Elayne Klasson Mug Update

Industrial Eats, the very popular restaurant in Buellton, has been in the news lately. Unfortunately, it has made news in ways that have brought out some of the worst features of social media: ugly responses to opinions different than one’s own, and the belief that because we can be anonymous on social media, we can say threatening things without being responsible for our words.

I am not, at the request of the owners of Industrial Eats, Jeff and Janet Olsson, going to repeat the details of the controversy in which they’ve recently been involved.

Their restaurant, a successful business in Buellton and a happy place to be, is almost back to normal. And that’s the way they want it to be.

Because my husband and I really love Industrial Eats, and because I feel that Jeff Olsson is one of the most generous and community-minded business owners in Santa Ynez Valley, I wanted to talk about something important that happens at Industrial Eats: Food.

Industrial Eats is consistently mentioned by foodies as a must-stop detour when traveling up or down the coast. The food is innovative and the atmosphere is that of a good house party.

But, lots of places have good food. What’s special here? Jeff Olsson has a belief and respect for cultural diversity and a realization that food from different nations brings us together.

It so happens that both my husband and I grew up in our father’s restaurants … both of which served food of a cultural minority in America.

My father owned a Jewish delicatessen located just outside the Loop in Chicago. He served thick corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, matzoh balls (floaters, not sinkers) in a hearty rich chicken broth.

My husband’s dad owned the best Chinese restaurant in Pueblo, Colorado (okay, there were only three) and served Americanized versions of popular Chinese dishes: egg rolls, chow mein, fried rice.

None of these things sound particularly exotic, do they? Along with pizza, burritos, sushi and croissant, these simple dishes have become completely part of the American mainstream palate. And I’d like to think they’ve become a way to better understand and appreciate other cultures.

My husband and I sat down with Jeff Olsson this week, over a delicious Vietnamese chicken bonh mi sandwich and a generously poured glass of Santa Ynez Valley wine. We spoke of our belief in food as cultural connection.

Elayne Klasson: An immigrant's story

For the past three years, Jeff has offered a special twist on what he serves during Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week. Restaurant Week (this year, Weeks, as there were two) is the time in late January when local restaurants offer a special deal by serving a meal corresponding to the year. This year, for $20.19, customers could patronize many of our local restaurants and get a nicely priced dinner.

Olsson's twist is that each year, he selects a country undergoing either a refugee or humanitarian crisis and donates the ENTIRE profit made during Restaurant Week to an organization that helps alleviate human suffering in that country.

Three years ago, he served Syrian food in honor of the White Helmets. These heroes, officially known as the Syrian Civil Defense, are the first responders to the bombs which are dropped almost daily in Syria. By serving Syrian food, customers had a touch of Syrian culture and, for at least a few moments, considered what the men, women and children are facing in their war-torn country.

Two years ago, Olsson served Puerto Rican food after Puerto Rico sustained severe damage from Hurricane Maria. Restaurant Week allowed Olsson to send over $5K to organizations helping to rebuild the devastated island.

And this year, Olsson chose Yemen for Restaurant Weeks, serving a delicious Yemeni stew and a sweet honey Yemeni dessert.

Olsson shares my belief that we are all unified around the table and that by partaking of each other’s food, our differences become lessened.

He serves many ethnically themed dinners throughout the year. In fact, it was Olsson’s multi-course Mexican meal celebrating Cinco de Mayo that caused the recent social media kerfuffle.

On July 4th, Jeff and Janet Olsson are serving a meal at Industrial Eats to celebrate America’s birthday. What’s on the menu? Themed “This is America,” the menu will feature food of the many immigrant populations that make up America today. Makes perfect sense to me.

Elayne Klasson, PhD in psychology, is a writer and recent transplant to the Valley. She was formerly on the faculty at San Jose State University. Her new novel, Love is a Rebellious Bird, will be published this November.

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