Upon running into Paul Shields while he’s leaving Savoy Wines on West Anapamu Street, I ask him, “Why open this wine shop on top of running Savoy Café and Deli?”
He answers candidly and quickly: “I just wanted to talk to Bob Wesley and drink some wine. And I can learn about wine while I’m at it.”
Savoy Wines — which, by my measure, is the most impressive wine shop in Santa Barbara — has been open for close to a year now, and it all came about organically. The calm and kind Shields worked together with the affable Wesley many years ago at Lazy Acres.
Paul Shields was born in Milwaukee. His dad was an aerospace electrical engineer and, in 1974, the family moved to Goleta, where Paul attended Dos Pueblos High School. He then went to Humboldt State, but dropped out after a year.
Paul decided to go to Maui in 1982, and having cooked in high school, he found a kitchen job at the Marriott Hotel. After noticing many chefs come and go with no education, he enrolled at the Maui Community College and eventually became the executive chef for the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.
In 1992, he moved back to Santa Barbara, with hopes of becoming a tri-athlete. “It was a pipe dream of mine,” says Paul, who instead got a job at the Big Yellow House in Summerland, which is where he met his wife, Kathy. “We grew up in the same neighborhood and knew the same friends,” he says.
After a few months, he became the executive sous chef at the Ojai Valley Inn. In 1993, Kathy and Paul married and drove to Bend, Oregon. They thought they could do the great escape and live there, so he got a job as chef de cuisine for the Sunriver Resort. “We were there for a year,” he remembers. “We got pregnant. The winter is very lonely and we got homesick for Santa Barbara.”
In 1994, he got a job at the San Ysidro Ranch as executive sous-chef to Chef Gerard Thompson. Working six days a week from 10 a.m. until midnight, Paul realized he was missing his son’s life, so he decided to take the position of deli manager at Lazy Acres. Jean Luc Fleury, San Ysidro’s food and beverage director, couldn’t believe he’d quit working at the hotel to go run a deli, and even telling Paul, “Here, grab a pickle.”
But that’s where Paul worked happily from 1994 to 2004. “I liked the family aspect of it,” he recalls. “Each department was in charge of its own P & L [profits and loss]. It was a good learning experience.”
He quit in 2004, wanting to do what he was doing at Lazy’s but downtown. It took six months to find the perfect location for Savoy Cafe & Deli, which required a major build-out of the property on West Figueroa Street. Then came the recession — he had close the restaurant in December 2008 and file for bankruptcy. Cantwell’s Deli occupied the Savoy spot for 18 months.
To make ends meet, Paul worked as a security guard doing the graveyard shift at Hollister Ranch. He also moved into a home owned by the Santa Barbara Community Church, which allowed him to stay for free in exchange for serving as the janitor. Then Whole Foods opened, and he became grocery manager. Paul was juggling three jobs at once.
Paul got Savoy back in 2010, and soon after it was featured on the television show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. “When I first opened Savoy, I had 20 employees,” he explains. “When I reopened, I had seven. I was more fiscally responsible.” He’s proud to still emphasize organic foods, and guarantees that the product remains fresh because Savoy is always busy.
“We’re really fortunate we have what we have,” he says. “Being able to go through a crisis like the one we went through, you come out of it more resilient.”
Paul Shields answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your motto?
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.
What is the quality you most like in people?
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
What do you like most about your job?
Working alongside awesome people, serving really cool customers, and having an espresso machine and chocolate chip cookies at hand all day long.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Bodysurfing any hollow beach break in Hawaii with my boys, then evening happy hour with Kath, in Cambria, watching the sunset in hopes of spotting the green flash.
What is your greatest fear?
Not being able to keep up with my wife hiking, biking, tennis, and everything we do together — although, I’m already having a tough time of it…..
Who do you most admire?
Jerry Root, professor at Wheaton University. He’s got a photographic memory and is burly and tough as nails, yet with a soft and compassionate heart.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Sine Qua Non syrah and gruyere cheese.
What is your current state of mind?
Huh? Mostly confused….
What do you most value in friends?
Honesty, loyalty, and a sense of humor.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Which words do you most overuse?
The word “beautiful.” I use it for everything
Which talent would you most like to have?
A serve like Nick Kyrigos and a Roger Federer backhand.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To exercise patience and the ability to bite my tongue.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Parenting four boys and being married to my bride for 25 years.
Where would you most like to live?
Goleta…or Wailea…no, Goleta.
What is your most treasured possession?
My 1995 Ford F-150…its got 280,000 miles on it and still ticking
Who makes you laugh the most?
Kathy, my wife, and my four sons, seriously.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
On what occasion do you lie?
When my wife asks me if she’s a good driver.