Augie Johnson and Eduardo Gonzalez
Augie Johnson and Eduardo Gonzalez have teamed up at Augie’s of Santa Barbara, with Johnson the namesake owner and tequila maker and Gonzalez as executive chef. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

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Berkeley “Augie” Johnson grew up in San Francisco, and sometimes used a fake identification card to get into the “beautiful, old, classic bars.”

The experience left a postive impression on him.

“I always had this vision of having a classic, old school, legitimate bar,” Johnson told Noozhawk.

That vision is about to become reality.

Johnson and a crew of workers are busy putting the final touches on Augie’s of Santa Barbara in preparation of opening at 700 State St. next week. 

The building, designed by architect Jeff Shelton, bursts with life, color and flair.

“It’s fresh, healthy local cuisine that is expressed through traditional Mexican regional dishes,” said Dave Peszek, general manager. “This is going to be unlike other Mexican restaurants in Santa Barbara. We are not going for the chips and salsa, burrito, fajita plate. This is truly authentic and high quality.”

Eduardo Gonzales, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, is the executive chef, and Peszek said he brings with him “probably a future James Beard winning level of culinary skill.”

Johnson was born in Berkeley, California. He said with a name like “Berkeley,” there was no way he could go to school in San Francisco without being teased. So he was nicknamed “Augie” after the month he was born.

Although he always dreamed of opening a restaurant, his understanding of agave is much more recent. 

Johnson and his wife Karen lost their home in the Montecito mudslides. The disaster ignited an interest in fires, what caused them, and how to prevent them from spreading. 

During his research, he came across a 1970s study from the U.S. Forest Service that stated that the water-rich agave plant was slow-to-burn, and a perfect plant to halt the spread of a wildfire.

Working with local fire departments and homeowners, Johnson then planted thousands of agave plants between Carpinteria and Buellton to serve as potential breaks in a fire.

That got Johnson interested in agave.

“I was going down to Oaxaca and Guadalara and learning about agave spirits, and I finally decided I wanted to make a tequila,” Johnson said. 

He now makes two tequilas, Augie’s tequila and Firebreak tequila

The building has a whimsical design, a trademark of Santa Barbara architect Shelton. The building has been been home to Panera Grill and Left at Albuquerque in recent years.

“We have, I think, the best team of people who I have been honored to work with,” Johnson said. “I heard it was hard to get people in town, We have some of the finest individuals working, and that’s what I enjoy the most.”

Chamber Makes New Hire

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber has hired Paulina Leang as marketing and communications coordinator.

Santa Maria Valley Chamber has hired Paulina Leang as marketing and communications coordinator.

Santa Maria Valley Chamber has hired Paulina Leang as marketing and communications coordinator. (Contributed photo)

“I am passionate about the lifestyle and the natural beauty that the Central Coast offers, between the beaches, trails, and wineries, it’s hard to beat,” Leang said. “I am excited to learn more about the people and businesses of the Santa Maria Valley, and to share it with others.”

She will be responsible for supporting chamber programs and its membership through the management of various social media, website, print and other communication channels, according to a news release. 

 Leang earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UC Santa Barbara, and is currently working on a masters in strategic communication at WSU Global.
“The marketing  and communications coordinator role at the chamber is a great opportunity to practice and implement the things that I am learning or have learned, while contributing to our community and supporting local businesses,” she said. “I believe that business development in the Santa Maria Valley is a key factor to a flourishing and growing community.”

Montecito Party Store

Santa Barbara’s only one-stop-shop for beautiful and modern party decor has opened in Montecito, according to Instagram.

Ready, Set, Confetti held a grand opening on Oct. 8 at 1046 Coast Village Road, Suite G. It’s the former site of the short-lived vegan store Plnt Pwrd MrkT.

Ready Set Confetti held a succulent pumpkin workshop led by Ojai Plant Works on Oct. 12. 

Santa Maria Crumbl

The quickly growing Crumbl Cookies franchise will hold a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 14, at the Enos Ranch Shopping Center. 

Crumbl specializes in making giant, delicious cookies. Flavors include chocolate chip, cake batter blondie, pink doughnut, raspberry lemonade and classic pink sugar. 

The types of cookies change each week. 

The restaurant is at 449 E. Betteravia Road.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at