By GABE SAGLIE, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
December 24, 2018 6:35 AM
This story about a new line of gourmet foods bearing the Montecito name — wine, coffee, olives and, soon, beer — actually begins in New Zealand. That's where a young John Braid, back in the 1960s, fell in love with wine and sold a lot of it out of his shop.
It's a passion that followed the entrepreneurial Kiwi when we packed his bags and moved to Santa Barbara, and then acquired a little shop on East Valley Road.
John Braid would come to be adored by the Montecito community over the 45 years he ran the Village Cheese & Wine Store. His regulars loved the simple yet generous sandwiches, the global food products he carried and the small, rotating selection of wines. It was his personality they treasured most, though — genuine, gentle and generous. A renaissance man and a gentleman at once. And when John Braid died in 2016, a stunned Montecito mourned him.
"I sort of inherited the village shop and suddenly found myself managing it, on the side," recalls Patrick Braid, 48, John's eldest. An entrepreneur himself, the younger Braid had built a career launching tech companies. Running a sandwich shop had never really been on his radar.
Serendipity, though, has a funny way of calling the shots, even in the throes of tragedy.
"And then here comes the Thomas Fire ..."continues Patrick Braid.
The colossal Thomas Fire that roared through Santa Barbara a year ago, and the roaring Montecito debris flows that followed in January, would go on to generate a litany of stories. Heart wrenching stories of the more than 20 residents who perished. And heroic stories of the emergency personnel who risked it all to help. Patrick Braid saw his own personal story suddenly unfolding, too — and a story anchored by that tiny sandwich shop he'd unwittingly inherited from his dad.
The night the Thomas Fire thundered into Montecito, and even as evacuations ensued, Patrick Braid rushed to the store to gather photos and mementoes. "We decided to hold our ground instead and to keep the doors of the shop open," he says, "for the Cal Fire guys and all the first responders. They were stoked to have access to the restaurant, restrooms, cold drinks — just Snickers, even. Funny how the smallest things can make the biggest impression."
Just weeks later, in the wee hours of Jan. 9, Patrick Braid found himself rushing to his shop all over again, this time in boots, lugging gear, as he trounced through knee-high mud. His business had survived. But its location — where East Valley and San Ysidro Roads converge —instantly became "ground zero for responders," recalls Mr. Braid. "So we jumped into action again, opened our doors, put candles in the bathroom, hand-carved more than 100 sandwiches just that first day. All those guys were so pumped that we said, no matter what, we'd stay open throughout the entire event."
No easy task, of course. While the Village Cheese & Wine Store did become the only Montecito food shop open for weeks, not only for rescue personnel but for marooned residents, too, keeping the business open required pulling strings. A few lawmakers and law enforcement leaders did step up to bend the rules just enough, and Patrick Braid became perhaps the only civilian with unfettered access to what had suddenly become a disaster zone. Donations from companies like Vons, Trader Joe's and Smart & Final ensured he'd be able to offer sundries and supplies to his new clientele at no cost.
Months later, as normalcy began its slow return to Montecito, Mr. Braid couldn't shake just how impressed he'd been by the mettle of the rescuers, especially the Montecito Fire Department, his shop's neighbors across the street. "So inspired, actually," he says, "that I hatched this concept of creating brands to help."
So, on the one-year mark of events that changed Montecito forever, Mr. Braid is launching a line of specialty food products that honor its name.
The logo of the Montecito & Company brands features a flame that denotes the Thomas Fire and a heart that signifies recovery. Sales of all its products are linked to a nonprofit that translates a portion of proceeds into donations. Funds are earmarked for any of the various groups assisting in bringing Montecito back on its feet, from the Bucket Brigade to the Food Bank of Santa Barbara County.
Montecito Coffee Co. launched a few weeks ago — a line of coffees produced from top-quality beans from around the world and crafted by renowned Ventura-based roaster Gayla Moore.
The packaging features bright, colorful paintings by Santa Barbara plein air artist Jeremy Harper of iconic local landmarks like Butterfly Beach, Hammonds Reef and, of course, the historic Montecito Firehouse. The coffees sell for $12 and in smaller half-pound packages because "the key is drinking coffee as close to roast date as possible," says Mr. Braid.
Montecito Wine Co. is a tribute to Mr. Braid's late father. It launched this month in partnership with winemaker Doug Margerum, who was himself displaced by the Montecito debris flow. A white Rhone blend from Los Olivos sells for $36 and a pinot noir from the lucrative Sta. Rita Hills growing area retails for $67.
"This is not cheap, discounted stuff," insists Mr. Braid, who aims to ensure his brands yield premium products that "live up to the high quality Montecito is known for. Montecito is, itself, a luxury brand, and at an even more global scale now. So whatever products we release that bear that name have to be the créme-de-la-créme.
"And," he continues, "people won't mind paying a slight premium because they know it's all going to the greater good of humanity and a community that's been devastated."
Montecito Olive Co. just hit the market, too — a collaboration with Craig Makela of Santa Barbara Olive Co. And plans for Montecito Beer are already underway.
All the Montecito Co. brands are selling at the Village Cheese & Wine Store, though Mr. Braid has his sights set on mass distribution as well as direct-to-consumer sales through specialty clubs and, in particular, e-commerce. In fact, he's already secured a lengthy list of online real estate that bears his venture's name, including montecitoandcompany.com, montecitocoffeeco.com, montecitowineco.com, and montecitovillagerecoveryfund.org.
And Montecito is just the beginning.
The power of retail to aid communities in recovery has Mr. Braid thinking on an international level, as he looks ahead to "a brand of collections" inspired by regions around the world hit by disasters.
"We can create a line [of products] for them and a percentage of the gross revenues goes to each affected area," he says.
"A social movement," he calls it. "And to think — it all came from a huge disaster in one of the most beautiful and affluent areas of California."
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Village Cheese & Wine Store, 1485 East Valley Road #14, Montecito. 805-969-3815.