Cynthia Glenn spent most of her life in Grover Beach

Mr. Glenn’s House of Ladies Clothing was started by Cynthia Glenn 48 years ago. Glenn, who has owned a number of businesses in Grover Beach over the years, purchased the corner lot on Grand Avenue by Fifth Street. The house her clothing business occupies now was Glenn’s best friend’s home.

“I opened it on July 15, 1968,” Glenn said.

Glenn has lived in Grover Beach for 65 years, moving from Avila Beach with her late husband, Corman. She said they had been renting an apartment in a house, but felt the $25 a month rent was too high, so went to Grover Beach to buy a home.

“We came looking for a house; we bought a lot,” Glenn said. “I drew the plans for the home. Of course, we ran out of money. [My husband] asked, ‘What will we do?’ I said, ‘Build a garage.’’

So that is what they did. They lived in the garage until they could build the house.

“The happiest day of my life was when we bought shiny green linoleum,” Glenn said, adding that the garage wasn’t finished, her cupboard was an orange crate.

Glenn was one of seven children — five girls and two boys — growing up in Indiana and Oklahoma during the Great Depression. She said they didn’t have much money, so she knew how to live on little, and how to work for what she wanted.

The couple met after Glenn moved to Avila Beach, where one of her sisters lived. Another sister was a teacher in Southern California. Glenn met Corman, who served in the Navy during World War II, in her sister’s restaurant in Avila Beach.

“We married after two months,” Glenn said. “We were married for 51 and a half years.”

The two were just barely 20, Glenn said. They finished their first house — which had three bedrooms — when they were 23.

Glenn came to California from Oklahoma — she attended Central Teachers College in Edna, Okla., for one year — when she was 18. She got a job as a nanny through Hancock College. She was a nanny for one family until she married Corman. Later she got her teaching certificate from a school in San Francisco, though she did not have a Bachelors degree, yet.

Her brother, an architect, drew plans “for the most beautiful house in Grover Beach,” Glenn said, which they then built.

“We only lived in it for three years,” Glenn said. “I told my husband I was going to sell it and go back to college.”
She said he told her to stop making rash decisions. “I said, ‘No, I think about them a long time, then make fast decisions.”

The next day, she said, she sold the home and went back to school at Cal Poly when she was 35 years old, and mother to three boys, Michael, David and Tom. She graduated from Cal Poly with her Bachelor of Education in 1963. She then taught all ages up to seventh grade in Nipomo for 18 years.

It was while she was still teaching that she bought the house her business currently occupies and started the clothing store.

“I had designed [and sewed] clothing since I was 9,” she said, adding that that was when she made her first coat.

It was a natural progression for her to open her own clothing business, which led to her designing and making her own lingerie, called Cynthia of California, in the building next door to Mr. Glenn’s for 18 years.

“I shipped lingerie all over the U.S. and to one store in England,” Glenn said. “I made beautiful lingerie. It was fun. I still have six commercial machines and hundreds of gowns ready to be made.”

Over the years, she has also had a music business with her son, Tom, called The Red Piano on Sixth Street.

“I just wanted a music store and my son, the youngest, was a musician,” Glenn said. “We sold beautiful guitars.”

The store closed when her son moved to Florida to pursue music more actively.

Glenn has some words of wisdom for making life great: Don’t look back.
“My memories make me strong,” Glenn said. “I look at the beautiful times we had. That’s when you look back. … It makes me get up [every day].”

She said that is why she continues to work even as she’s nearly 91 years of age.

“People need to keep moving,” Glenn said.

Glenn is a woman of many talents: she also writes poetry, which is paired with art by her sister, Jo Tarabula, and her brother, Thomas Lungford. Cards with the artwork and poetry, along with larger paintings by Tarabula and Lungford are for sale inside Mr. Glenn’s.

Glenn’s love of poetry started young, reading her own father’s poetry. Even at 90 she could recite from memory a poem he wrote and she recited in seventh grade.

One of the many things Glenn said she’d like to do “before the Lord takes her” is to compile a collection of poems written by her, her father, son, brother and sister.

