Cruising California

Anderson Guide to the Open Road

written by Summers McKay
photography by Mathieu Young

 

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Editor's Note: 

Call us biased, but we're convinced there's nothing more freeing or more inspiring than a mid-summer California road trip. Sure, there are great routes to be followed in other parts of the country, but few can match our West Coast state's combination of epic wilderness, quaint small towns, dazzling metropolises and miles upon miles of open road.  For graduates of UCLA Anderson, the possibilities of a long California meander are even greater, since so many alumni have joined or started innovative businesses in practically every pocket of the state. When we were planning this issue of Assets Magazine, which explores journeys of all kinds, it seemed like a perfect excuse to hop in the car and cruise the state, visiting members of the UCLA Anderson alumni community along the way. 

In early June, Summers McKay EMBA '12, the program director for UCLA Anderson's EDGE program, traveled with Assets Magazine design director Charlie Hess and photographer Mathieu Young from Northern California wine country down to the heart of Los Angeles. They met an innkeeper, winemakers, restaurant entrepreneurs and chefs, each of whom passed through UCLA Anderson before settling into careers in hospitality, food and  agriculture. Of course, there are many other alumni with businesses along our road trip trail, but for a summer  adventure, we thought we'd indulge in the best parts of life: Eating, drinking, and relaxing in beautiful surroundings.  For now, you can be an armchair traveler through Summers' tales of road trip discoveries, and when you have a few days to spare, we encourage you to hit the highway and use this article as a travel guide on your own California journey.

Camellia Inn

Camelia Inn Click to Enlarge

Ray Lewand (B.S. 1952, MBA 1960) & Lucy Lewand (MBA 1984) After a cellphone reception-challenged drive up the I-5, we arrived at the Camellia Inn in Healdsburg, a quaint town in the heart of Sonoma County's wine country. Guests had gathered by the pool to enjoy wine and share stories from their day in the sun. The Inn feels like a vacation home-peaceful and familiar-where wine, cheese and ripe, seasonal fruit are served at sunset. 

Ray Lewand and his wife bought the Victorian manor as empty nesters in 1980 after being inspired to start a B&B while traveling in Europe. After careers in the Navy, at Northrop Grumman and as a stockbroker, the Lewands packed up their home in Palos Verdes and moved. 

Housed in a historic 1869 building, Camellia Inn was the first official bed and breakfast in Healdsburg when it opened on April 1st, 1981.  The Lewands' daughter, Lucy, finished her MBA and joined the family business three years later. "All of my friends wondered why I needed an MBA in order to go run an inn," she recalls with a smile. "Because I now get to live the life you want to live when you retire."

Thirty-two years later, Ray's business savvy and competitiveness (fostered in part by UCLA football coach, Red Sanders), combined with Lucy's natural leadership skills, have kept the Camellia Inn thriving as the wine country around it has grown. 

Soliste CellarsClick to Enlarge

Soliste Cellars

Soliste Cellars  Donald Plumley President & CEO of Elanex; Vintner (EMBA 1996) We all have an image of the kind of life we want when we retire. For Don Plumley, it was to be a winemaker, enriching an old tradition and telling stories over meals with friends and family. So while still acting as the CEO of Elanex, a high-tech translation services company, Don got a jumpstart on his plan. In 2005, Don and business partner and long-time family friend, Claude Koeberle, founded Soliste as a startup virtual winery, meaning there would be no headquarters, no major facilities, the grapes would be grown in privately owned vineyards and the wine made in a co-op. Keeping the startup and fixed costs down offers the runway for careful, sustainable development of a luxury brand. By using co-op winemaking facilities and keeping their production at 2,000 to 2,500 cases per year, Don is applying the strategies learned over an extensive management, marketing and sales career to do something different. 

