May 30, 2023
You are here:  Home  >  Columns  >  Current Article

Entrepreneurs thrive in years after celebration in Spirit awards


Henry Dubroff

Henry Dubroff

From some fairly humble beginnings as a gourmet cheese shop at 825 Anacapa St. in downtown Santa Barbara, C’est Cheese has grown up.

And in doing so, it signifies to me what our Spirit of Small Business awards are all about. This week’s edition of the Business Times includes a special report devoted to the 2014 Spirit award winners, but I thought it would be a good idea to look back at a few past winners to see what’s going on.

That’s why for the past few days I’ve been paying attention to what’s happening in the three adjacent storefronts, where Michael and Kathryn Graham have undertaken a months-long effort to create a breakfast and lunch place that’s modern and classic, old school and new world.

I’ve been dining on Breton pastries and cheddar- and bacon-filled biscuits and testing their ability to make the perfect Americano. So far, so good.

The Grahams were the featured winners on the cover of the 10th annual Spirit of Small Business report in 2012. Before that, we recognized the reputation for quality and tremendous potential brand value of C’est Cheese when we named the young couple to one of our early classes of 40 Under 40 winners.

Shortly after we featured the Grahams in Spirit of Small Business, they let me know that they’d soon be in expansion mode.

From a tiny retail cheese shop with extremely limited seating, the business has expanded into two neighboring storefronts to create a full breakfast and lunch cafe. Many of the new recipes are a collaboration between Michael and Kathryn and their entire kitchen crew.

The cheese shop is now undergoing its own renovation and will be open later in the day. The Grahams have organically grown their cafe business and are quietly reaching out to media types like me to spread the news. “We had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand the store without having to move,” Michael told me. “We definitely took a big leap.”

C’est Cheese is not the only Spirit of Small Business winner we’ve seen grow up a lot over the years. Sam Seng, a serial entrepreneur who owns Fred’s Gas & Mini Mart and donut shops in Oxnard, has become the go-to guy in Ventura County for media reporting on the rise and fall of gasoline prices.

That’s partly because he is a prolific Facebook user who posts frequently on the vagaries of wholesale gasoline pricing, along with updates on his children and family.

Another member of the Spirit class of 2012 is CMC Rescue, an employee-owned business based in Goleta that was founded by Jim Frank in 1978. Today, the company has a staff of 65 and exports harnesses and other rescue gear worldwide. Much of what gets sold is made on the South Coast.

Earlier this year, CMC Rescue took home the Excellence in Service award at the 20th annual South Coast Business & Technology awards dinner.

The folks at C’est Cheese, CMC Rescue and Fred’s Gas will tell you that a brand takes a long time to develop. We’ll attest to that. Sprit of Small Business was just an idea in 2003, when Alberto Alvarado, the former director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Los Angeles District, and I dreamed up the idea of a stand-alone small business awards event for the Tri-Counties.

Ten years later we took the step of filing for trademark protection for Spirit of Small Business because our brand had matured to the point where it had an identity all its own.

We hope you enjoy the stories of this year’s Spirit of Small Business winners — they’re joining an elite group of successful companies along the tri-county coast.

Birotte promotion bids well for Central Coast

During the several times that U. S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. traveled to the Central Coast to announce law enforcement actions, he made quite an impression on many of us in the media.
He was tough but fair-minded and was highly effective at cracking down on real estate and mortgage fraud that plagued low-income neighborhoods.

On July 22, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office announced that Birotte had won a rare unanimous confirmation by the Senate to a position as a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Since this is the federal district that presides over much of the region, it means Birotte will continue to play a role in jurisprudence on the Central Coast.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at