This story was originally published in Journal Plus in October 2016.

Audrey Johns publishes first book: Lose Weight by Eating

Audrey Johns’ first cookbook, “Lose Weight by Eating,” was released in mid-April and is already into its second print run after selling out with numerous retailers both online and in-store.

Her cookbook, which was published with William Morrow, a subsidiary of HarperCollins Publishers, was a labor of love after she lost 150 pounds by tweaking the ingredients of her favorite foods, which allowed her to eat more, while not taking in more calories.

“I want to have all the food I want and not feel guilty,” Johns said.

After moving to Atascadero from Southern California, she found that in order to get a lot of the ethnic food she loved, and craved, she had to make it herself.

“Basically, I lost 150 pounds just by eating,” Johns said. “I was not able to go to the gym [because I was having surgeries].”

While she said she did want to lose weight, she didn’t think the weight would come off by only changing the way she ate.

She started her blog, www.loseweightbyeating.com, to share her journey, and recipes, with others.

“I was taking [my daughter] to dance class every week at Motions Academy [in Atascadero] and the moms noticed I was losing weight and asked how I did it,” Johns said. “I struggled with weight my whole life so I just wanted to give it away for free.”

And she did. Until now.

It didn’t take long for Johns to get noticed. Her blog went from 10 visitors a day to 10,000 visitors per day overnight. As of early April, she said, the website had between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors on a slow day. In early 2014, she got an email from a casting company that was scouting out potential contestants for reality shows. She got an audition for the reality show, “The Taste,” an ABC show that puts 16 competitors, who range from home cooks to professional chefs and everything in between, in the kitchen.

“I stayed at a friend’s house [the night before the audition] and cooked lamb meatballs and prayed that they stayed hot long enough,” Johns said, adding that once it was her group’s turn in front of the casting crew, she had five minutes to plate meal she had already prepared.

She was cast in Season 2 of “The Taste.” Though she was one of the first ones eliminated from the show, she still stays in contact with her team and contestants from other teams.

“Out of all the teams, I think my team bonded the most,” Johns said.

When it was time for someone from her team to be chosen to go home, she said she volunteered to go home and was actually happy to go home because she was in a lot of pain from the nerve disease she got a few years ago after a car accident. Right after she was eliminated, she went in for a nerve block that alleviates a lot of the pain she suffers.

“When I got kicked off, I was glad to go home, I was in so much pain,” Johns said. “I didn’t tell anyone about it. They just thought I had a bad back.”

Her appearance on “The Taste” led to her getting a literary agent.

“The night of the airing of ‘The Taste’ – that I got kicked off – I got calls from five different literary agents,”

Johns said. Four of the five agents were in Manhattan. She ended up signing with Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc., out of New York City. One of the reasons Sterling Lord wanted to represent her, she said, was the way she represented her brand, Lose Weight by Eating. Promoting her brand was the reason she went on The Taste in the first place.

“We started working on a book proposal … [my agent] shopped it around at all of the publishing houses. I had two days to talk to 35 publishing houses,” Johns said.

In the end, she chose to go with William Morrow.

Two years has passed and she has a finished book and has been promoting her book through interviews, book reviews, a sweepstakes and going on TV. Her first television appearance for the book was on the “700 Club” on April 19.

Although it was filmed earlier than the “700 Club,” she appeared on the “Rachael Ray Show” with Bob Harper on April 26. She was on “Hollywood Live” on May 13. She has also appeared on other local and national television and radio shows since her book was released.

Her appearances on the “700 Club” and the “Rachael Ray Show” really boasted the sales of the cookbook, Johns said.

“Rachael Ray was huge for sales, that was the reason we sold out,” Johns said. “The day I was on the show I was the No. 1 book on all of Amazon and the No. 5 book on all of Barnes and Noble. … [The] website was flying when I was on those shows, at one point we had 1,300 people on the page all at once, we were lucky the servers held steady.”