The day we visited, our first stop was at an unremarkable business park in Santa Rosa and stepped into Vinify, Soliste's winemaking co-op. Vinify provides production facilities for 25 small wineries. Soliste's racks and barrels visually stood out among countless others, as their racks are painted silver-just one of many meticulous details.  I've never had a winemaker so openly allow tasting at nearly every stage. We began our tour and barrel tasting with Soliste's in-production wines. Pinot Noir, we learned, goes through quite an evolution while in the barrel. At times, it is bitter, grapey, excessively sweet, overly fruity, incredibly sour, sulfuric; at other times, light, yet rich. While tasting the Pinot, Don offered thoughts on the patience and vision required to make wine: quality over quantity, the ability to hold fast to professional standards, and most importantly, tremendous respect for the natural resources that go into his product.  After the tasting, we drove twenty minutes to his family's vineyard, Sonatera Vineyard. There, in the dry, late spring Sonoma heat, Don presented a delicious bottle of rosé and a bottle of Pinot Noir, while he shared a story about his aging dog running among the grape vines as if rediscovering his youth. Don's passion for winemaking is contagious, and we soaked it up as he poured us each a glass.  When I asked Don what a winemaker could teach an MBA, he responded, "Vision and passion." And what about those ubiquitous spreadsheets? "They really are important. The problem, I think, is when the spreadsheets rule the business. Vision and passion have to be the final arbiter. Everything makes sense in a spreadsheet-lay people off, switch to lower cost suppliers, et cetera, but when those numbers conflict with the vision of the business, there will be harm. Just like the Hippocratic oath, the MBA graduate should be told at graduation, 'Do no harm.'"

Not everyone will get to taste wine with Don just yet. Vinify is not open to the public. But you can enjoy the craftsmanship of Soliste in restaurants like The French Laundry in Yountville, Melisse in Santa Monica, or any of those listed here. You can also sign up for their mailing list.

The Corner Store

The Corner Store - San FranciscoClick to Enlarge

Ezra Berman (MBA 2011) After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, we had to rush to check into our hotel and dash to dinner at Ezra Berman's The Corner Store. We were following a packed schedule. Rest, relaxation and time to shower hadn't actually been part of my agenda. Oops.  The Corner Store is everything I love about San Francisco: lively people, bustling entrepreneurial energy, distinctive personalities and locally grown ingredients with a crisp presentation. We were starving by the time we sat down and devoured the buffalo sweetbreads sent over by the chef.  Ezra is a hands-on entrepreneur, and just like Don, Ray and Lucy, intensely passionate about quality, experience and precision. The intensity of operations for a busy Friday night was obvious. Ezra's leadership is anchored by a collective mission to deliver an exceptional experience, executed by a highly competent team. Selecting from the menu was challenging. Everything looked phenomenal. Fortunately, our party grew with the addition of some local friends and we were able to justify ordering the majority of it. The duck with cherries was sumptuous. The  Noble Buck, a concoction of Cyrus Noble bourbon, spicy pineapple and ginger beer, was the perfect punctuation of flavor.  We returned to our hotel laughing, satisfied and ready to sleep. Up and on the road by 8:00 am! Right? 

The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa

Greg Alden, President & CEO of Woodside Hotels (MBA 2003)  The next morning, with coffee in hand, I listened to the clanking of the chains on the pier. The hardest part of a road trip is leaving, when you've arrived somewhere you'd like to stay. But we climbed into our cars and headed south to Monterey.  The drive to Monterey features much of what there is to love about California-rolling hills, roadside fruit stands and the ever-changing density of fog as it's trapped and released by the California chaparral.  We pulled up to the Monterey Plaza Hotel a few hours later, and were stunned by the dramatic, sweeping view: The Monterey Plaza Hotel sits on one end of Cannery Row, with the famed aquarium on the other. I spoke with Greg Alden, CEO of Monterey Plaza's management company, Woodside Hotels, about the peaceful getaway Monterey offers. Woodside Hotels owns six hotels in Northern California, and The Monterey Plaza is situated in the perfect location for enjoying California's Big Sur coastline. We could only stop for brunch, though we could have stayed all weekend-exploring the bay on a kayak, watching the sea lions and otters playing in the kelp, biking out to Lover's Point to inhale the salty mist and then resting on the patio of Schooner's Coastal Kitchen & Bar over a sun-kissed lunch. 

