Business Profile — The Santa Ynez Valley, long known for its outstanding vineyards and stellar wines, is also gaining a well-deserved reputation as a destination for fine food. Contributing to that sensibility is Fresco Valley Café, which has been open in Solvang for just over a year and brings to the Valley the same menu—and even recipes—that made the Fresco restaurants in Santa Barbara and Goleta so popular.
Owners Aric Christopher and Matt Raab hadn’t originally intended to open a restaurant together—or, more specifically, a restaurant in the Valley—when they established Fresco Valley Café a couple of Septembers ago. But when the circumstances presented themselves, they jumped.
“Mark and Jill Brouillard—the founders of Fresco—are friends of ours,” Matt explained, “and this was a really good opportunity for us.”
The pair began scouting locations from Ventura to Los Angeles, but couldn’t find the right place for the kind of restaurant environment they wanted to create. “We looked all over,” Aric recalled. “We looked in Montecito, and then in the Ventura area. But nothing had the feel of Fresco. This is a very family- style restaurant.”
Matt, who grew up in both Santa Barbara and the Valley, knew the area well, and he and Aric decided to check out possibilities here. It didn’t take them long to realize they’d found their place.
“The Valley offers a sense of community, and the location itself has its own charm,” Matt noted. “It has a very homey feel.” That makes sense, given that the physical structure—fully remodeled down to the studs—was originally constructed in the 1960s as a residence. The restaurant’s dining room was the original home’s outdoor patio, and the surrounding bungalows were once apartments.
The space has had a few reincarnations between then and now, however, including a nearly 25-year run as Manny’s Mexican Restaurant, which Matt often frequented when he was a kid.
“When we went up to the Valley, we realized right off the bat how all the businesses are interested in working together and being cohesive with each other,” Matt continued, referring to the aforementioned sense of community.
“You can walk in and meet the business owner, not just a manager,”
Echoing his business partner’s sentiment, Aric added, “Everyone’s willing to help each other. We talk to other local restaurant owners all the time. No one’s in competition per se. Everyone’s there to help each other and get people out to the Valley.”
Another huge benefit to opening their restaurant in the Valley is simply Fresco’s name recognition. “There are so many people that commute to Santa Barbara and frequent the restaurants in Five Points and Goleta, and have been asking Jill and Mark to open a Fresco in the Valley,” said Matt.
At Fresco Valley Café, the menu is identical to that at the other Fresco locations. The specials differ from day to day, but the basic offerings are the same. “If you have a favorite at the restaurant in Santa Barbara or Goleta, you can come to the Valley and find the exact same thing, made from the exact same recipe,” Matt continued. “Mark and Jill are adamant about keeping the recipes identical and consistent.”
The warm welcome Fresco Valley Café has received is a testament to everyone’s success. “People are ecstatic to have the option up here,” said Matt. “Solvang hasn’t really been known for its food. And now, with the addition of some really good restaurants, it’s becoming more of a dining destination.”
With the restaurant having found its niche, Aric and Matt have begun to develop the catering side of Fresco Valley Café. “That was one of our original ideas in opening in the Valley,” said Matt. “We definitely saw a void in that market. We knew how fast the wineries are growing—there are so many producing really fantastic wines.”
Matt and Aric have forged relationships with wineries and wine tour companies, and in these associations they have found a great market for Fresco’s boxed lunches, which are perfect for people spending a day on a wine tour or at a winery for a private tasting. The lunches come complete with a sandwich, salad, bottle of water, dessert, and silverware. They even include a Wet-Nap and a breath mint.
“I grew up in a family that appreciated wine, and it’s always been a part of my life,” said Aric. “It’s exciting for us to be here during this development of the wine movement in the Valley.”
The pair work on an almost weekly basis with the Bridlewood, Sanford, and Zaca Mesa wineries. “And we’re building relationships with the others,” Aric continued. “It’s working out really, really well.”
INFO: Fresco Valley Cafe is open Thur-Sat for lunch and full-service dinner 11 am- 9 pm; lunch only Mon-Wed. 11 am – 4 pm; Sunday for brunch and lunch, 9 am – 4 pm. They are at 442 Atterdag Road, Solvang, 805.688.8857. www.frescosb.com.
Entire restaurant is available to groups at special pricing Wed-Sun after 4:30 pm.(Prices start at $500, includes food).