Johns has lived in Atascadero with her husband of 10 years, Chris, and their daughter, Sophie, 7, since 2012 when they moved from Orange County. They found themselves at a crossroads after they both lost their jobs due to the recession. Audrey had been working as a property manager and Chris in the mortgage industry.

“They laid everyone off [at Chris’ work] two months before we had Sophie,” Johns said. “I was the sole bread winner. Then three months after I had Sophie, I went back to work and was laid off. It was a job, not a career.”

Because Johns’ job included free housing, they found themselves needing to move, so they decided to look at San Luis Obispo County after taking weekend trips to the area. They looked for homes in the Paso Robles area and found a place in Atascadero.

“We just love it here, this is our home,” Johns said.

Here is one recipe from Johns’ cookbook:

Protein-Packed Blue Cheese Buffalo Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
Serving size: 1 burger
Per serving: calories 262; fat 5 g; fiber 2 g; protein 31 g; carbohydrates 20 g

Before you skip over this recipe because it contains buffalo meat, give me one minute of your day to convince you to try this delicious, lean form of protein.

Let’s start with the flavor. If buffalo were gross at all, I would just tell you to get lean ground beef. But it tastes exactly like delicious beef, but with more protein, iron, and B12 and less fat and calories. Plus it’s usually available at your local grocery store. Try this lean and delicious meat yourself. You won’t be able to tell the difference, and you’ll be doing your body a favor.

1 teaspoon olive oil, for the grill
1 pound all-natural ground buffalo
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Chunky Blue Cheese Dip (page 108)
4 whole wheat buns
1 cup baby spinach
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin rings
Spicy brown mustard (optional)

1. Heat a grill to high heat and brush the grill grates with olive oil. (Alternatively, heat a grill pan over high heat and spray it with olive oil.)
2. Make four patties from the meat. Push your thumb into the center and create a little dimple on both sides. This will help the burger cook more evenly and keep a flat patty shape. Gently sprinkle the patties with salt and pepper.
3. Grill the burgers for 7 to 10 minutes, flipping once. Transfer the burgers to a large plate and let them rest for 5 minutes.
4. To assemble the burgers, spread some Chunky Blue Cheese Dip on the bottom of each bun, lay on some spinach and onions, and top with a burger patty. Spread some mustard, if using, on the top buns and place them on the burgers.

This story was originally published in Journal Plus in June 2016.

Morro Bay Art in the Park undergoes changes

The Morro Bay Art in the Park festival is 61 years old, the second oldest art show in California. This year, Steve Powers, who has been professionally organizing art and craft shows since 1975, has taken over management and promotion of the annual festival.

The Morro Bay Art in the Park shows are held every Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend from Saturday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday.

The festival is owned by the Morro Bay Art Association, whose purpose if to promote the arts in San Luis Obispo County, and the money raised from the shows go toward scholarships for high school students. Most recently, different people from the art association organized the show, after Allan Cook could no longer do it as he got older. He said it’s a lot of work, especially for it to change hands every year or so.

Powers puts the show together one his own: the bookings, budgeting, promotions and production, though he has a group of vendors that help him with set up, put up decorations and more.

“I compensate them with lodging and booths,” Powers said, adding that the local Boy Scouts from Los Osos and Morro Bay also comes out Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. and Monday when the festival ends to help vendors bring in their wares and take it out. Powers gives the troop at $300 donation and exhibitors give tips.

No more than 108 booths are allowed; half of tend to be from within San Luis Obispo County, filling the small park in the middle of Morro Bay. Artists wanting to participate submit an application and photos of what they produce and their display with a $50 per event deposit. The applicants are juried by Powers and then receive confirmation on whether or not their applications were accepted. 

“We don’t take everybody,” Powers said, adding that he looks to make sure that the person applying for the booth is the artist. Additionally, to make it more attractive and lucrative for vendors, vendors of particular mediums are limited. “It’s a small show, we can be real selective.”

As of early April, four booths were open for the May show, 16 for the Fourth of July show and 20 for the September show. A 10-foot by 10-foot booth is $250 and a 10-foot by 20-foot space is $500. No more photography booths are available for all three shows this year and jewelry is full for May and July.

