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Business

Restaurateur and Businessman Warren Butler Turns Sights to Next Establishment: High Sierra Grill

Goleta eatery’s new managing partner has ambitious plans to raise the establishment’s profile

Mario Medina, left, and his two business partners brought on Warren Butler, right, as managing partner of Goleta’s High Sierra Grill in January to help turn around the 12,000-square-foot restaurant. Click to view larger
Mario Medina, left, and his two business partners brought on Warren Butler, right, as managing partner of Goleta’s High Sierra Grill in January to help turn around the 12,000-square-foot restaurant. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Warren Butler’s resume runs like the credits roll at the end of a film.

The Santa Barbara restaurateur, businessman and event tycoon has opened or managed a staggering array of establishments, including the Butler Event Center in Goleta, the former Marmalade Café in Santa Barbara, Morton’s The Steakhouse in Beverly Hills and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Hawaii.

He’s operated nightclubs in Atlanta, produced the KEYT program What’s Cooking with Arthur von Wiesenberger, and was president of Hospitality Santa Barbara when it was the Greater Santa Barbara Lodging & Restaurant Association.

The management, food and entertainment sectors around which Butler’s career has revolved converge with his latest gig: managing partner with High Sierra Grill & Bar in Goleta.

After opening in December 2015, the restaurant at 521 Firestone Rd. found itself struggling.

Owners Mario Medina, Manuel Perales and Paul Ybarra brought Butler on board in January to revitalize the establishment, which opened in the spot of the former Elephant Bar at the Santa Barbara Airport

Medina, Perales and Ybarra individually or collectively own a number of other local and Central California restaurants. 

The ownership is “very supportive of the process,” Butler told Noozhawk. “There’s a different owner here every day supporting my pursuit of all these goals. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine doing it without them.”

High Sierra Grill, which has another location in Fresno, offers wide-ranging breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, along with craft beer, wine and live entertainment.

Butler said a primary source of the restaurant’s struggles was its size: Including its patio, the 12,000-square-foot High Sierra Grill can seat 250 people, which could leave employees a bit frazzled when tending to such an expansive space.

“I can just imagine when you open up and you get that busy so quick, then it’s overwhelming,” he said. “Especially this size.”

That, in turn, put a damper on the quality of service, which was reflected in customer feedback, he added.

In response, Butler is working on hiring more staff and doubling down on their training.

Another issue he saw at the restaurant was the broad scope of its menu, which he’s scaling back.

“My main goal is to make sure that the food and the service are 100 percent,” he said. “That is my No. 1 focus now.”

Also on the agenda are improvements to the wine list, the breakfast menu and the signage of the restaurant, which can be difficult to even notice when driving past on Hollister Avenue.

Butler also wants to enhance the “High Sierra” mountain-lodging ambiance.

To catch more of the business crowd, he plans to implement a “fast lunch” program where patrons can grab and eat their meal all within their one-hour midday break.

The restaurant is additionally home to a banquet room equipped with a screen and projector that Butler wants to market to corporate meetings and social events.

High Sierra Grill already offers karaoke and live entertainment, but Butler wants to expand that into a frequent feature. He floated the ideas of spring and summer concert series and themed music nights.

In order to implement his ambitious to-do list, Butler has made High Sierra Grill his primary occupation, spending an estimated 12 hours a day at the establishment.

In the attractive but tough Santa Barbara-area food-service industry, he remarked, it’s imperative that a restaurant have the support of the community, especially one as locally focused as Santa Barbara.

“It’s all about relationships in this town,” he said.

Many restaurants of comparable size face similar problems, Butler said, and often close because of them if they don’t have the requisite experience and are not “firing on all cylinders.”

For High Sierra Grill, patron numbers have been on the rise, feedback has been positive and customers have been expressing their approval of his changes, Butler said.

“We really feel good about the position we’re in, because we’ve been able to get through the tough part, and now we’re ready to just take off and move forward.”

After turning it around and, as he put it, “blowing it up,” Butler said he sees his involvement with the restaurant growing until he has the opportunity to take over the establishment himself.

“That’s my goal,” he said. “I see that potential.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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