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“I started to notice that Santa Barbara lacked a tap room and bottle shop,” says Peter Burnham about the genesis of Lama Dog, the Funk Zone craft beer hot spot that he founded in 2016. “The light bulb went on. I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one. It was around the same time that we were starting to get better food and better beer.”
The Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop, which is located inside of the Waterline development, serves 20 revolving craft beers and four wines on tap as well as more than 300 bottled/canned brews, ciders, kombuchas, and wines from around the world. The ever-bustling bar’s relaxed and approachable feel reflects Burnham’s personality, and its town-square, family-friendly feel is crucial to the experience.
It doesn’t hurt having renowned Chef Nobert Schulz serving food in The Nook just steps from the bar. “I’ve gained 20 pounds since I opened Lama Dog,” admits Burnham about his love for that food and beer.
Born in Buffalo, New York, Burnham lived all around New York and New Jersey with his parents, Dan and Meg. When he turned 15, they moved to Palos Verdes. “Moving to the land of the blonde was scary,” he recalls. “I didn’t know anything about California, but I got used to it.”
Upon graduating from Palos Verdes Peninsula High in 1993, Burnham decided to study at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. “There was a romantic East Coast notion I had in mind,” he confesses. He studied philosophy, hoping it would help him determine what to do with his life. “After graduation in 1997, I did a lot of wandering,” he explains. “I had a million jobs. I went cross-country a few times. I’ve been to 49 states. Nothing has felt permanent until Santa Barbara.”
In 2005, Dan and Meg Burnham moved here. Peter followed, working as a “cellar rat” for Beckmen Vineyards in Santa Ynez for five years. Then he went to Carr Winery, becoming assistant winemaker and making his own wine.
“I love wine, and I loved making wine, but I got bored,” explains Burnham. “During harvest, winemakers drink a lot of beer. During one harvest, I was introduced to an IPA. I couldn’t believe what they were doing. I started to get into it and started traveling to try new beers.”
During one trip to San Diego, he visited a craft beer tap room and bottle shop, which led to his epiphany. He quit Carr in 2014 and began searching for the perfect location. He didn’t think it would be too hard, but he wound up spending two years on the hunt. “It’s a risk I’m happy I took,” says Burnham, pleased with the spot he eventually found.
He named the tap room after Lama, his Tibetan Mastiff who was named after fellow Tibetan, the Dalai Lama. “Lama, my dog, has a yard now,” Burnham divulges. “He’s turned into a grumpy old dog. He doesn’t get along with customers anymore.”
There’s also a special reason why the pleasant and soulful Burnham Peter wanted to open Lama Dog. “I’m an introvert,” he confesses, “and I thought the bar would help me out of my shell.”
Peter Burnham answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your motto?
Be kind. And, of course: “Only Good Beer!”
What is your current state of mind?
I’m a worrier; I’m always anxious about something or other even if business and life are going well. I do my best to stop and smell the roses, but it can be tough to stay in that state of mind.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I had to ask my girlfriend this one. She said that being friendly and welcoming are my most obvious characteristics.
What do you like most about your job?
Having the ability to create a team based on my values, and the people I’ve hired are the best in town. Selling fantastic beer and wine isn’t so bad either.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I was a philosophy major in college, and spent four years trying to answer this question! I got nowhere with it, but I think being content with what I already have is as close to an answer as I was able to muster.
What is your greatest fear?
Without a doubt, speaking in front of groups or anything involving being the center of attention. Death is a distant two.
Who do you most admire?
My parents. They are kind, intelligent, and generous. They’ve known each other since they were kids in Detroit, started dating at 16, got married at 21, and are still the happiest couple I know.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Spending all of my money to build a beer bar!
What is the quality you most like in people?
Kindness and curiosity, without a doubt.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Insincerity and people with ulterior motives. I hate the feeling that I’m being used.
What do you most value in friends?
Humor, decency, and the ability to forgive.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I don’t know, man.”
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to have musical talent. I have taken guitar and banjo lessons, but my desire far exceeds my ability.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d stop worrying about what others think about me.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop, of course! I am proud that I was able to see it through to fruition and success.
Where would you most like to live?
I’ve lived all over the country, have been to 49 states, driven cross-country 15 times, and traveled much of the world. I chose Santa Barbara. If I had a second home, it would be on a mountain with a lake.
What is your most treasured possession?
My dog, Lama. Although I’m not sure he’d appreciate being called a “possession.”
Who makes you laugh the most?
As far as comedians go, I’d say John Mulaney, Patton Oswald, and Jim Jeffries. My brother Dan is the funniest person I know, definitely not my friend Corey. Humor is a constant in my life, be it with my friends, my girlfriend, or at work.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
As a kid, Larry Bird and John James Audubon were my heroes. I was/am a b(B)ird nerd.