Pacific Coast Business Times Proudly serving Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties Sat, 20 Dec 2014 01:06:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Before merger is approved Albertons & Safeway to sell 168 stores Sat, 20 Dec 2014 01:06:46 +0000 Before the two merge, Albertons & Safeway announced Dec. 19 that the companies have agreed to sell 168 stores across eight states to four separate buyers. The deals have to be approved by the Federal Trade Commission.

The divestiture of the stores is part of another deal to secure FTC clearance for Albertons to acquire Safeway in a $9.2 billion deal. That transaction, which the companies are calling a merger, was announced in March and is expected to close in January.

“We’re pleased to have found strong buyers for these stores and to have completed this important step toward combining Albertsons and Safeway,” Safeway President and CEO Robert Edwards, who will serve as the combined company’s president and CEO, said in a press release.

If the deals are approved, 14 Albertons and six Vons stores througout the Tri-Counties will be acquired by Bellingham, Washington-based grocery chain Haggen. In total, Haggen is set to take over 146 stores.

Safeway, which operates Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb and Carrs stores, is a Fortune 100 company and one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United States with sales of $35.1 billion in 2013.

Albertsons, operates ACME, Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaws, Star Market and Super Saver, and stores under the United Family of stores, Amigos, Market Street and United Supermarkets. The company is privately owned by Cerberus Capital Management, Kimco Realty Corporation, Klaff Realty, Lubert-Adler Partners and Schottenstein Stores Corporation. The company currently operates 1,081 stores and 14 distribution centers in 29 states with about 115,000 employees.

Haggen’s purchase would expand the company’s operations from its current 18 stores with 16 pharmacies to 164 stores with 106 pharmacies. In addition to California, the company would gain territory in Nevada and Arizona. It would also grow the company’s ranks from 2,000 employees to more than 10,000 employees.

According to a statement from Albertons, under the terms of the purchase agreements, the buyers will acquire the stores, equipment and inventory, and intend to hire most, if not all, of the store employees once the deal closes.

After the close of the transaction in early 2015, Haggen will starting rebranding the Albertson and Safeway stores it purchased to the Haggen banner in phases. All current retail employees will have the opportunity to join Haggen as stores are transitioned, the company said. Haggen also plans to retain the current store management teams.

In addition to the Haggen deal, Associated Food Stores will purchase eight stores in Montana and Wyoming, Associated Wholesale Grocers and Minyards will purchase 12 stores in Texas and Supervalu will purchase two stores in Washington.

“With this pivotal acquisition, we will have the opportunity to introduce many more customers to the Haggen experience. Our Pacific Northwest grocery store chain has been committed to local sourcing, investing in the communities we serve, and providing genuine service and homemade quality since it was founded in 1933,” said John Caple, chairman of the Haggen board of directors and partner at Comvest Partners, a private investment firm that owns the majority of shares of Haggen.

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Taking on the sharks: SLO family gets Mark Cuban’s cash for Q-Flex expansion Fri, 19 Dec 2014 21:13:48 +0000 Andrea Cao, left, stands with her business partner and mom, Hong, as the two pitch their Q-Flex product on ABC's "Shark Tank."

Andrea Cao, left, stands with her business partner and mom, Hong, as the two pitch their Q-Flex product on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” (Courtesy Image)


What began as a daughter’s idea to help her ailing mother after 12-hour workdays has turned into a cameo on primetime television and a partnership with a billionaire businessman.

The concluding results couldn’t have worked out better for 13-year-old San Luis Obispo-native Andrea Cao and her mother, Hong Cao, after the two appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” on Friday, Dec. 12. The two pitched their startup product, the Q-Flex, to the sharks in search of $20,000 in exchange for 20 percent of their company.

As Andrea explained to the panel of five well-heeled and sharp-tongued investors, the Q-Flex back and body massage tool is a personal acupressure system. It’s designed to be used on sore spots and muscles that are knotted up. The 13-ounce portable, purple, question mark-shaped tool constructed out of bulletproof plastic works manually by putting the pear-like tip of the Q-Flex on a sore area and simply pulling and releasing. By using this technique, it flexes to provide the right amount of pressure on your back to relive tension and pain.

