Best of Santa Barbara® 2017: Romance

Paul Wellman

Place to Buy Intimate Apparel

Victoria’s Secret

320 Paseo Nuevo., 962-1023,

When Roy and Gaye Raymond founded Victoria’s Secret in 1977, it was meant to be a lingerie shop where men could feel comfortable purchasing lacy things for their significant others. For the next five years, the company trundled along, expanding to five stores and grossing upward of $5 million annually, filling a niche market with little hope of going global. The Raymonds sold Victoria’s Secret to The Limited in 1982, and by the next year, the company had shifted its attention to female buyers, selling all manner of undergarments, thus appealing to a broader swath of the population. While VS still offers frilly undergarments, the multibillion-dollar business stays successful thanks to great deals on stylish, comfortable panties and bras to suit all wearers.

Finalist: A Tropical Affair


Pure Joy Catering

111 E. Haley St., 963-5766,

When Lynette La Mere started what would become Pure Joy Catering, she had one pot and two small kids. That was 17 years ago. She now caters roughly 200 events a year, owns her own space on Haley Street, and has 10 full-time employees and a team of 300. “We make everything from scratch,” she said. She’s currently preparing a five-course meal for 160 high-end wine lovers. But weddings are key. “We specialize in listening,” La Mere said. “Every wedding is so different.” La Mere said she cherishes the variety. “I love my work,” she said. “That’s why we call it Pure Joy.”

Finalist: C’est Cheese


Riley’s Flowers

1106 Chapala St., 965-1187,

When Maureen Riley got into the flower business, she started out at a little stand at the intersection of State Street and La Cumbre Road. The year was 1976. From then, she expanded to as many as 15 stands between Goleta and Carpinteria. Today, Riley is still selling flowers, but the street stands are gone, and she operates out of her own shop at the corner of Chapala and Figueroa streets. “We’re what they call a European bucket-shop,” said Rachel Frantzich, floral designer at Riley’s. “We’ve kept the corner-stand philosophy.” Customers there have come to expect — and to get — down-home, accessible, customized service.

Finalist: Kaleidoscope Flowers


Via Imagery

Tony Modugno of Via Imagery credits his creative co-conspirator and friend since kindergarten, Tynan Daniels, for pushing him into photography in high school. Six years ago, they teamed up to shoot a few weddings. Where some photographers specialize in the more posed approach, Modugno and Daniels strive for the “fly-on-the-wall” approach. They hang out with the bride and groom before the event. By making them more comfortable, the hope is to get more candid shots ​— ​splashes of time. They favor natural lighting, as well. The goal, Modugno said, is to capture moments “when the bride and groom forget we are there.”

Finalist: Kacie Jean Photography

Wedding Planner

Wild Heart Events


Planning weddings is a bit like dancing with nitroglycerin; any misstep can be fatal. There are so many details to get right and an infinity of ways they might go wrong. In other words, it’s not an occupation for the faint of heart. “I’m one of the most even-keeled people I know,” said Jaime Kostechko of Wild Heart Events, who has now planned hundreds of weddings. The big ones, she said, run toward 250 people; the more typical closer to 120. “It’s no stress for me,” she said. “I get to make the best day of people’s lives.”

Finalist: Dalina Klan

Wedding Venue

San Ysidro Ranch

900 San Ysidro Ln., 565-1700,

Winston Churchill didn’t get married at Montecito’s storied San Ysidro Ranch; he didn’t even honeymoon there like John and Jacqueline Kennedy so famously did. But back in 1912, Churchill and his family escaped the chill of England’s cold, penetrating winter to hibernate at the ranch. “It is difficult for one used to our Eastern climate to imagine a more delightful situation,” wrote Churchill. If that’s not enough, John Huston wrote the screenplay to The African Queen while staying there. You do the math. Yes, the prices are high, but given the ranch’s obvious mojo, you can’t afford not to get married there.

Finalist: Bacara Resort & Spa

Event DJ

Darla Bea


The irrepressible Darla Bea isn’t really everywhere; it only seems that way. Bea, who deejays about two weddings a weekend, first got a taste for the mic hosting a monthly ’80s night at the Mercury Lounge. She dubbed it L’Eighties Night, a play on Ladies’ Night. Standing up for hours on end can take a toll, but Bea said she loves “hearing people scream their favorite song.” Some songs have worn out their welcome sufficiently for Bea to temporarily retire them. But certain old war horses like “Brick House” still get people from all ages out on the dance floor. “Having people ask for ‘one more song!’ is the greatest feeling ever.”

