Epicurean Extravaganza: Kick off a savory summer with the Casa Pacifica Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival.

Magnavino Cellars of Oxnard has been a longtime supporter of the festival, and proudly pours out fine wine in the VIP Lounge. Photo by Trinity Wheeler

By Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

For lovers of gourmet food, fine wine, craft beer and creative cocktails, there’s no lack of options in Ventura County. Wonderful restaurants, wineries, breweries and bars abound, with plenty of everything to tempt even the most discriminating of palates. For those who want a party as well as a plate, a wide variety of festivals that cater to foodies are offered throughout the year.

But one of the oldest, largest and arguably the best of these is the Casa Pacifica Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival, taking place this year on June 2.

Savory samples of nearly every kind are available for festival attendees…and lots of sweet ones, too. Photo by Trevor Morrison

Good Eats for a Great Cause

Every June, thousands of people stream onto the grounds of California State University, Channel Islands to indulge in all things gourmet. Chefs from across the county bring their A games, with delicious samples of…well, just about everything. Bread, pizza and pasta; burgers and barbecue; market-fresh produce; succulent meats and seafood; sauces and sweets…the very best of land and sea prepared by expert hands. Liquid refreshment comes as a variety of concoctions derived from the grape, the grain and the orchard. Top that off with live entertainment — including professional performers and world-class bands that get the crowd on their feet — and it’s an afternoon to eat, drink and be merry.

Proceeds from this elegant extravaganza go to support the Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families, which provide comprehensive services for children and adolescents struggling with trauma, a family in crisis and/or complex emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. The organization’s mission is a large one, and includes crisis intervention, support for young adults aging out of the foster care system, residential treatment programs and much more.

Scene from the festival’s past: a spread from City Bakery and Cafe in 1997.
Photo courtesy Casa Pacifica

Three Decades Strong

2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the Casa Pacifica Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival — so called because it was conceived of and run by dedicated Casa Pacifica volunteers known as the Angels. Angels do a lot of different things for the organization, including fundraising events…and the food festival is their largest endeavor.

“The first one took place in 1994, at the Pierpont Inn,” recalls Carrie Hughes, the festival’s chief development officer.

Hughes has been with the organization for 25 years, starting out as a volunteer. She now has a small festival staff (Anna Coulson and Lindsay Thompson), numerous committee chairs and a team of a few hundred Angels helping her put together the event. She needs it: In three decades, the festival has grown exponentially in size and scope.

“Early on, when we were still at the Pierpont, we sold a little over 100 tickets,” she says. “We were so excited!”

Scene from the festival’s past: the invitation to the very first festival in 1994.
Photo courtesy Casa Pacifica

By 2001, the festival outgrew the Pierpont and moved to the Embassy Suites Mandalay Bay — now Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach — and then to the campus of CSUCI in 2008. At one point, as many as 6,000 people were partaking in the event’s epicurean delights.

“That’s when we started to rein it in and limit ticket sales,” Hughes notes. “The event was just huge, and the thought was that we wanted to have a quality event.”

Still, 4,500 people come through those gates every summer, necessitating a tremendous amount of coordination. Plans start months in advance, and as the date nears, it’s all hands on deck.

“We go several days without sleep,” Hughes says with a laugh. “But it’s such a great feeling once the doors are open.”

Wes Quave performing at the 2023 festival. Photo by Trevor Morrison

Many Hands

It’s not just work for the Angels — although they have plenty to do. The participating chefs and vendors have their hands full as well. To ensure that there’s enough to go around, every participant needs to provide 1,000 samples — plated, garnished, picture perfect and ready to serve — plus staff to work the booths and tents. And every morsel is provided free of charge.

“These days, everyone is doing a festival,” Hughes points out, “so we try to make ours a great atmosphere and experience for the attendees and our vendors. Anything we can think of to make it a more positive experience for them, so they come back the next year.”

Sky Sunner of Happy Place Eatery in 2023. Photo by Trinity Wheeler

Whatever the Angels and event staff are doing, it’s working: Casa Pacifica is known not just for the caliber of its cuisine, but the number of well-known partners that return year after year. Bread Basket Cake Company in Camarillo has been part of the festival since the very beginning in 1994. Other longstanding supporters include Magnavino Cellars, Cantara Cellars, California Catering, Mastro’s Steakhouse, Command Performance Catering, the Saticoy Club, Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill, Topa Topa Brewing, Leashless Brewing, Freda’s Pizza and Chef Alex Castillo — who now owns Latitude 34 in Camarillo but has been involved with Casa Pacifica far longer. These are just a few of the many professionals that donate their time, staff and consumables to support the organization and its mission.

“Unlike Any Other Event”

Sky Sunner of Happy Place Craft Beer Wine & Spirits in East Ventura has been an enthusiastic festival participant for seven years, happily providing pours of specialty, sometimes niche, beverages…many of which come from Southern California producers. When asked what inspired him to get involved, he says simply, “The story of Casa Pacifica and what they do — I just think it’s amazing.”

Sunner is impressed by the “high quality food meeting a beautiful location…elegant…a great vibe. It’s a culinary experience, featuring some of the best chefs in Southern California. But also the amount of amazing, high quality beverages that guests get to enjoy.”

FEEL LIKE DANCIN’ Live entertainment is always a festival highlight, with groovy tunes and a dance floor giving guests a chance to kick up their heels. Photo by Trinity Wheeler

Two years ago, Sunner opened his Happy Place Eatery food truck, and in 2022 competed in his first Yummie Culinary Competition. A panel of judges rate the contestants on their festival offerings, naming the top three in the sweet and savory categories. Happy Place Eatery took third place, with the “Happy Smash Burger.”

Sunner has nothing but praise for the Casa Pacifica Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival.

“I work with a lot of different festivals…but of all of them, this is the best. It’s unlike any other event in Ventura County.”

A Fest to Remember

With the festival’s 30th anniversary in their sights, organizers are aiming to make the 2024 event extra special.

More than 150 vendors will be plating, pouring and serving. The grounds will be every bit as delectable as the food, with performers draping themselves in elaborate makeup and costumes to become elegant plant/human hybrids strolling through the festival. A living statue will hold court in the center of the large fountain, water cascading from her fingers.
For the VIP Lounge, organizers have chosen a Kentucky Derby theme. While dressing up is completely optional, the atmosphere is sure to be lively, with plenty of elaborate hats and fascinators on display.

Scene from the festival’s past: the 1995 event at the Pierpont Inn in Ventura. Photo courtesy Casa Pacifica

One thing Hughes is really looking forward to is the music headliner: 1980s New Wave tribute band The Spazmatics.

“They haven’t played Casa Pacifica for 10 years,” she says. “So we’re really excited. People just love them!”

But what Hughes loves best about the Casa Pacifica Angels Wine, Food & Brew Festival is the joy of community…and the deep appreciation everyone has for Casa Pacifica’s mission.

“You just look around — people are laughing and having fun,” she says. “The community just pours their love into that event. And everyone is there to support our kids and families.”

Casa Pacifica Angels Food, Wine & Brew Festival
Sunday, June 2, 1-5 p.m.
California State University, Channel Islands
1 University Drive, Camarillo
Tickets start at $150