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All About Food. And Wine.

A purist foodie’s haven, tucked away in a Santa Paula industrial park, Hozy’s Grill quietly serves up the county’s most unique dining experience.

By Matt Kettmann — Photos by Michael Robinson Chavez

 

here’s no shortage of hard-to-believe back stories in the restaurant business, but have you ever heard of a path to fine dining that’s lined with blower studs, thread chasers, weld bungs, and hex nuts? Those, for the non-gearheads out there, are car parts. And that is the story behind Hozy’s Grill—a topnotch restaurant that exists solely because the owners of an automotive manufacturing company love food and needed a reliable place to wine and dine their clients. Located amidst industrial warehouses and behind car dealerships on a lonely side street off Highway 126 in Santa Paula, Hozy’s is the culinary offshoot of Automotive Racing Products, billed as the “world leader in fastener technology.” That means they make little pieces that hold high performance engines together, whether you’re racing go-carts or Formula One. If you watch NASCAR, almost every vehicle bears their insignia. As one employee put it: “Basically, if it’s raced, people use our product.” With their obscure parts coveted by racecars all over the world, the company—owned by Gary Holazpfel and sons, who started off making parts for the aerospace industry before realizing there was more money in fast cars—is the city’s second largest company, with two hundred forty employees. And now, thanks to Hozy’s, those workers have a place to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a few steps away from the assembly line.

But don’t start thinking this a story about an auto company that happens to have a restaurant. When I stopped in for a Wednesday night meal, I was immediately impressed with the sleek, modern interior, and discovered that tangerine orange does actually go with mustard yellow, so long as there are bouquets of fresh roses behind every booth and autographed posters of racing legends sporadically hung.

Eating with a few friends, our meal started off with local petite abalone on the iridescent half-shell, its intense buttery flavors and delectable texture sweetly melting in my mouth. Then came the black cod lettuce wraps, a simultaneously smoky and zesty burst of flavor that left me wondering why anyone ever used chicken at all. To taint our tongues further before the main course, the chef sent out a special bruschetta, surprising us all with an original take on a common appetizer. For my main course, I feasted on grilled lamb chops brought in from Colorado, and despite the classy surroundings, I gnawed at the bones with my teeth, eventually coming to realize it was the best lamb I’d ever tasted.

And the gluttony had just begun. We almost overdosed on dessert, sharing a caramel apple mousse, a hazelnut crunch-topped whipped cheesecake, a Petaluma cheesecake that was delivered to the restaurant before ever being frozen (they used to fly in New York’s finest, but decided this creamy California version was … yes, even better) and a chocolate mint cake. Oh, and along the way, we were sipping Stag’s Leap and Opus One wines.

A group of men, clearly familiar with the place, presided over a large table near the kitchen. We exchanged pleasantries and learned it was the owner, Gary, and a smattering of food-loving friends and co-workers: accountants, lawyers, bankers, wine dealers. The crew gathers on Wednesday nights in what’s come to be known as “The OMC,” or “Old Men’s Club.” As the wine flowed, they explained that the restaurant was needed to accommodate their visitors, such as Honda reps from Japan and Mercedes Benz folks from Germany, who were accustomed to five-star meals around the world. Though Ventura County’s restaurant scene has matured immeasurably in the past few years, there weren’t many options for fine dining when the plans for Hozy’s kicked into gear nearly a decade ago.

So the idea for Hozy’s was hatched and they enlisted chef Merced Robles, who’d honed his chops at the highly regarded Ojai restaurant Suzanne’s Cuisine. They designed the place, hired help, and purchased equipment, but then were delayed by the local zoning bureaucracy. With a formula ready to go, it was “only out of necessity” that they opened a temporary location in Ventura. Once the permits were in order, in 2004, Hozy’s Grill in Santa Paula opened its doors.

Since then, Robles and the Holzapfels have been polishing their act, sourcing top-quality ingredients from local farmers and fine food purveyors around the nation. Whether it’s the freshest produce from nearby farms or stone crab from Florida, this is a restaurant that’s all about food (and wine). The menu changes often, so one week you might be dining on Maine lobster, and the following it could be veal stuffed with brie and prosciutto.

Though dinner is the showcase meal, breakfast remains a steady success, and lunch keeps the crowds coming too. But making money isn’t a priority. “All they really want to do is break even,” said one member of the OMC, explaining that the company’s main concern is to pay their employees well and give them health benefits.

With little need to drum up business, Hozy’s doesn’t rely on fanfare. It’s not about bells and whistles—it’s about food and wine. Quite simply, this is a restaurant for people who love to eat and drink.

07-01-2009

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