The idea to develop the Q-Flex came to Andrea after being consistently tasked with alleviating her mother’s back pain.

“I’m a nurse, and I have to work long hours,” said Hong Cao. “After working on my feet, I’d come home so sore, I could barely move. I would beg Andrea to massage my back for me.”
But a mother’s needs often combat with a daughter’s quest for autonomy. “I love my mom, but I was getting really tired [of giving her back massages], I had homework to do, I had pets to feed. So I went to [my mom] and said, can we make something for this?”

So the two went to work spending months conceptualizing, designing and testing a uniquely angled product, geared towards mitigating the vast market of “65 million people suffering from back pain alone,” Andrea explained.

But the mother and daughter duo didn’t start producing their product blindly. Hong, who was once an engineer and now a registered nurse, relied on her professional experience to develop the prototype.

“The idea behind this is when our body has a pain, blood flows to that problem area. By stimulating those pressure points, it increases the blood flow to that area,” Hong said.What makes the Q-Flex unique is that it differentiates itself from other similar designs by its angle and specially formulated flexible plastic.

Andrea and Hong Cao first started pushing their product the old fashioned way. “I go door-to-door selling them in my neighborhood,” said Andrea.

The door-to-door efforts from Andrea proved to be a success, as her numbers spoke volumes to the would-be investors. With 800 units sold, and with a price point between $25-$36 per Q-Flex — which costs just $4.50 to produce — the sharks were left in awe over the eighth grader’s charisma and ambition. Her ambition charmed billionaire Mark Cuban, who shouted out: “Good for you, a capitalist is born.”

Some sharks wondered if the Q-Flex is distinctive enough to gain patent protection.Others wondered if Hong — a full-time nurse — and Andrea — a full-time student — were so consumed with everyday life that the business might not get enough attention.

But when asked by the sharks which of them would be quitting their job to run Q-Flex, answering for her mother, Andrea simply said “her,” as she looked at mom and smiled.

With three sharks already out, Cuban and real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran merged their investment and made the Cao’s a counter offer. The two sharks offered to put $25,000 on the table in exchange for 25 percent of the Q-Flex company. Additionally, Cuban and Corcoran would handle the entire businesses operations, with a stipulation of Andrea having to be on-call for any business-related interactions and sales calls. The Cao’s jumped all over the opportunity to work with two of the most powerful investors in the country, and so far the results have been a success.

Since cutting the deal with the sharks, Q-Flex has launched a website, a Facebook page and is even selling on

Q-Flex’s Shark Tank appearance caused an influx in sales and its construction and shipping is currently bottlenecking for the holiday season. A rather small and satisfying price to pay, especially considering that this project established its roots from a middle school student selling her product door-to-door.

The innovation of the Q-Flex, coupled with the notoriety received after appearing on network television, is making for some memorable moments.

“It was a really amazing experience, it was nerve racking but it was breathtaking at the same time,” said Andrea. “A once in a lifetime opportunity.”

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LTC Properties raises $24.5M through sale of shares Fri, 19 Dec 2014 19:51:12 +0000 Westlake Village-based LTC Properties, on Dec. 18, filed documents with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it is selling 600,000 shares of its common stock.

The publicly traded real estate and investment trust has a purchase agreement with RREEF America, a Chicago-based affiliate of RREEF Property Trust, at a price of $41.50 per share. For LTC, the deal is worth nearly $24.5 million.

According to company filings, LTC will use the proceeds of the sale to pay down outstanding debt on its unsecured credit line, fund acquisitions and current development pipeline and for general corporate purposes.

LTC invests primarily in senior housing and long-term care properties through acquisitions, development, mortgage loans and other investments.

On Dec. 19 the company announced it had acquired a senior housing facility in Castle Rock, Colorado, that specializes in memory care, for $9.8 million. The 48-unit property, constructed in 2012 is leased to an affiliate of Senior Lifestyle Corporation under an existing 15-year master lease. The memory care property market is a growing target for acquisitions, the company said in its filings.

According to LTC, the initial cash yield on the purchase is 6.5 percent, with rent increases of 3 percent on the first and second anniversary of the acquisition closing, and 2.75 percent annually thereafter. LTC is also expanding its relationship with SLC, adding 13 assisted-living communities, comprising 500 units, to the SLC master lease. These communities are currently co-leased to Enlivant and affiliates of Extendicare under leases that expire at the end of December 2014. The new lease with SLC has a term of 15 years, with rent increasing by $5.1 million over the current annual rent, with yearly increases of 2.6 percent.

LTC’s expiring master leases with Extendicare and Enlivant, which covered 37 assisted living properties, generated 9.4 percent or $8.2 million of the company’s combined rental revenue during the nine months ended Sept. 30.

While the company is losing some of that rental revenue, LTC is selling 16 properties, consisting of 615 units, to an affiliate of Enlivant for $26.5 million. LTC  expects to make $3.9 million on the deal. In addition to that sale, LTC re-leased seven properties with 278 units in Texas to Veritas InCare under a new 10-year master lease. The initial rent will be $1.5 million increasing 2.5 percent annually.

As of Sept. 30, the company had roughly $1.1 billion in gross value of real estate investments consisting of 101 skilled nursing properties, 106 assisted living properties, nine range of care properties, four properties under development, five parcels of land held-for-use and one school. These properties are located in 29 states. LTC also had $173 million of gross investments in mortgage loans.

Building activity during the nine months ended Sept. 30 totals almost $35 million across projects, according to company filings.

LTC has nearly 35 million shares outstanding and a market capitalization of about $938 million. The company’s share price was up 0.4 percent to $41.76 as of press time.

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Oilfield waste firm faces curb on VC shipments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:03:55 +0000 Ventura County officials have confirmed that oilfield waste management company Anterra Energy Services, which has facilities in Oxnard and Santa Paula, will no longer be trucking additional waste to the Oxnard location.

The move was taken after it was allowed to temporarily increase truckloads following the Nov. 18 chemical explosion and subsequent suspension of operations at Santa Clara Wastewater near Santa Paula.

At a Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 16, county staff confirmed that Anterra will no longer be allowed to transfer 64 truckloads of waste per day, returning to its prior cap of 24 trips.

Anterra oversees the only commercial injection wells in Ventura County that can legally dispose of fluids from oil production. The company has faced a series of legal troubles and clashes with the county this past year, including a criminal investigation by the District Attorney’s Office searching for evidence of hazardous waste dumping and other illegal activities.

Reached by telephone, an Anterra spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter; Anterra Energy Services provides services to oil and gas clients in Ventura and Kern Counties.

Chris Stevens, director of the county Resource Management Agency, told the board at its Dec. 16 meeting that Anterra will officially no longer be able to increase its trucking limits as it had been following the Santa Clara explosion.

“That extension has now expired,” he told the board.

The firm was cited by the Ventura County Planning Commission in October for exceeding the standard daily limit of 24 trucks a day. In light of the decreased trucking, the company was forced to lay off 10 employees by mid-November.

The investigation into Anterra is ongoing, but a search warrant obtained by the Ventura County Star in late October indicates that the District Attorney is searching the company’s records for potential evidence of hazardous waste dumping, stating its search for: “Documents…pertaining to the generation, storage, treatment, transportation and/or disposal of produced water, drilling mud, tank bottom wastes, hazardous wastes, and hazardous materials.”

Following the chemical explosion at the Santa Clara Wastewater facility, which left dozens injured from the released hazardous waste, county officials used the incident to draw attention to the operations of Anterra, which some said could suffer a similar incident.

The cleanup of the Santa Clara Wastewater site is ongoing, county officials said.

