The room is abuzz with laughter and conversation on a sunny Thursday afternoon in Santa Barbara, California. It’s about lunchtime and Drew Cuddy — the owner and founder of Satellite — is active at the bar; laughing as he chats with regulars and smiling widely as he welcomes newcomers.
There’s a curious mixture of patrons in the well-populated bar and restaurant on State Street: A group of business people collaborate around a large whiteboard in an attached conference and event room; two young mothers with their children eat at a large table; and an assortment of friends meet on their lunch break for a quick bite or a drink.
“We get a lot of European tourists who walk by and innately understand our space because it is more similar to something that you would see in a Paris wine bar,” Drew explains as he offers me a menu to glance over. “It’s not a common sort of look in Santa Barbara because the style of service we are doing is somewhere between table service and bar service, but also with a bonified food menu and a really fancy wine list.” He chuckles. “But that’s really just something that’s par for the course in a place like Paris.”
Drew has a long history of spending time in Europe. As a Canadian college student he worked each summer in Italy helping with different components of the winemaking.
The exposure to this European style of dining and wine is something that he is “really excited” to be able to bring into the Santa Barbara food and wine culture. It’s evidently translating well: “When we get someone from Berlin, or Paris, or London,” says Drew, “they’re like ‘oh yea! We know exactly what you’re doing in here’ and they get the menu right away and get the wine list. And then we get other people who are walking up the street going like ‘Who are you people?! What are you doing in here? Like, I see a bar, I see a conference room, I see all these open seating configurations… what do I do?’” But once they have gotten a quick feel for the environment, Drew says, they tend to come back for more of this unique (to the West Coast) vibe.
The food and wine at Satellite is meticulously curated under Drew’s guidance, in collaboration with chef Emma West of the late, famed Julienne Restaurant. They work together to really “show Santa Barbara through the Santa Barbara farmer’s market,” Drew explains.
The restaurant is entirely plant based – inspired by Drew’s background in farming as a child growing up on a Canadian farm, Emma’s expertise at the market, and their shared excitement around being able to feed people food that is “hyper-fresh, hyper-local, and hyper-healthy.” By using the locally-sourced vegetarian food Drew and Emma find that they are able to deliver plates that are “delicious because you can taste the quality of the food.”
This focus on fresh, on local, and on being able to experience flavors intensively is one of the missions that underlies the Satellite experience.
The wine list is constantly changing, as is the seasonal menu, but what remains constant is the conversation that the wine and the food are having with the earth. “I am really interested in what the earth tastes like,” Drew explains, “and through the vector of grapes discovering personality and place and more about the families that grow the wine and just sort of being transported.” It’s about the menu and the wine list having a conversation with Santa Barbara and “using Santa Barbara as a lens to look out at the rest of the world.”
“We are a little showcase for local wines, local foods, a spot where we try and build a little community around people who are interested in fine food” and wine, Drew says. Santa Barbara is beautiful and there are so many ways to make it look beautiful and “we’re just trying to capture Santa Barbara in a way.”
This focus on local produce goes beyond sourcing from the farmers market and trying to consistently keep a good balance of local wines.
Many of the ingredients frequently featured on the menu come from Drew’s very own friends and family gardens. “The nasturtiums come from my mother’s garden, lemons come from our house or Emma’s house, and our spritz oranges come from my backyard” he explains. The team at Satellite are also in the process of getting a tower garden set up nearby to bring some of the growing in-house.
There is thus a sense of community that starts from the very sowing of the seeds for the food that rests on the tables. This meticulous care is clear in Satellite’s environment.
The wine bar/restaurant is prominently placed in the hub of downtown Santa Barbara on State Street and occupies the front entrance of a workspace center known as the Impact Hub. Just in the short half hour of our interview on the back patio of the Impact Hub Drew was met with smiles from nearly every group who walked by: employees of the business, people who use the workspace, and regular patrons of Satellite.
While the restaurant element of Satellite is one of the most fascinating components of the operation to Drew, his roots truly lie in the curation of the natural wines list on offer at Satellite. “I taste about 100 wines a week” and am always looking for wines that strike a balance between price and something that surprises people, he explains.
Drew is aiming to expand the palates of people who come through his restaurant by exploring avenues of wine that they may not be familiar with and thus might not select on their own volition in the grocery store wine aisle. “We’ll do showcases with importers or individual wineries or distributors… and then [on] Tuesdays we do blind flights and I’ll have people taste three wines blind without knowing what they are… and I’ll have them guess what they’re getting and then I get to talk to them both about wine tasting and technique” and expand their knowledge of wine, he says.
Education about wine is certainly an important component of the Satellite model – they offer classes in the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust).
This school of wine is “a globally recognized institution for education in wine and spirits” Drew explains. The classes work around a theory that “uses your face as a laboratory for identifying wine and wine quality” and is in parallel with the “guild of master sommeliers. [But with] just a little bit of a different way of looking at wine” he says. This class is “really academic” Drew says, and it is intended for people who really hope to expand the ways they look at wine and their ability to identify wine in (eventually) blind testing.
Aesthetically, Satellite is carefully curated. With such a clear eye for place and an interest in design, it follows that Drew might have an interest in interior design. Within the room, however, the attention to details brings a harmony to the seemingly incongruous design elements. Lush velvet green seats compliment the exposed concrete walls and all of the space has “references to what was on the desk of NASA or Northrup Group, Raytheon, or General Dynamics” as Drew plays off the establishment’s name. Working with the Koto Group and Bottenfield Construction Drew says he has been thrilled with restaurant where they have found balance with “a lot of different textures and different elements… somehow it all works together and I’m really happy about that.”
Drew obviously has skill in curating a restaurant. He has been able to assemble a team of people willing to work hard for his business to succeed. And for Drew, a large component of that partnership is Accountix. From the beginning, “Accountix was able to distill the processes” of working on his business plan and help to facilitate the opening of Satellite. Then, as Satellite has grown, Drew feels as though he’s “hired through Accountix a full-blown CFO for my company.”
As a first-time business owner, Drew says, “I credit Accountix with so much of the understanding of my business and helping me to get to a point where I really understand what’s going on inside it.” He feels “like Accountix is just another partner in what I’m doing.” Together, the team at Accountix and the team at Satellite helps to establish the restaurant as a staple in the Santa Barbara downtown area.
Learn More About Satellite’s Partnership with Accountix Here: