Visited kind-of a San Diego landmark and sat with quite the notable icon. Barbara Beltaire, founder of Barbarella in La Jolla invited me into her office to show me her website. She read my CritDicks business card and questioned where I got my humor, whether from my Mother, or Father. She seemed to immediately connect with me on the basis that I was a writer and her father was a successful journalist.
Barbara, as she is called by many of the seated, and obvious repeat customers, walked me around almost every conceivable corner of her restaurant showing me the obvious Halloween decorations. The big things, and small. The details and the subtle that makes her business standout among others on the block.
She walked with me explaining how she resolves the social media challenges of today; agreeing that social media is extremely powerful, a great marketing tool, but just too much for her to keep up with. In her office now, Barbara explains to me and shows me how she counters the social media frenzy with a reasonably simple website and regular emails to her customers. She also said she maintains an almost non-existent “removal” number from her email distribution list. I thought that to be a pretty neat statistic, especially since I didn’t know that “removal” was a statistic . . . something to be followed, . . . and to be proud of.
Wow, she was so down to earth and friendly. This is the same person that throws a national celebration of St. Barbara’s Day that includes high-profile visitors to her establishment such as Barbara Streisand, Barbara Walters and other “Barbaras” from around the globe. Well, I don’t know that it’s a “national celebration” or quite “global”, but to have the name Barbara celebrated in your own special way . . . and recognized by such biggies. Barbara also admits she has a problem when it comes to Halloween decorations as well as most other holiday celebrations. You see, Barbara has created the unique ambiance and anticipation that her restaurant, Barbarella, brings with a visit here. I really don’t know that any more decorations can possibly fit into this place. Barbara even told me to check out the bathrooms. Barbara drug me around in a 15 minute psycho-rapid tour of everything. Every decoration and every feature of the older building. She was even elated to show me her 1960 Nash Metropolitan automobile. Wow, her car was immaculate. A seemingly perfect specimen. You can obviously tell that Barbara was very proud of her things, as was she seemingly very proud of herself . . . and very happy to show and share with her customers and me. This was Barbara’s place that she created, nurtured and built up through the years. She is Barbarella’s. Her passion for this place is obvious.
Across the street is another of Barbara’s places. I believe the story goes that Barbara has a partnership or other monetary and legal part ownership of Piatti and or the restaurant group that owns it. Piatti offers this on their website, “Piatti features rustic Italian cuisine, intriguing wine lists, many of which are served via our barrel-to-table program, and unique, handcrafted cocktails. All of our Piatti locations offer seasonally inspired lunch and dinner menus and many offer vegetarian, gluten-free and kid-friendly menus, as well as happy hours and enticing bar menus.” Barbara hired Tom Spano, the General Manager during Piatti’s infancy and has grown it for over 25 years into what it is now.
Well now, why would I talk momentarily about the restaurant across the street if these weren’t linked somehow? Not only are they both linked by ownership, they are also linked because we visited them on the same evening as part of a class field trip. It wasn’t until the Saturday after that the other original CritDick, his wife and my wife actually ate there . . . and yes, the food was pretty darn good (not going to get close to that portion of a review . . . just damn good).
A week after our visit our professor opened a class discussion about our field trip. There was discussion made about Barbara’s comments to the class members during the field trip. Comments that would leave some students thinking she had a negativity about the restaurant industry and/or being th owner of her own restaurant. Since I had spent a bit more personal time with her that same evening, I supported her passionate views of the restaurant industry, and her passionate views of being a restaurateur. I can see where there might be some communication that may be construed as being degrading to the industry; but I feel Barbara was telling it straight. It’s not easy work . . . it takes passion . . . it consumes you . . . it takes your life! That’s why I not sure if I’ll ever work in, run or own a restaurant. There was question in the discussion about her mental state, her potential alcohol dependency (duh . . . , most every restaurant owner) and her being a control freak. I had to look back at what Barbara said to me. “Gunga galunga . . . gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.” (Caddy Shack, 1980) . . . Sorry got totally side-tracked on that one. Actually, Babara said a lot to me; but I could see that this restaurant was, in fact, “Barbarella” for a reason, and Barbara was the driver of this truck. You don’t just let anyone drive . . . and you can’t just let go of the wheel.
I hope I can speak candidly about Barbara Beltaire. I spent 15 solid minutes with a passionate restaurateur, and I listened to her . . . You know, I joke a lot and I also tell most things straight up, at face value. Some things are not always easy for folks to take. Barbarella is a historic San Diego and La Jolla Shores icon that has been built on a dream from a woman that, for 30-or-so years, has given her life. She has given her everything!!! That 15 minutes I spent with Barbara Beltaire has given me vision. Vision to seek passion.
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