At a Dec. 9 Ventura County Supervisors meeting, one environmental agency staffer told the board that Anterra does not handle hazardous chemicals. However, Supervisor John C. Zaragoza argued that the facility should not be allowed to keep an increase in trucking operations since the disposed waste could pose a threat to the surrounding community.

“We need to protect our people. We need to protect our residents,” he said. “And I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Meanwhile, some community members and oil industry representatives came out in defense of Anterra. Sandra Burkhart, senior coastal coordinator for the Western States Petroleum, said the county board should allow Anterra to increase its trucking operations since the chemical that caused the Santa Clara explosion is still unknown.

“We would, as an industry, support Anterra’s request to make additional trips,” she said. “Since there are no facts and we don’t know who is to blame, it would be unfair to blame Anterra for this.”

When some board members argued that disposing the waste in an area with a smaller human population than Oxnard or Santa Paula would be a more viable solution, Burkhart said that the number of people living near a waste facility is just one of many factors.

“Sending trucks to other cities and other counties ­— it’s increasing risks and just taking it somewhere else… doing it right here locally would probably be the best thing to do today,” she said. “Anytime you’re going to have to transport and go somewhere else, population is just one of the many factors involved.”

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Drones spark interest from startups to CSUCI Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:02:54 +0000 As drones migrate from the military space into the private sector, their potential uses reach far wider than the home delivery efforts that made headlines a year ago.

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration granted permits for limited drone operations to 13 companies, opening a small window at the agency, which currently limits drones to government entities and hobbyist use.

The FAA has received 167 requests for permits from commercial entities, including the National Association of Realtors and film production companies. With Congress’ legislation on the matter lagging, other agencies are seizing the initiative.

NASA’s Ames Research Center in the Bay Area is building a system to provide air traffic control for drones, and they’ve invited private industry to participate. Santa Barbara-based startup PixiePath is one of 25 companies working on the NASA program.

PixiePath founder and CEO Bryan Field-Elliot said he hopes the results will provide drones with a system that eventually resembles the predicable flight plans in place for manned aircraft.

“They’re going to build this and then hand it over to the FAA, but it’s probably two or three years out,” Field said. “It’s an interesting long-range thing, but meanwhile it doesn’t really help us. There’s nothing there now.”

Field launched PixiePath in August to provide a way for commercial drone operators to coordinate their craft through a cloud platform. He previously had two companies that built cloud platforms to manage physical devices that weren’t built for the cloud, and with the rise of drones he saw a vast opportunity for industry applications.

“The hardware is innovating at a really fast pace; the software on top of it, not really,” Field said. “All the drone manufacturers, they’re thinking about one unit and not really participating in the Internet in general; we’re building tools to connect them to the Internet, and then do things with it.”

The PixiePath platform allows drones to communicate with each other and transmit information to multiple connected devices for the first time. The company is about to release an early prototype and is still seeking funding but has already been in talks to work with 65 companies across the globe. Its two most promising leads are billion-dollar civil engineering companies based in Canada, Field said.

“We’re a long way away from the FAA allowing things like delivery, but between agriculture and construction, there’s a lot of stuff in between that people are interested in doing that is not well served by software companies,” he said.

For now, the company is concentrating its efforts in construction, search and rescue, security and first response. An example of what Field hopes to see is an app that campuses use to allow students to use their phones to summon security if they feel unsafe.

“Instead of a cop coming 10 minutes later, what if a drone came 10 seconds later with flood lighting?” Field asked.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that the integration of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, into national air space will carry an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion and create 70,000 jobs in the first three years — with the bulk of growth in California.

While that sort of impact is not yet at hand, drones have already arrived on one tri-county campus with Northrop Grumman’s donation of two UAVs to CSU Channel Islands.

CSUCI Senior Research Officer Jason Miller said the university is currently working with the FAA to gain approval to use its craft; he hopes students will be able to soon learn to operate the aerial systems and use them as research tools or platforms to help faculty.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to prepare students entering the technology sector. There’s a lot of room for creativity,” Miller said. “We’re exited that we can support this industry in Ventura County, and we hope we can support businesses that are expanding into this space, and we’re looking for local commercial partners.”

