It’s been about one year since Oliver’s in Montecito opened, and this sexy vegan restaurant with a full bar has become one of the must-go places on Coast Village Road.
Did I mention it was vegan? I’ve been a vegetarian all my life, and Oliver’s is the only restaurant in town where I can convince my meat-loving, cocktail-swirling partner to accompany me without making him feel like he’s sacrificing his style.
Besides the great food, the atmosphere and service is warm and inviting, which I attribute to my longtime friend Jeremy Sewell, who is the general manager. Jeremy reminds me of what Willy Wonka once said: “A little nonsense now and then, it’s relished by the wisest of men.”
A hard worker, Jeremy lives life to the fullest, and his signature hearty laugh and attention to detail are pretty obvious. “On the floor I’m very meticulous and service-oriented,” Jeremy tells me. “I try to instill that in the team.”
Jeremy was born in Houston, Texas, and attended the University of Texas for just one year. “I was young, and not wanting to study — just stupid,” he readily admits. “I wanted to be an engineer until I started taking the classes.”
He returned to Houston in 2007, and began serving tables and remodeling bathrooms. Jeremy learned while working at Brenner’s on the Bayou, where he picked the brain of a knowledgeable sommelier. “I got into wine,” he remembers. “I tried all varietals. I understood the sommelier role is a personality on the floor.”
He followed a girl to Santa Barbara. “She’d graduated from UCSB,” he explains. “We came to vacation for a couple of weeks.” In December 2011, they flew back with the intention of staying, and he started interviewing for jobs. A week later, he drove 28 hours straight from Texas to work at The Hungry Cat.
He then moved to El Encanto to help reopen that venerable spot on the Riviera. “I eventually became their sommelier,” he says. “I did all the beverage ordering for the whole property.” He proudly found his stride in managing fine dining, which also allowed him to advance his career. He stayed at El Encanto for nearly five years.
Oliver’s was the first time Jeremy managed a restaurant opening from the ground up. “I got to select a team,” he explains. “And building the wine list was pretty exciting. I could be geeky and put unexpected things on the list like gewürztraminer and gruner veltliner.”
In his spare time, he once worked with winemaker Ernst Storm for a couple of days each week. “I love learning about wine making,” he says. “Getting to work with him was exceptional. My passion has always been talking about wine and to be hands-on.”
Jeremy Sewell answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your motto?
Hard work pays off.
What is your most marked characteristic?
My laugh. Anyone who knows or has worked with me will tell you that I have an infectious laugh and that I can be heard throughout the entire restaurant.
Where would you most like to live?
On a vineyard in Burgundy. I love wine and being in nature. When I was working for Storm Wines, we would start every morning I worked with a 5K run through the vineyards. I’ve never felt so much peace.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Sense of humor. I like to laugh out loud.
What do you like most about your job?
I enjoy my team. I had the opportunity to hand select them from over 100 applicants. I wanted the friendliest front-of-house team in all of the Central Coast and that’s what I found. They were mostly all new to the industry. This was great since they didn’t have any of the bad habits and I could mold them through the knowledge that I have gained in the 10 years that I have been in the fine dining Industry.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sipping fine Champagne with a beautiful woman, on a sailboat in the Mediterranean Sea.
What is your greatest fear?
After a few serious injuries, my greatest fear is not being able to walk when I get older. I work on my feet and am an active person. I could not imagine be bound to the confines of a chair.
Who do you most admire?
Arnold Schwarzenegger. He overcame all of the naysayers, worked his ass off, and achieved everything he ever wanted.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Probably my car that I have now. I wanted something with leather seats and all the bells and whistles. It felt like the right time to get it since I am making the best money of my life and truly feel like I have earned it.
What is your current state of mind?
Ecstatic! I work at a job that I love, with great people and I just moved into a new place.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Fakeness. I have known plenty of people who were nice to people’s faces, but behind the scenes were some of the worst people that I have ever met.
What do you most value in friends?
Conversation and a sense of humor. If I’m not able to have a meaningful conversation or can’t joke around with each other, then why are we friends.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to play the piano.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My hair. I’m always jealous of people with great hair. It looks fun.
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t have one. I got rid of most of my worldly possessions a couple of years ago. If I ever lost anything that I owned I would move on.
What makes you laugh the most?
The show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’ve been watching it since the first season and it never ceases to amaze me. They are brilliant writers.
On what occasion do you lie?
When a woman asks you if they look fat. Always say, “NO!”