Santa Maria Sun / Eats
The Tavernier: Far Western Tavern's new general manager brings a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to Old Orcutt
BY WENDY THIES SELL
Benjamin Chanler-Laurin has worn many hats during his eclectic career: bond trader at the Paris stock exchange, CNN producer, wine importer, lead barista at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, baker, sommelier, and restaurant manager at a wide range of Los Angeles venues, including the sophisticated Founders Room at the Los Angeles Music Center and the exclusive Pool Circle at the Hollywood Bowl.
Hired eight months ago as general manager and sommelier at the Far Western Tavern in Old Town Orcutt, Benjamin is partial to another title.
“The gentleman who manages a tavern is a tavernier. It’s a very old French word. It is really the person who carries the tavern, so I am the tavernier,” Benjamin said with his deep voice and mild French accent.
Born and raised in Paris, France, but a longtime resident of California, Benjamin readily embraces the traditional values that were important to the founders of the Far Western more than five decades ago.
“I knew for a fact that I would never be Clarence Minetti. I knew for a fact that I could not recreate the Far Western Tavern of Guadalupe, so I went back to Clarence’s original mission statement: great products, great hospitality. That’s what he based it all on,” Benjamin explained. “I’m working for a great family who has a tremendous name and weight within this county that I do respect as well.”
“What I said to the ownership from the beginning when I was hired is, ‘I’m working for Rosalie [Minetti],’” he said, because she spent 55 years building the successful business. The Minetti matriarch is now 94 years old. Her children and grandchildren run the restaurant.
Benjamin’s goal is to take that Minetti family tradition and bring it back to life in the new building, which opened in Orcutt in 2012, after moving from the original Far Western Tavern location in Guadalupe.
“Part of the tradition is to also be able to adapt. The Central Coast is now a wine region; that’s why we created a vineyard menu [that’s] more friendly toward food and wine pairing.”
The other half of the menu features the classic steak, chicken, and seafood dinners that made the tavern famous.
Benjamin’s wide-ranging talents include the ability to successfully troubleshoot and implement ideas, so expect more innovation at the Far Western in the weeks to come.
His latest brainstorm was to open the Far Western’s Coffee & Tea Saloon Monday through Saturday mornings from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m.
Benjamin and I recently sat at a pub table in a cozy corner of the bar over a hot café latte. The bar was bustling that brisk morning, with many others visiting over cups of coffee, espresso, cappuccino, café mocha, and tea.
Benjamin said he saw a void and decided that the Far Western should jump in feet first to fill it.
“[It’s] to answer a need in the community. Who has a coffee shop in Orcutt? Nobody,” Benjamin stated. “The Far Western is going to bring it to you, because we care about the people who live in our community.”
The tavern’s high-quality coffees and teas come from the nearby Santa Barbara Roasting Company.
All the scones, muffins, and croissants are made fresh in the tavern’s kitchen each morning.
“We home bake everything! We don’t buy one thing outside,” Benjamin disclosed. “Everything is done in house.”
Pointing to my ham and cheese croissant, Benjamin added confidently, “I can guarantee you that this is baked at 6 o’clock in the morning and not the night before.”
The Far Western is developing a line of mini pastries—petits fours—to serve with afternoon tea out on the west side patio.
Benjamin also told me about the Far Western Tavern Express, which offers boxed breakfasts and lunches.
“We’ll bring pastries with coffee to your office. We’ll bring some signature dishes and sandwiches to your company,” Benjamin said. “We want to bring the Far Western to you. Every shape or form, whatever we do will be the same quality.”
That’s not all. By the end of November, the Far Western plans to launch its new Central Coast wine tasting bar at the impressive hardwood bar on the second floor of the restaurant.
“I’m creating the underground tasting room,” said Benjamin, who explained that since most local wine tasting rooms close at 5 p.m., the Far Western decided to offer a place for locals to taste wine after work.
Every Thursday night from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., a different local winery will showcase its wines. The Far Western will post the participating wineries a month in advance on its website, farwesterntavern.com.
Adjacent to the wine tasting venue is the Far Western’s liquor tasting bar.
“You come to me and say, ‘Benjamin, I want to taste Bourbon, whiskey, and Scotch.’ The purpose is for you to really taste liquors,” Benjamin said. “We pour you half an ounce of four different liquors, then you taste.”
If you want coffee after dinner, I highly recommend going upstairs to sit on the comfortable couches at the Far Western’s fire pits on the outside deck.
Visiting with the professional and attentive Benjamin is now a highlight of any visit to the Far Western. He possesses a wealth of knowledge about wines and wine regions that he enjoys sharing tableside, in addition to his skillful and entertaining wine-bottle-and-cork presentation.
“I love hospitality. I love [the] culture behind it. I love the intricacy of the restaurant,” Benjamin shared. “Every level of this business is full of layers and each one of them is fascinating to me, and that’s why I feel very, very comfortable.”
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be reached at email@example.com.
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