who both loved old Porsches, they got into the classic-car-dealing business while still at Santa Barbara High School, and then attended USC together in Los Angeles, where they started flipping houses, too. They returned to Santa Barbara in 2007, leased the Santa Barbara Street property for their Goodman Reed Motorcars dealership in 2009, and tiptoed into the commercial real estate market as the Miramar Group, purchasing the half-block of Santa Barbara Street warehouses in 2012. After serving as a place for special events and the car dealership — which is now housed elsewhere downtown — they leased the Santa Barbara Street property in 2013 to a tenant who started the Art Foundry. But that managing tenant essentially disappeared in late 2014, screwing over a number of already booked event clients (such as brides and grooms), and left Goodman and Reed holding the bag.
“It was a terrible thing,” said Goodman. “It cost us a lot of money, but it was an opportune time to do something here that really you can’t do anywhere else in the Funk Zone because of parking.”
The City of Santa Barbara’s strict parking rules mandate adequate spaces for expected visitors, which can require very creative planning to get approvals. (Just ask the folks at The Mill.) But in the case of The Waterline, a former plaster-and-stucco business in the building next door burned to the ground during a dramatic mid-morning fire in 2011, leaving an empty lot. Today, at least as far as the city is concerned, that’s where you park. “That allows for all these leases,” said Goodman.
For such an ambitious project, The Waterline moved through the city planning maze rather silently over the past year, during which time Reed and the Goodmans vetted potential tenants, including some that the city nixed for various reasons. “We determined to commit to our vision, and it’s been brutal because we said no to a lot of great tenants,” said Reed. “It boiled down to what we see as an ideal mix.” And businesses with strong regional connections were key. “You can’t sustain in February unless you have local ties,” said Goodman.
And the early signs are quite promising: Without much publicity at all, business is about double what was expected since opening in May.
Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop
After an early life of crisscrossing the country, Peter Burnham decided to stay put in Santa Barbara about four years ago, when he worked as a cellar rat for Carr Winery and made a little of his own wine. But he wasn’t entirely satisfied. “As much as I love wine, it was two to three months out of the year, and the rest of the year was waiting for harvest,” said Burnham. “So I started getting into craft brew.”
Traveling regularly to taste in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and San Diego, Burnham realized that Santa Barbara lacked a proper taproom and bottle shop. “They exist all over the country,” he said. “They just don’t exist here.” He started looking for potential storefronts, and then learned about The Waterline, which was a perfect fit.
Today, Burnham’s Lama Dog serves about 20 often rare beers on tap and dozens more by the bottle (either for there or to-go) as well as select small-batch wines (many made by assistant winemakers at bigger wineries) and hard cider. It’s a mecca for fans of sour and barrel-aged beers, but offers enough variety that anyone with even a slight taste for malted grains will be stoked. “The whole point,” said Burnham, “is to bring the beer geeks in.”
“This is the first really happy place I’ve worked in a long time,” admits Norbert Schulz, who’s run restaurants in Santa Barbara County since 1981, when he began winning wide and steady acclaim for places like Oysters, Norbert’s, Brigitte’s, the Santa Barbara Club, and, most recently, Mirabelle in Solvang. Schulz was one of those Central Coast chefs who was cooking farm-to-table 30 years ago, before the concept was even invented. “It was just the normal thing,” he said.
After a career comprising mostly white-table-cloth establishments, Schulz jumped at the chance to conceive of a kitchen that serves elevated bar food such as lobster and shrimp albondigas sandwiches, duck foie gras burgers, and purple potato waffles and chicken. Diners order from the window, wander back to their seats around the Lama Dog space (or, soon, to seats at the other establishments), and get a buzzer that alerts them when the food is ready, although Nook staff is doing some service, too.
Though many of his older fans have come to taste his latest creations, Schulz is most enthused about the younger generations he’s serving. “I’m getting hopeful at seeing what America is becoming,” said Schulz, whose younger patrons don’t seem to overindulge, have a true taste for fine food and drink, and bus their own tables, even splitting their recycling from compost and trash without any encouragement. “They don’t get wasted like we did in our young age, and the beer is so much more enjoyable,” he said. “It’s not just buckets of Budweiser.”
As much as he’s recognized for his own success in the kitchen, Schulz is also known for mentoring his crew into fine chefs themselves. “You’re lucky,” he’s told the Nook’s staff. “This is my last one.” But he calls it a happy ending. “When we came to Santa Barbara,” he said, “all we wanted was a casual restaurant.”