By Madeline Nathaus | Photos by Viktor Budnik
The highly anticipated Santa Paula Craft House officially opened for business June 1, and the team said they hope the new restaurant is a place Santa Paula can be proud of with their “genuine hospitality” and “sense of community.”
“In a small community like Santa Paula, we get the opportunity to provide community within community,” said Jake Hildebrand, operating partner of the Craft House. “A new kind of dining experience in the community, a place to celebrate anniversaries, graduations, birthdays, everything.”
Located at 932 East Main Street in Santa Paula, the Craft House is favorably placed in the middle of downtown Main Street with the Odd Fellows clock tower peaking over the building from just down the street. Nestled beside three vintage shops in a row and sports bar The Draft at Mupu Grill, the Craft House aims to fit into the nostalgic feel of the town with a mix of modernity.
“Most of all we just want to continue to evolve, continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard and to enjoy the process,” Hildebrand said. “COVID was such a reality check for so many, and we just feel so fortunate to be back doing what we love, serving happy guests.”
Homage to history
When entering the Craft House, a large, illuminated marquee welcomes you to “Eat, Drink,” and “Be Happy.” The open concept and large windows invite in an abundance of natural light. One of the bars faces a long, open window towards the street, allowing patrons to people-watch and enjoy the fresh air.
The space possesses a modern industrial feel, marrying aspects of the old building with the newer renovations. The original floor, brick walls and tin ceiling remain but have been enhanced for a freshened and brighter look.
“We wanted to take what was already there and just make it nicer and better,” said Brendan Searls, creative consultant of the Craft House.
The walls of the restaurant feature embellishments paying homage to the historical significance of the building. In a past life, part of the building was a barber shop and the other part was a billiard hall. In reminiscence of this, a barber’s pole hangs above one of the booths and billiard balls are built into the apertures connecting the rooms in the front of the restaurant.
Photography of old-time and present-day Santa Paula by local photographer John Nichols adorns the walls in the main dining area and old city signs hang in various spots throughout the building. A lightbox with a picture of a Limoneira hot air balloon brightens almost the entire wall to the right side of the bar, a contribution to one of the largest employers in Santa Paula.
The Craft House pays tribute to the Santa Paula Airport as well, with vintage biplane models hanging from the ceiling and a replica of a mural from the airport filling the wall opposite the bar.
“Reimagining the space came along quickly due to such an amazing structure to begin with,” Hildebrand said.
Casual with an upscale twist
The restaurant serves what they call “approachable” and “elevated comfort casual” food. The menu offers craft house and pub style food with a twist. Chef Erik Dandee works with the founding partners to create a unique array of classically inspired appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, salads and pizzas. A crowd favorite, the short rib grilled cheese has exciting flavors with the added Fresno chili and chipotle aioli.
The drink menu also features classics with a twist. Signature cocktails include the smoking Harvest Fog made with Ciroc Peach Vodka, strawberries and lemon served over dry ice and the Up All Night made with medium roast espresso, Absolut vanilla, Baileys and Kahlua in a martini glass.
All beers on tap are locally sourced within 100 miles of Santa Paula from breweries like Firestone Walker, Topa Topa and Institution, to name a few. The wine menu, though modest, has popular options of reds and whites.
Need something nonalcoholic? Mocktails available include lavender lemonade and the Strawberry Wild with agave and lemon-lime soda.
“We try to not take ourselves too seriously, while at the same time meeting and exceeding the guests expectations in all aspects of their experience,” Hildebrand said.
The Craft House team said they hope their restaurant attracts all people of every age, ethnicity and background to feel welcome to join together and connect. They encourage patrons to come in whenever for whatever, whether that be for a full meal, happy hour, the late night menu or just a quick appetizer and drink after work.
“We want you to feel like the whole space is there so that people can be comfortable and enjoy themselves,” Searls said.
Return of the pub
The Santa Paula Craft House began to come together in October of 2021 when cofounder Brian Hill was registering his car nearby and noticed the building, which at the time was vacant. Formerly inhabiting the space was Garman’s Irish Pub, which closed in May 2020 after 10 years of business amidst some of the strictest of Ventura County’s COVID shutdowns.
Hill reached out to Searls, who has prior experience in the Irish pub business as a partner for establishments like Dargan’s and Brendan’s. He also happened to be friends with former owner Clint Garman. Searls worked with Garman to speak with the landlord and get the ball rolling on the new restaurant.
“We all agreed very quickly after visiting that it was the right location, the paperwork process was expedient,” said Hildebrand.
With Santa Paula on the rise, Hildebrand and Hill, who are also partners at the 1865 Craft House and Kitchen in San Luis Obispo along with Hildebrand’s wife Melody, decided to take on the Santa Paula Craft House project. They saw an opportunity to build upon the sense of community that Garman’s had initially created. From here, the project came to fruition in less than a year.
While the Craft House is waiting until it’s a bit more established to host any truly large events, it is open to reservations for special occasions. The restaurant recently booked a group of 50 people for a 60th birthday party this summer.
“We want to become an integral part of the community and a place where people can come and celebrate and enjoy each other,” Searls said. “We want it to be a vibrant piece of what we consider to be an upcoming, really cool part of California.”
Santa Paula Craft House
932 East Main Street, Santa Paula
The Santa Paula Craft House is open six days a week from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on
Sundays. Closed on Tuesdays.