Chef. Mentor. Local farm-to-table food activist. Dog lover. Kind soul, good listener and a friend to more than he may ever know.
Jeff Olsson, 57, lost his fight with cancer on Sept. 1.
After founding New West Catering in 2000, Janet Flynn Olsson and Jeff Olsson blossomed into the dream-team couple behind countless private events such as weddings and parties, as well as large wine events such as those hosted by the Santa Barbara Vintners Association and other regional organizations.
Those of us in the wine industry, always hungry for sublime food to pair with our bottles, grew to admire Olsson both for his kitchen prowess and for his standard greeting — a smile and quick nod of his head.
“His vision for Eats was unparalleled and extraordinary,” said Janet Flynn Olsson, co-founder of New West Catering and Industrial Eats, and Jeff Olsson’s business partner. “He gave Eats the life for which it was known.”
Eats remains “open and thriving,” she said.
Janet Flynn Olsson said she is finalizing details for a late October celebration — or “after party” — to honor Jeff Olsson.
In 2013, the Olssons, longtime residents of the Santa Ynez Valley, opened Industrial Eats on Buellton’s Industrial Way. Locals shortened the name to “Eats,” and frequented the space.
During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, the couple kept on as many employees as possible, and offered takeout, followed by outdoor-only seating, until the state lifted restrictions.
I’ve never eaten at another restaurant as often as I ate at Eats. Over the years, I ate pizza after pizza, turkey and arugula sandwiches, hundreds of that garlicky Caesar salad and whatever specials called my name.
Between late 2018 and the pandemic shutdown, I worked at Loring Wine Co.’s tasting room, then located across the parking lot from Eats. Heaven, right? Mornings, a colleague and I would split an Americano coffee and a small loaf of fresh bread from the Olssons’ “To-Go” space adjacent to Eats’ main dining room.
Dining at Eats was family style, and most evenings, seats disappeared quickly as the line to order snaked out the front door. Friends and I learned to approach strangers near any empty, high-top stools and say, “Is this seat taken? No? Thanks! Nice to meet you, I’m Laurie.” Strangers became friends, and conversations flowed as Eats’ food united us.
What a friend described as the “illest” of hip hop was a constant at Eats. It was just loud enough for guests to savor the beat and sway along.
My tribe and I celebrated many birthdays at Eats. Winemakers hosted dinners in the Grand Room, and fundraisers and seminars drew capacity crowds. And they will, still.
Before and after opening Eats, the Olssons mentored many local chefs who mourned Jeff Olsson’s passing on social media. Each praised the couple for their kindness, patience and encouragement, for sharing kitchen space and teaching the art of butchery and charcuterie.
Olsson started his culinary career in kitchens at age 15 and honed his skills under some of the nation’s most prominent chefs, including Mark Miller, Dean Fearing and Bobby Flay. He served as executive chef at Miller’s Red Sage in Washington, D.C., and later as chef at Restaurant Nora, the first U.S. site to be certified organic.
Rest in Peace, Jeff. Thank you for the exquisite food and memories.