There is something special about a neighborhood market. Whether you’re stopping to meet a friend for a quick bite of lunch or hanging out with your morning coffee, the familiarity with the owners and other patrons creates a comfort zone that makes these local places feel like your home away from home.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Metropulos Fine Food Merchants owners Ann and Craig Addis, threw a thank-you party for many of their loyal patrons and friends celebrating their 10 years in business in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. The Addises have endeared themselves to the community through hard work, great service and delicious food.
Music by Vientos del Sur and the aroma of homemade food wafted in the air as I approached the corner of Yanonali and Santa Barbara streets. The crowded store and outside patio were overflowing as hors d’ourves of Piquillo peppers stuffed with Sapnish bonito, Chef Roberto Soria’s house made empanadas with chimichurri sauce, Basque tacos with Spanish Basque Chistorra sausage, Feta and olive skewers, and watermelon skewers with tomato pulp and citrus dressing were passed to the animated crowd.
Coffee and desserts of cheesecake with strawberry or blueberry coulis, Murray River Sea Salt-Brown Butter Buttons, Chocolate Espresso Cake Bites, Ashleigh’s Turtle macaroons and Metro’s signature macaroons were beautifully displayed inside. A bar serving up several selections of wine was also available.
Years before the Funk Zone became the “it” place to be, Addis worked at Santa Barbara Winery, pointing out that he always enjoyed the neighborhood as it existed back then. The Addises, who met at Paradise Café 27 years ago, were married at the Music Academy of the West in 1990, when weddings were still permitted there.
When they read that a corner store would be included in the Villa Del Mar condo development going up in the neighborhood, they contacted the developer and made arrangements to buy the real estate, as a commercial condo.
“We love most of the changes we have seen in the neighborhood,” Ann Addis said when asked about today’s Funk Zone fanfare. “That was mostly a ‘locals-only market,’ but we are now visible to more visitors, and customers who discover us because a nearby tasting room or bartender sent them our way.”
The Addises’ individual love of food and wine was nurtured at early ages by their large families. Addis is one of six children and his wife, whose maiden name is Metropulos, is one of seven.
Ann, a Chicago native who moved here in 1987, apprenticed at her Italian-American mother’s side for daily meals, learning firsthand a cookbook full of recipes, including her classic Old School Italian spaghetti sauce. She took her childhood culinary notes with her to Purdue University, where she would make large batches of that sauce and her mother’s meatballs, and have regular spaghetti nights with her friends.
Craig traces his interest in wine to a family visit to the Russian River Valley when he was 18. He began to understand the variations that could be seen in the bottle due to the land, the region and the winemaker’s hand. He studied geology at UC Santa Barbara and got his first job in the wine industry at Santa Barbara Winery, where he was responsible for mapping the vineyard’s varying soils. Geology gave way to wine, and he spent 25 years working in the industry and growing his wine knowledge before opening Metropulos.
Today, he can be seen working with suppliers, sipping and tasting wine, and taking notes in his “little black book.” His decades of experience enable him to expertly make choices of specific wines and vintages from all over the world for his store. He actively seeks selections that pair well with foods from the Mediterranean and also have excellent value. He has a wide network of friends in the wine business, from distributors to winemakers, many of whom have become valued customers.
“The best part of our business is the relationship we have developed with our customers, many of whom have been with us since Day One,” Ann Addis said as I nodded knowingly, since I’m one of them.
“We also have customers who have discovered us over the years and now come regularly for their favorite items. Some come for their sandwiches (gyro is my favorite), salads and soups. And some just come for Spanish tuna.”
The 2,000-square-foot space has a casual mix of shoppers, diners, and a fun and personable staff. Some customers stock up on everything imaginable, others buy cases of wine once a week. The Addises enjoy and respect every one of them. It's fun hearing their stories and listening to their customers sharing tales and pictures from their vacations.
Some of the items you can expect to see and be tempted to buy at Metropulos are artisan cheeses, charcuterie, wine, beer, olives, oils, gourmet salts, farmers market jams and pickles (made by Ann), pastas, fresh bakery goods and deli salads. They also provide platter-style catering that can be picked up at the store.
According to the Addises, one of the secret ingredients to their success is their staff. Over the last 10 years, they’ve developed what they call a corporate culture. As managers, they’ve learned to trust their key employees to run things to their standards, and veterans bring eagerly bring newbies into the corporate culture of excellence.
This past year, the Addises hired a general manager, Lulu Figueroa, who has taken some of the stress off of them so they can enjoy their work more. For the first nine years, they managed everything themselves.
In addition to Figueroa, Soria, the chef; deli manager Vincent Cabrera, who started as a dish washer; and Marcelo Rocca, their long-term resident Italian who knows everything about their products, are invaluable. Victoria, who greets every customer with a smile; Joe, whose personality is as great as the deli samples he gives out; and Victor, Katylyn, Ashleigh, Watterson, Moses and Flavio are all an integral part of Team Metro in making this neighborhood spot a wonderful place to dine and shop.
“We don’t pretend to do everything ourselves,” Ann Addis said. “It’s our employees who are the soul of the store and who we rely upon to take what we have lovingly created and keep it special for our customers.
“Without our employees, who care about creating a special experience each time a customer walks into our place, we’d just be another market.”
Metropulos Fine Food Merchants, 216 E. Yanonali St., is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Click here for more information, or call 805.899.2300.