SCHNITZEL FOR ALL: Toast the original owners of The Brewhouse at the upcoming Oktoberfest, complete with lederhosen and tuba bands. | Credit: Courtesy Maria Yapur/The Brewhouse

After nearly a quarter-century of brewing beers, serving burgers, and showcasing bands, the original owners of the Brewhouse are selling their beloved restaurant and brewery on West Montecito Street in Santa Barbara. The new owners — both longtime customers raised on the Mesa, one a current employee — plan to bring renewed energy and much-needed investment to the establishment, which is the oldest brewery in town. 

“It’s going to be a different life suddenly to not be thinking about the Brewhouse constantly,” said current co-owner Pete Johnson, who joined as the restaurant’s brewmaster soon after Gary Jacobson and Barbara Long founded it in 1998. “I’m 67 and I’m the youngest of the three of us. The place could use a little more support. Hopefully the new guys are gonna keep it pretty much the same, keep it a cool place, and fix up a few things that have been neglected for a while.”

CHEERS TO PETE: Co-owner Pete Johnson (right) joined The Brewhouse as the brewmaster soon after it was opened in 1998. | Credit: Courtesy Maria Yapur/The Brewhouse

Buying the brewpub are Grant Danely and Joal Clayton, who both grew up just miles away and have been going to the restaurant since it opened.

“Our goal is just to refresh it and keep it going for another 24 years,” said Danely, who started working at the Brewhouse more than a year ago after being let go from his Coral Casino bartending job during COVID. “Hopefully we’ll be in our seventies then and just give it to somebody else.”

The grandson of the founder of Santa Barbara’s Jolly Tiger restaurants, Clayton comes from a longtime orchid-growing family and now rents out his five acres of Carpinteria land as storage to fishermen and others. A part-time real estate agent, Danely worked in tile and stone construction prior to his job at the Coral Casino, but he started in restaurants when he was just 12 years old, working for Rick’s Pizza on the Mesa, Mesa Café, and Cliff & Co. 

“I’ve been in restaurants my whole life,” said Danely. “It’s something I feel really good about and love doing.” 

He dreamed of one day opening a taqueria in New Zealand, until he realized that the Brewhouse ownership seemed to be losing interest. He approached Johnson in December, and they started to negotiate. Danely and Clayton expect to take hold of the license soon, although escrow isn’t expected to close until next month.   

They’d like to start cleaning up the outdoor spaces right away and then may close briefly during January’s slow season to do indoor renovations. But they won’t close during the transition — in fact, they ordered the full NFL package for the season and may even bring back Monday Night Football specials. “We want to make hay while the sun shines,” said Danely.

Transition Time

Longtime manager Maria Yapur, who first worked there 19 years ago and has been there for 11 years straight, said that the sale comes after a tumultuous period for the restaurant. The troubles began in April 2017 with a fire that shut down operations for a couple of months, then came the Thomas Fire that December, followed by the debris flow in January, and the pandemic in 2020. 

END OF ERA: Maria Yapur (right) says that the sale marks the “end of an era” for The Brewhouse. | Credit: Courtesy Maria Yapur/The Brewhouse

“It’s gotten to the point where we don’t really have money in the bank to fix things,” she said. “It’s getting harder and harder.”

Yapur confirmed that the Brewhouse remains a busy place, even as the nearby Funk Zone and multiple breweries lure away some of the younger crowds. “We’re still the only brewery that has a full bar and kitchen,” she said. 

When asked why the Brewhouse became so popular years ago, Johnson couldn’t exactly say. “None of us really knew what we were doing — we were just having fun,” said the former rocket scientist for NASA whose home-brewing hobby turned into his second act. “Maybe that was part of it. We were having fun, and so was everyone else.”

The food cooked by co-owner Jacobson, who developed the restaurant after being a chef at the Brewhouse Grill on State Street, was an early calling card. “That’s what put us on the map: The food was really good,” said Johnson. “I didn’t have to figure out what kind of beer would draw people in. We already had a full house.”

On a personal note, the first food and drink article that I ever wrote more than 20 years ago was about the Brewhouse. I was a regular in those post-college days, often feasting on macadamia-nut-crusted halibut and gorgonzola salad while others devoured filet mignon enchiladas and stroganoff. I interviewed Johnson soon after he started brewing beer and wrote about how co-owner “Barb” Long would hit the stage with her guitar to sing some tunes. “You called us ‘The Hub of Hip,’” recalled Johnson. 

He believes the transition to new ownership should be “fairly seamless,” especially on the brewing side, as Casey Smith, who’s handled the day-to-day brewing for years now, is staying on board. “There will be no drop-off in quality,” said Johnson. “It will probably get better if he gets me out of the way.” If anything, Danely wants to increase distribution of the Brewhouse’s beers to off-site locations, perhaps even the Santa Barbara Bowl. 

An Oktoberfest Goodbye

The original owners aren’t going out with a whimper. They’re hosting one last Oktoberfest on October 7 and 8, expecting numerous former employees to make appearances in a grand goodbye. “We’re going out on a high note and see if we can get some gemütlichkeit going,” said Johnson. “It’s a German word that doesn’t have any direct translation, but it means a feeling of happiness and good times and coziness. It’s a key part of Oktoberfest in Germany. Nobody here has any idea of that word, but they’re all experiencing gemütlichkeit.”

SCHNITZEL FOR ALL: Toast the original owners of The Brewhouse at the upcoming Oktoberfest, complete with lederhosen and tuba bands. | Credit: Courtesy Maria Yapur/The Brewhouse

The annual Oktoberfest celebration — complete with tuba bands, schnitzel, bratwurst, and lederhosen — is one of the restaurant’s crowning achievements, even though other establishments around Santa Barbara now host their own. “We were the original,” said Yapur of the tradition that started about 20 years ago. 

Aside from sprucing things up and focusing on expanding beer distribution, Danely, who spent recent days making chili as a prep cook in the kitchen, plans to keep everything the same, including the staff. He and Clayton have some money set aside for improvements, but not tons, and they’d welcome an equity partner. No matter what, they intend to reinvest the next four years of profits right back into the business. “It’s the oldest brewery in town,” he said. “We’re just breathing life into the place.” 

Regardless of how much stays the same, this sale represents real change for Yapur. “It’s the end of an era for all of us,” she said. “Let’s have one last big hooray for Oktoberfest and go out with a bang.”

Johnson thinks he is ready for retirement. “Who knows?” he pondered with a tinge of reluctance. “I’ll probably wake up in the middle of the night after closing the deal and wish I still owned the Brewhouse.” 

At least he can still enjoy it as a customer, right? “I get free beer for life as part of the deal,” he replied with a chuckle. It didn’t sound like he was joking. 

Enjoy Oktoberfest at the Brewhouse (229 W. Montecito St.; [805] 884-4664; on October 7 and 8, or just come say goodbye to the original owners while enjoying specials all month.  

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