Finalist: DJ Gavin Roy

Paul Wellman

Wedding Cake Shop

Lilac Pâtisserie

1017 State St., 845-7400,

Gillian Muralles laughs as she riffs on the line — “Let them eat cake”— that famously cost Marie Antoinette her head. “We want everyone to eat cake!” she said. Three years ago, Muralles started Lilac Pâtisserie with her husband, Alam Muralles, and together they’ve been taking Santa Barbara’s wedding cake scene by storm. They’ve made five-foot-long rocket ships and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the wedding cake is really their bread and butter. Recently they put the finishing touches on a six-tiered gravity-defying creation with gold foil and handmade magnolia sugar flowers. “Every cake is different,” she stressed.

Finalist: Crushcakes & Café

Tuxedo Rental

Mission Tuxedos

135 W. Mission St., 569-3334,

One might think the tuxedo is fixed, immutable, and impervious to the whims of fashion. But John Murray of Mission Tuxedo has been renting monkey suits long enough to see a few shifts. “Right now, everything’s very fitted,” he says. “It’s the slim fit.” Those hoping to relive their ’80s past by renting a vintage powder blue need to look elsewhere, he said. “There was a brief resurgence of that sort of thing when Dumb and Dumber came out,” he recalled, “but it didn’t last long. After nearly 30 years in the biz, Murray still likes it. “It’s usually a happy time,” he said. “We get to be part of the celebration.”

Finalist: Men’s Wearhouse

Limo Service

Rockstar Transportation


James Houseman said people looking for buttoned-down “yes sir, no sir” limo drivers should probably call someone else. “We want to help you have fun,” said Houseman, who started Rockstar Transportation 17 years ago. He equips his limo buses, for example, with karaoke machines. Rockstar does proms, quinceañeras, extended bar hops, wine tours, and, of course, weddings. Weddings, he said, can be the most stressful, given all the logistics involved for so many people. They can also be rewarding. “We want to get you where you’re going,” he said. “But we really want you to have fun.”

Finalist: TJ Limousine Service

Paul Wellman

Event Rentals

The Tent Merchant

202 E. Haley St., 963-6064,

Sherine and John Leenhouwers run a business called The Tent Merchant, but that doesn’t convey a tenth of what they do. Yes, the Leenhouwerses rent tents, but what they really provide are mini pop-up cities. They provide the necessary infrastructure for weddings, fundraisers, galas, and large gatherings, including flatware, rugs, tents, planters, light sconces, and all the thousand-and-one props needed to pull such events off in style. Both, it turns out, started out as public school teachers. They got into the hospitality biz as a sideline, renting out Middle Eastern tents for themed events many moons ago. From there, the business mushroomed.

Finalist: Classic Party Rentals

Restaurant with a View

Belmond El Encanto

800 Alvarado Pl., 845-5800,

There’s no place better to exchange faraway glances—with a drink in hand—than the faraway views offered at Belmond El Encanto. The food is superb, whether you invest in a full-fledged meal or partake of something more ticklish, like a salad. Originally, El Encanto was one of the flagship developments that anchored the Riviera. Over the years, its fortunes ebbed and flowed as different owners came and went. In 2004, the luxury-minded Orient-Express Hotel chain was farsighted enough to scoop it up, fix it up, and fling open the doors. Today, the place hums with a cool, sophisticated, Mad Men vibe.

Finalist: Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach

Bed and Breakfast Inn

The Upham

1404 De la Vina St., 962-0058,

The Upham is the oldest continuously operated hotel in all of California. That didn’t happen by accident. In 1871, the hotel — then owned by a distant relative of Abraham Lincoln—opened its doors for business. In 1898, the Upham family took over, and the name changed accordingly. The place offers cottage-style accommodations that are both plush and down-home. No less a luminary than Aldous Huxley called The Upham home when he ensconced here in the late ’50s. The hotel’s restaurant, Louie’s, doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves, but that’s what happens when you stay in business so long.

Finalist: Simpson House Inn


Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

1260 Channel Dr., 969-2261,

Other hotels have elegance; The Biltmore defines it. Built in 1927, The Biltmore is to hotels what the Santa Barbara Courthouse is to jurisprudence. It’s like Cary Grant in a tuxedo drinking deeply from the dress into which Carole Lombard was poured. It’s a way-back machine to a whole other time and aesthetic. Tiles, mosaics, gardens, fountains, low-slung elegance, Montecito money. Outside and across the street, of course, there’s this thing called the ocean. It’s where people have their parents take them when they’re still young. And vice versa.

Finalist: Bacara Resort & Spa


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