It’s unclear when the FAA will clear the UAVs for flight. But, once they are, the campus’ students will be at the forefront of furthering drone’s widespread use, according to Mark Mendenhall, a principal engineer at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Camarillo.

“There are a lot of key technologies that need to be proven out before [unmanned aerial systems] can operate in national air space, and I expect that CI students may participate in studying, prototyping and evaluating some of these critical needs,” Mendenhall said in a press release. “The integration of sensors focusing on marine-wildlife monitoring, first-responder needs, or those aligned with search and rescue or fire-fighting needs are areas of opportunity that students are likely to explore.”

But until then, the school will join the regulatory waiting game.

“In the U.S. it’s really backward,” PixiePath’s Field said. “If you take some photos of a wedding for free, it’s fine. If you’re a wedding photographer and you charge for it, you can’t. Same wedding, same drone.”

As a result, the vast majority of companies currently using drones are just trying their luck. “It’s not like the FAA has a police force,” Field said. “People wanting to do business with drones, they want regulations to comply with. They want to be safe; they don’t want to give their industry a bad name. But a hobbyist is going to be a lot more reckless because they don’t have a business to protect.”

“It’s the source of frustration for a lot of people who want to start a business around the UAV,” CSUCI’s Miller said. “Where do you draw the line between commercial and hobby use?”

Field hopes PixiePath can help push compliance forward as a byproduct of its business model.

“For example, this large civil engineering firm — they’re global, but their Vancouver office wants our help to build up a drone practice, where they might be flying as many as 100 by the end of next year,” he said.

“One of the biggest things they want is to be able to prove they’re complying with the Canadian regulations. So every time a pilot goes somewhere with one of these things, they want to be able to open a form on a tablet or phone, fill out the person’s name, the time of day, and where they are, and save that in a log for auditing purposes. They want to demonstrate that to the Canadian authorities, and then fly the thing, and then pipe the video up to the cloud for people far away to see. Creating that capability is a lot easier than flying robotics, so we’ll do it.”

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Riding a new wave: Iron & Resin tests San Francisco appeal Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:01:45 +0000 Iron & Resin owner and co-founder Thom Hill at the company’s store in Ventura. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

Iron & Resin owner and co-founder Thom Hill at the company’s store in Ventura. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

Iron & Resin, a lifestyle retailer steeped in the motorcycle and surf culture of Ventura opened its second flagship location in San Francisco on Dec. 1.

The move of some 360 miles up the California coast marks the start of an ambitious plan that would put the highly-curated Iron & Resin stores in Portland, New York, Los Angeles, Austin and Nashville.

The company makes and stocks a range of clothing from work wear-inspired jackets and pants to board shorts. In addition to clothing, Iron & Resin also sells everything from high-end men’s grooming products, to pancake mix, to Redwing boots. Almost all the items Iron & Resin makes, as well as a majority of the other brands the company sells, come with the badge of being handmade in the United States.

For the company’s founders Thom Hill and Jackson Chandler, creating and designing products themselves and choosing the brands they sell are not just about providing quality goods. It is also about attitude.

Hill and Chandler are both dyed-in-the-wool working-class, petrol-loving Southern California surf dogs, and Iron & Resin is simply an extension of their everyday lives. Even the company’s name is a nod to that cultural crossover of growing up during 70s and 80s surfing, skateboarding and riding motorcycles.

“Being based in Ventura, the DNA of who we are is all over the brand,” Hill told the Business Times. “It’s all very much about our lifestyle here.”

The idea behind Iron & Resin was conceived a little more than three years ago, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the company really got off the ground. That spring the company launched its first apparel line and a few months later opened its first retail location, The Garage — on the Fourth of July. Hill said the decision to open the first store in Ventura was motivated by wanting to keep the company’s roots authentic and make it more of a gathering place than just a place to sell things.

