Seventy years ago, the Cuyama Buckhorn opened along Highway 166, bringing an oasis of culture and cuisine to the high-desert moonscape of the Cuyama Valley. The Buckhorn quickly became a community hub for this hardscrabble region of northeastern Santa Barbara County, historically home to oil drilling, ranching, vineyards, orchards, and industrial carrot farming. The bar was bumping, and people came from all around to enjoy a chuck-wagon BBQ every Sunday, when beef, beans, and more could be enjoyed for just $2 a head.
In recent years, as the ranches around New Cuyama and Ventucopa became epicenters for sustainable farming and climate resiliency, the Buckhorn underwent its own evolution. Through the vision of Ferial Sadeghian and Jeff Vance — partners in the Los Angeles design and architecture firm iD Group, who purchased the property in 2018 — the Buckhorn is now a full-service resort and event space, fully open since early 2021.
“Finally, everything is becoming a reality,” said Sadeghian last month. “Everything is operating.”
At its heart is The Buckhorn Restaurant & Bar, run by Chef Daniel Horn, who’s developed menus to meet today’s farm-to-table standards while focusing as much as possible on Cuyama Valley purveyors. He’s used to the challenges of remote resorts, having worked in the Cambodian jungle, Utah desert, and Caribbean islands before starting at the Buckhorn in November 2020. Staffing from the region’s tiny population remains difficult — Sadeghian recently worked the line in the kitchen herself — but Horn is keeping the restaurant open seven days a week.
Taking cues from the past — specifically, from newspaper clippings about the original Sunday series, started in 1958 by then-proprietor Russ Princeton — the Buckhorn just launched a new Chuck Wagon BBQ series, happening every third Sunday of the month through October. The prices are a bit higher than it was back then — now $30 for adults, $18 for kids — but the food’s probably a bit tastier and healthier. The kick-off menu in May featured oak-roasted brisket, tri-tip, chicken, veggies, and pinquito beans, but specials such as orzo salad with grilled veggies in chipotle pesto and stonefuit cobbler are expected to come in future chow-downs.
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The series shows how much the new owners are trying to embrace the culture of Cuyama, albeit in updated digs. There were initial concerns that this L.A. outfit, which advertised the resort on a Sunset Strip billboard, would try to wipe out the Buckhorn’s Western character, but that’s really what drew them in. “We’ve always wanted to cherish that more,” said Sadeghian. “Whenever we sit with anyone, the stories you hear about the way of life here — it’s just amazing and it’s beautiful.”
She hopes to add even more events to enhance that, much like the Wild Flour Celebration held each spring to toast the region’s wildflowers while learning how to bake. They’re also playing up Cuyama culture by showcasing live music, hosting readings by “The Cowboy Poet” Dick Gibford, and offering equestrian and real ranching experiences at the nearby Hidden Creek and Johnston ranches.
The strongest evidence that the approach is working comes back to the BBQ series itself. The granddaughter of Russ Princeton, the property’s longtime owner and Chuck Wagon creator, threw a 70th birthday party for her dad at the Buckhorn, where they shared pictures and stories with the current crew.
But they’re finding fans from much farther away as well. “We’ve gotten a few international people,” said Sadeghian. “That was fascinating. I never thought we would get that here.”
She believes the Chuck Wagon series will deepen ties to locals and visitors alike, reporting that the first one in May was “amazing” and attracted ranchers that she’d never met before. “When food is cooked on an open fire outdoors,” she explained, “it hits on so many levels.”
The Cuyama Buckhorn’s Chuck Wagon BBQ Series is every third Sunday of the month until October, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at 4923 Primero St. in New Cuyama. See cuyamabuckhorn.com.