American Dream, millennial edition: Young restaurateurs in Isla Vista
In the tiny, mostly student-populated beach neighborhood of Isla Vista next to the UC Santa Barbara campus, thousands of fresh-faced teens and 20-somethings stroll through the streets on bike and foot.
But on one corner, 22-year-old Daniel Dunietz and 26-year-old Sean Evans have a friendly rivalry as neighboring small-business owners. Evans is the owner of a Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches franchise at the corner of Pardall Road and Embarcadero Del Mar, while Dunietz owns the laid-back bread bowl haven Buddha Bowls right next door.
Both born and raised outside of California, Evans and Dunietz share a common love for food and business.
But the way each of them landed in California running a restaurant in the past year, and how each approaches the struggles and triumphs of running their stores, sets them apart from each other.
Jimmy John’s rolls in
Evans took the traditional path, with a family history of entrepreneurship and formal training.
Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Evans graduated in 2010 from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After a six-month stint working for the athletics department at the University of Arizona, Evans relocated to Chicago and worked for the Jimmy John’s corporate headquarters for two years. When the company offered him a franchising opportunity in Isla Vista last summer, he “jumped on it,” saying the chance to run his own business was a no-brainer.
With two investors backing him, Evans made his way out to California. In March, he opened a location of Jimmy John’s, a chain with 1,900 stores nationwide but just 10 locations in California. Evans said he was inspired to start a business by his father, who owns a travel agency and other business ventures. “I look up to my dad and follow in his footsteps,” he said, saying he yearned for the personal freedom his father eventually found in running his own business.
“I wasn’t interested in the travel business necessarily. I wanted to do my own thing and this was an opportunity where I saw I could follow in his footsteps and pick his brain, as well as do my own thing and make my own path.”
Evans said his business degree taught him managerial skills and that getting a bachelor’s was something he’d do it again in a heartbeat.
The bowl less traveled
But Dunietz, a Chicago native who graduated from UCSB last year with bachelor’s degree in English, has a different story. What he lacks in formal business training he’s made up with raw passion and grit.
“Sure, I would go to class, but I was daydreaming about kitchen layouts and how I could find family members to loan me money,” Dunietz said.
Dunietz, who opened Buddha Bowls last October, said the idea to open a restaurant first came to him when he was 16 or 17. His entrepreneurial aspirations come from a love for food. Dunietz spent his high school days cooking and serving food to friends. After hanging out in the icy Chicago cold, he would bring friends into his oven-warmed home. “We’d come in and there’s just this smell, this aroma, and there would be a silence of 10 minutes when we just ate the most delicious food that I could possibly remember,” he said. “If this is something I could do professionally, then I would be living the dream.”
Dunietz said Isla Vista made his dreams of starting a restaurant feel that much closer. “There’s no better place to open a counterculture-themed restaurant than this town. I fell in love with it immediately,” he said.
As a freshman, Dunietz was already scouting leases and sending out his business plan. “And the responses I got were incredibly skeptical and kind of like, ‘We love you Daniel and we think you’re great, but I don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.
After graduating in three years and securing family funding, Dunietz has spent the last year perfecting the menu and ambiance down to the last detail, from ladle spoon sizes to store art.
He constantly takes input from customers, even saying that one menu favorite called the Mac Daddy — a bread bowl filled to the brim with macaroni and cheese — was an idea that came from a UCSB sorority. “Who would’ve thought that macaroni and cheese in a bread bowl would be as popular as it is? It was a sorority fundraiser and they came up with this idea,” he said. “People loved it. Now it’s one of my top-selling items. There are people who are addicted to it and buy it four times a week.”
Brewing back-to-school battle
Both Dunietz and Evans say their restaurants experienced an initial surge of business upon first opening, but are now working to gain and keep a loyal clientele.
With the promise of “freaky fast delivery” and hours that run until 3 a.m. seven days a week, Evans said Jimmy John’s holds an advantage in its ability to serve the nocturnal tendencies of college students.
“There’s without a doubt a market for that,” he said.
Dunietz, on the other hand, is looking to “tweak and finish up all the little details” this summer before launching into the coming school year with a special called “Bowl-tober” that will offer students $5 bowls all through the month October.
With a new class of freshmen and another year of school, Dunietz said he’s ready for the challenge.
“I’ve dialed in the product — it’s there. I’ve got a really great team working for me…And next year, I’ve got 5,000 people that are looking for a place to eat in I.V.,” he said.