“People have asked why we didn’t start in [Los Angeles], but the hope was if we put it [in Ventura] it  would turn into a destination,” Hill said. “We do a lot of events out of the space … everything from [motorcycle] rides, to movie nights, to whiskey tastings. The idea was to bring like-minded people together, give them a place to go, talk about what’s going on, check out bikes, and it all ties back to being grown in this community.”

Manager Cierra Cegielski arranges a display at Iron & Resin, in Ventura. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

Manager Cierra Cegielski arranges a display at Iron & Resin, in Ventura. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

Another way Iron & Resin differentiates itself from other brick-and-mortar retailers is by constantly curating its stores with a selection of one-off products, as well as limited-run collaboration items with similar brands.

“We’re always looking at new brands, mostly small makers that aren’t distributed everywhere,” Hill said. “The whole concept is to tell a story through merchandising. Every time people come in, we want it to be a discovery and a new experience … We want people to come and stay.”

To help build the Iron & Resin brand, partnerships with companies like Dickies, Vanson Leathers and other heritage brands have been key.

“Really what we try and do is support manufacturers with a similar ethos to ours, ones that share our values in terms of quality and creating stuff that is timeless and built to last — something you have to buy once,” Hill said. “It’s the opposite to fast fashion … we want stuff you can hand down to your kids. We typically like to partner with companies that do one thing and one thing well.”

The company is currently working with Portland-based Danner Boots on a project that will launch around Christmas next year.

While the projects are often small-margin deals, Hill said working with companies he respects adds legitimacy to what Iron & Resin is trying to accomplish, and the exposure and marketing is great for both brands.

“Retail has been turned into such a commodity where if you go to the mall, everything is basically the same and it’s a battle for every dollar,” he said. “If you don’t have something special or unique, you’re going to struggle.”

When Iron & Resin opened in San Francisco at the beginning of the month, the turnout for the company’s opening party was overwhelming for Hill, but it was something that solidified his confidence in expanding the brand.

“I was blown away,” he said. “It just shows the social reach of this community we’re in and how hungry people are to participate in it, which was what we had hoped for from the start.”

With more than 14 years experience developing private label branding programs for surf shops nationally, Hill, who also runs a cut-and-sew, screen-printing and embroidery company called Streamline Design, financed Iron & Resin internally.

Originally, the company launched as an online-only wholesaler, eventually doing business with clothing retailers like Pacific Sunwear, Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom. About 70 percent of the company’s sales come from wholesale and continues to grow with distributors all over Europe and Asia — where the number of shipments is on the rise. According to Hill, the company has nearly doubled its wholesale sales volume every year since launching. The company anticipates roughly $3 million in sales next year.

Together, Streamline and Iron & Resin employ about 90 people.

Going forward, the road map for expanding Iron & Resin is to open several locations in major markets within the next five years, which Hill said will likely require establishing a relationship with a banking or equity finance partner.

To put a little more traction under the expansion effort, Iron & Resin are teaming up with filmmaker Bruce Brown, director of the 1966 documentary on surf-culture, Endless Summer. The company is designing an entire capsule collection of garments inspired by the film, taking cues from its imagery and artwork. The collection, slated to launch next summer, will also be accompanied by a short film featuring an interview with Brown about his work and the collaboration.

“Bruce is one of my childhood heroes,” Hill said. “We’re really excited to get this project out there.”

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Santa Barbara’s historic El Paseo is new wine destination Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:00:57 +0000 Doug Margerum (Courtesy image)

Doug Margerum (Courtesy image)

When Jamie Slone was looking to establish a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara for his inaugural line of wines, he liked the cluster of three tasting spots at the city’s historic El Paseo complex and was looking to join them.

“But I knew from experience they didn’t have critical mass,” Slone said. “They needed more tasting rooms there to be able to grab the consumer’s attention.”

Margerum Wine Co., Au Bon Climat and Grassini Family Wines were already well-established at the Spanish colonial-style center on Anacapa Street. Three new tasting rooms have opened there since May, and the six have formed a marketing alliance called The Wine Collection of El Paseo.