Suzanne's Cuisine

Suzanne's Cuisine Suzanne Roll, chef/owner As I turned down the road to Ojai, praying that I would not be late to my interview with a culinary genius, I couldn't help but notice that Ojai, like many of the other destinations on my journey, forces you to slow down and just breathe.  UCLA Anderson Professor Richard Roll's wife, Suzanne, is the gracious proprietor of one of Ojai's most beloved restaurants. Often compared to Alice Waters and Julia Child, Suzanne's humility and kindness are remarkable.  Suzanne opened her restaurant as an empty nester. She  had always loved entertaining and cooking, and she imagined it would be like throwing a big dinner party every day. In 1992, a friend warned, "Someday you'll be serving sixty dinners a night." On busier nights Suzanne's Cuisine serves 135-150 guests. 

Monterrey Plaza and HotelClick to Enlarge

Suzanne says that the restaurant's success is due to her daughter, Sandra, also a partner in the business. The complexities and commitment of a mother-daughter partnership have ensured that a visit to Suzanne's always feels like arriving at home for the best family meal you've ever had.  Diners are seated within a couple blocks from the Ojai Valley Inn, with the fragrance of the herb garden wafting through. Menu favorites include the pâté, bouillabaisse, butterfish, and a collection of homemade sorbets and ice creams. For any Los Angeles resident seeking the feeling of a real getaway, Suzanne's is a perfect destination-close enough for a spontaneous visit, yet with the feeling of traveling far away.

Rosenthal Estate & Surfrider Wine Tasting Room  

Rosenthal Estate & Surfrider Wine Tasting Room Amy Bergrud, Director of finance & marketing (FEMBA 2004) On the late morning drive from Ojai to Malibu, we stopped at the beautiful Point Mugu, where dolphins can often be spotted. After climbing down the rocks to the water's edge, we were lucky to spot more than 20 of them, teaching their little ones to fish in the swaying kelp forests.  Further down the Pacific Coast Highway, just across from the surfer-dotted Topanga State Beach, is the Rosenthal Estate Winery. Here, we had arranged to meet UCLA Anderson alums for a tasting at the Rosenthal Surfrider Wine Tasting Room and Wine Bar & Patio. Sitting outside on the lawn with Amy Bergrud, waiting for classmates to arrive, we enjoyed glasses of the Surfrider Chardonnay.  Rosenthal has two key brands: Rosenthal - The Malibu  Estate, with a production of 5,000 cases per year; and Surfrider, which produces 3,000 cases annually. Most of the distribution is in California (90 percent) and of that, nearly 80 percent  is through the winery's retail shop and wine clubs, which currently have over 1,700 members.

The Surfrider Tasting Room is a perfect location for a day away. The Southern California sun burned through the morning's haze and warmed us all up. Seated around tables discussing wine, school, travel and e-mail, a new community of alumni took shape.

Golden Road Brewing

Golden Road BreweryClick to Enlarge

Paul Burgis (FEMBA 2012) & Amy Gordon Yanow (FEMBA 2012) The last stop of our trip was at Golden Road Brewing in Los Angeles. Located just off the I-5 and the 134 freeways, its location alongside the train tracks makes this lively brew/pub feel like a hub at a crossroads. Co-owners Amy Gordon Yanow, her husband Tony Yanow and Meg Gill (formerly of Oskar Blues Brewery and Speakeasy Ales & Lagers) committed to bringing fresh beer to market in the most sustainable way possible when they founded Golden Road in 2011. Paul Burgis, the general manager, had graciously arranged for us to enjoy flights of beer and anything on the  robust menu. After the culinary adventure we'd had the last few days, we didn't expect to actually be hungry, but we discovered our appetite and enjoyed sampling the menu - in particular, the hearts of palm ceviche and the fries, all washed down with perfect beer.  We were worn out, sunburned, and ready to rest, but Golden Road's atmosphere kept us lingering until the sunset changed the colors of the city. 

For all you road trippers 

Take on a portion of our road trip agenda and do a weekend in Healdsburg and San Francisco, or Monterey and Ojai, or stay near Los Angeles and check out Rosenthal Estate Winery  and Golden Road Brewing . Any section of the trip will offer breathtaking views and many good reasons to slow down and enjoy what California's towns and cities-and UCLA Anderson's dynamic MBAs-have to offer.     

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