A Community Staple: With Zaidee’s Bar & Grill, Ojai has a Place to Gather
The history of Soule Park GC is one of adversity, rejuvenation and community integration, and its newly renovated restaurant, Zaidee’s Bar & Grill, hopes to add to that history. When Keith Brown took over as general manager in 2016, he saw the potential of the entire property, but he knew where the priorities lay. “I was meeting with designers the first week about getting the restaurant redone,” he says. “Then I quickly realized that the course had to be reset first. If we couldn’t get back on the radar with the golf course, nothing else would work.”
It’s safe to say that thanks to Brown’s efforts, Soule Park has most definitely gotten back onto the radar of the Southern California golfing public over the past few years. But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a serendipitous driving-range meeting with New York restaurateur Zeb Stewart, that Brown was able to turn his attention to updating the bar and grill.
Stewart recalls that meeting: “I ran into Keith on the driving range and realized he was in charge, so I asked if he had any plans to renovate the restaurant. He told me he had been thinking about it a lot. I said, ‘I have a few restaurants in New York that were closed because of the pandemic, so I have a lot of free time if you want to talk about it!”
Stewart and Brown, along with Zeb’s wife Erin Gerken and local chef Chase Elder, collaborated to revamp both the outdated interior of the restaurant and the menu itself, but not without some trepidation. “This place is so loved in the community that we felt more pressure than we did opening a new restaurant in New York!” Stewart says.
Brown adds: “Zeb and Erin’s desire to do something for the community and make this place an institution, along with his availability to work with me on this every day, has been amazing. It really was serendipitous that we met when we did.”
BALANCING CLASSIC & NEW
The result is a setting that fuses mid-century modern design with rustic earth tones and a backdrop that is second to none. Changes included adding plush leather seats at the bar and tables that look like they were handpicked by Don Draper, along with an elegant wraparound bar with marble top and the centerpiece: a double-sided pass-through window that is open during the day to reveal a breathtaking view of the course and neighboring hills.
Keith’s wife Marie came up with the idea of naming the restaurant after Zaidee Soule, a fitting tribute to the family that donated the land to the city of Ojai in 1959 for the course to be built.
The food at Zaidee’s can stand toe-to-toe with most restaurants in the area. “Our goal was always to balance the past and provide those classic golf course staples,” Stewart says, “but to also look forward to how we can become a pillar in the entire community, not just the golfers.”
While currently in a limited state, the menu at Zaidee’s already delivers. The early crowd favorites appear to be the buffalo chicken sandwich — a generous piece of chicken breast on a toasted brioche bun with zesty sauce — and the Zaidee’s smashburger, with a flavor that nods to a certain California drive-thru classic. Highly recommended: the incredibly addicting shoestring-style onion rings, which are available as a side order. Just be sure to guard your plate if you’re with friends.
With more in the works, including an expanded breakfast/brunch menu and a future dinner service, Brown and Stewart would like to make the golf course a hub for the people of Ojai, whether they bring their sticks or not. And the restaurant is a key piece in making that happen. “That balance is what we really work toward, to be affordable and casual in a certain way, but to also celebrate the location and views.”