“I think now what the consumer is finding is that we are an alternative to the Funk Zone that is very different,” said Slone, who opened Jamie Slone Wines at El Paseo with his wife, Kym, on Aug. 31. Slone said El Paseo, nestled in an area of upscale shopping and fine dining, is an ideal place to showcase the small-lot, high-end wines of the six tasting rooms.

Slone said Doug Margerum offered to let him pour Jamie Slone wines at MWC32, a second tasting room that Margerum opened last May near Margerum Wine Co. But Slone said he wanted to open his own tasting spot and also find another wine tenant for El Paseo. That led to Happy Canyon Vineyard, owned by the family of Colony Capital founder and Chairman Thomas Barrack Jr., opening its doors there on Sept. 19.

The Wine Collection’s prospects as a destination are bolstered by the involvement of two widely known winemakers. Jim Clendenen, founder and winemaker at Au Bon Climat, is among the most recognized wine industry figures in Santa Barbara County. His El Paseo tasting room is very much a wine library, offering the chance to taste and buy many older vintages as well as current releases.

Doug Margerum has focused on making handcrafted, small-lot wines, and he has been an owner at the Wine Cask restaurant at El Paseo for most of the years since 1981, when his parents bought it as a beer and winemaking supply shop and quickly added dining and a wine bar. Margerum is the winemaker for four of the six El Paseo tasting rooms: Margerum Wine Co. at the Wine Cask and his MWC32, plus Happy Canyon Vineyard and Jamie Slone Wines.

Margerum said he began making wines for the Barrack family soon after he met Tom Barrack when their children went to preschool together. He recently teamed with Jamie Slone after Slone interviewed several winemakers for the position.

Margerum said he learned a great deal about wine-making from Santa Ynez Valley wine pioneer Fred Brander and later under the direction of Clendenen at Au Bon Climat and Bob Lundquist of Qupé Wines when he partnered with them in a brand called Vita Nova. He started Margerum Wine Co. in 2001.

Margerum makes all the wines in different styles, so visitors can try sauvignon blanc, for example, at three tasting rooms and experience three different wines.

Happy Canyon Vineyard’s debut at El Paseo marks a huge jump in the public profile of the brand, which offered its first commercial wine in 2003 but had no tasting room until the beginning of this year. It opened at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill in Santa Barbara’s harbor area in February, but general manager Sean Pitts, who joined the Barrack family when he married Jodie Barrack, said the family was not able to tell its story to the consumer in that shared space.

Happy Canyon’s El Paseo tasting room showcases the family’s passion for the sport of polo and for the 58-acre vineyard on its Piocho Ranch in Happy Canyon. That viticultural area, where the county does not permit tasting rooms, is known for its Bordeaux grapes and also is the home of Grassini Family Vineyards.

The Barrack family has two regulation-size polo fields on its ranch. Visitors to El Paseo can view displays of polo mallets, riding gear, team uniforms and photos from polo matches held on the ranch while they taste Happy Canyon cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Bordeaux blends.

Jamie Slone traces his passion for wines to an extended tour of France and Italy and to frequent visits to wine country from Sonoma Raceway when he was a professional race car driver. He is best known for racing Ford Mustangs and open-wheel Formula Mazdas. He brings business and marketing experience to the table from managing five radio stations in Arizona that his family later sold during the industry’s consolidation.

Slone offers a broad choice of wine varietals, from Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundian to a super Tuscan coming out soon, all from a wide representation of Santa Barbara County terroir.

Margerum said the Wine Collection of El Paseo is a destination that consumers can consider among others in Santa Barbara County including the Funk Zone, Foxen Wine Trail and Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

“I think everyone is trying to find their niche,” he said.  “The beautiful thing about being in the wine business in Santa Barbara County is we never think we’re competing with each other. We’re all doing work together to promote Santa Barbara County as a wine-growing region.”

• Contact Tom Bronzini at

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