Journal:

In Depth: Ben & Sarah Sims

December 3, 2015

Bantam Restaurant is tucked away just off of Mission Street on the Westside of Santa Cruz in an industrial building lined with beautiful windows, exposed beams and plenty of space to welcome the community through its doors. We interviewed the husband and wife team, Ben and Sarah Sims, about why they decided to open Bantam Restaurant, the value of local organic food for their business, and their views on the Santa Cruz artisanal industry.

Please introduce yourselves and what you do.

Benjamin: My name is Benjamin Sims and I am the Chef and Owner of Bantam Restaurant.

Sarah: I am Sarah Sims, Owner and General Manager of Bantam Restaurant.

What is Bantam’s culinary style?

B: The culinary style of Bantam is what you might call “California Cuisine” in a more traditional sense. We take from old world techniques and methods and translate those to new world ingredients and innovations.

Why did you choose to have this style of restaurant here?

B: This is the style of restaurant that we like. This is the type of place that we have worked in, and this is the kind of place that we want to eat at, and we knew that all of our friends and family would want to eat here too.

Why did you start Bantam?

S: We love restaurants. We have always worked in restaurants. It has been Ben’s dream to have a wood fired pizza oven, and so that was kind of the beginning point and from that everything grew.

B: After Sarah and I met we refined and honed our ideas, and started developing the style of service, the style of food, all the way down to the type of music we would play.

What can you tell us about your unique location and space?

B: This spot was picked for two reasons. There weren’t many places in town with all of the natural light and the beautiful architecture. The building itself was beautiful, with the round roof, exposed beams, the woodwork, the beautiful floors as well as all of the windows.

The ideal situation for us was to be a neighborhood restaurant, so we needed a location that would straddle a commercial zone and a neighborhood. The Westside is a developing commercial neighborhood and is an incredibly vibrant residential area with lots of young people and diverse households. We liked this spot from the get-go.

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What is it about Santa Cruz that helped you decide to open Bantam here?

B: Santa Cruz is where we’re from, it’s where we live, where our family and friends are, and it’s where our passion is. It speaks to us with its geography and its lifestyle, and we really felt like it was ready for us and the something new that we had to offer.

What's special about Santa Cruz to you?

B: The people here are very special and very unique. It's not some place where you would end up, necessarily. You have to choose to live in Santa Cruz. There are a lot of prohibitive factors from cost of living to availability, so to live here is a conscious choice. And, I think that brings some really interesting people, some self-starters, some motivated people, and lots of unique industry to Santa Cruz.

The geography is fantastic. With the mountains and the seaside, there are not a whole lot of places on earth quite as beautiful as this. And that influences the people. It gives everybody a nicer perspective.

What’s the biggest benefit to having a food business in Santa Cruz?

S: The access to the local produce and purveyors. You look at other really great restaurants and they are buying their produce from farms right up the coast. We are so lucky we get the most incredible food and produce right here.

We have relationships with everyone we buy food from, so all of the items on the menu come from farms that we are surrounded by. And the relationships have been developed over time. Ben has worked in restaurants for a long time here in Santa Cruz, and he sees his customers at the Farmers Market, and produce comes to our backdoor.

What’s your relationship to the overall business community?

B: There has been a youth movement over the last 5 to 6 years with people our age, and younger than us, staring businesses. A lot of those businesses are in the food industry. Whether that be farmers, coffee or ice cream makers, butchers, and restaurants. We rely on our contemporaries for advice, we rely on our contemporaries for support, and we rely on a lot of our contemporaries for produce, chicken, pigs, fish, you name it.

Most relationships that we have here at Bantam are relationships we have cultivated over the last 10 to 15 years. Some people I went to Elementary school with, like Dirty Girl Farms. There are some new connections, but for the most part these are people we have worked with over the last decade.

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Santa Cruz is where we’re from, it’s where we live, where our family and friends are, and it’s where our passion is. It speaks to us with its geography and its lifestyle, and we really felt like it was ready for us and the something new that we had to offer. — Ben Sims

Did you work with the City of Santa Cruz to set up Bantam?

B: We worked with Economic Development, which at the time was Redevelopment. We worked with them when we ran into some roadblocks like traffic impact fees. We worked closely with them to help navigate that, and they helped to find a way to reevaluate that fee for us.

Our zoning isn’t strict commercial, it is industrial with a commercial overlay, so we had to work with the Planning Department and the Planning Commission. They were very helpful in negotiating that and advising us on what we could and couldn’t do in this area.

I understand that you worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). How did they help you?

S: The Small Business Development Center helped us come up with a very clear business plan, helped flush out our ideas so that we were more concise, and helped us develop a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve and what direction we were heading. Keith Holtaway with the SBDC was extremely helpful. It was very valuable, well-spent time.

How’s business?

B: Business is great.

S: It is growing! Business has grown from when we opened 2 years ago to today.

What advice would you give someone considering opening a restaurant in Santa Cruz?

S: If you are passionate, if you have a great idea, and if you are willing to work hard, Santa Cruz feels like it is ready for something new and it is open to fresh ideas.

B: If you have a good product and you can execute it properly, Santa Cruz is right there to support you. They have supported us from the very beginning. We worked really hard, and even though we were doing something a little different, Santa Cruz gave us an opportunity. From the very beginning we felt like the community understood what we were trying to offer and what we were trying to do and they got behind us.

If you are passionate, if you have a great idea, and if you are willing to work hard, Santa Cruz feels like it is ready for something new and it is open to fresh ideas — Sarah Sims

Where do you see food culture heading in SC?

B: I see it opening up to a lot of different styles of cuisine. You hear a lot of restaurants using terms like “farm to table”, “local”, and “sustainable” and that’s great. I feel that we will see that approach applied to a myriad of different cuisines from all over the world. It will be more international.

Is there anything else you want to say about having a restaurant in SC?

S: We are proud to be business owners and to be a part of the community. We’re happy to be a part of the change and growing with this town.

MORE ABOUT BANTAM RESTAURANT:

Bantam Restaurant offers a regularly changing menu of wood-fired pizzas and Mediterranean-influenced starters, salads and entrees incorporating locally sourced organic ingredients. The cuisine is centered around old world techniques and methods translated to new world ingredients and innovations.

To learn more about Bantam Restaurant, visit their website: www.bantam1010.com

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