“We keep [the cost] low so we can get more local participation,” Powers said, adding that one battle he has for out of town vendors are the high hotel rates over the holiday weekend.

Powers started promoting and organization art and craft shows in San Diego when he started producing a craft show. In the 1980s, he expanded his work to produce 10 shows a year around the country. He said he got into it because of his background in advertising and marketing. Now, he’s nearing the end of his career and now only puts on two other shows a year, a craft festival in Las Vegas in April and November. The shows take place in Cashman Center, a 100,000-square-foot conventional hall. This year, the Craft Festival will take place Friday, April 15 through Sunday, April 17 and Friday, Nov. 4 through Sunday, Nov. 6.

“I’ve been putting that show on for 31 years,” Powers said.

At the Memorial Day show, the event will debut a food court with Mia Casa restaurant anchoring it.

“I worked hard to find someone who would do it,” Powers said.

Additionally, the layout of the artists will be changed to allow shoppers to easily flow through shows without hitting a dead end.

“We wanted to make everything customer-friendly,” he said. “There are open areas where we’ll have musicians play acoustically.”

Powers was a vendor, showing his photography, at the Morro Bay art festival in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Word got out among the other vendors that he professionally managed art shows and they told him he should promote the show. At first he said no, but then he signed a four-year contract with the art association.

“My goal is to double the attendance,” Power said. “We want to make it more visited.”

He said that in the past the show has averaged 1,000 to 1,500 people per day with a total of 3,000 to 4,500 people. His goal is to have 6,000 to 7,000 people visiting the show over the three-day weekend.

“There’s nothing else at all that compares to the quality of the Morro Bay Art Festival,” Powers said. “There are a lot of people who have moved in over the last couple of years who don’t know about the event. I think they’ll be pretty impressed.”

He adds that in addition to the tourists who come to the area for the holiday weekends, there are people who travel for the Central Valley for a day.

“We’re always looking for more local exhibitors,” Powers said. “A lot of the local artists do the show over the years. … It’s a very viable outlet.”

He’s added $4,000 to the advertising budget and creating an online presence for the festival with its website and Facebook page. Powers designed the website himself and has added paid targeted Facebook ads.

Powers lives in Templeton with his wife of 35 years, Laura, who is also an artist and interior designer. They’ve been in Templeton for four years and in Arroyo Grande for 16 years. Before moving to SLO County in 1996, they lived in northern San Diego County, Powers having grown up in San Diego.

For more information about Morro Bay Art in the Park, go to www.morrobayartinthepark.com. For more about Powers’ Las Vegas craft festival, go to www.stevepowers.com.

This was originally published in Journal Plus in May 2016.

Liz Lee and Mark McConnell give 50 percent of their commissions to charity

Mark McConnell and Liz Lee, the founders and agents before Heart to Heart Real Estate. Photo by Heather Young
Mark McConnell and Liz Lee, the founders and agents before Heart to Heart Real Estate. Photo by Heather Young

Liz Lee and Mark McConnell of Paso Robles have both been real estate agents since 1998, and in August 2013, they started their own company – Heart to Heart Real Estate. It’s just not any real estate company – Lee and McConnell donate half of their commissions to charity.

“It’s people helping people helping people,” McConnell said. “They get to feel good, but we write the check.”

“I think people inherently want to give back,” Liz added. “It’s a win-win. We wanted to creative massive change within the community. We’re just the vehicle.

Not only do they donate half of the commission, but the client gets to choose where the money goes.

“Our clients always choose,” McConnell said. “We had a client who chose a no-kill animal shelter in Texas because that’s where she lived.”

Lee said that the amount they give from a single sale aren’t small, but could be up to $25,000, which is the biggest single donation they’ve given to date. However, they donated a total of $30,000 in December 2015 to nonprofits around the county.

“It’s a consuming business – it takes all of your time,” Lee said.

“The harder we work, the more we give,” McConnell added.

Lee became a real estate agent in her family’s commercial real estate business in Chicago while she earned her law degree from Loyola Law School in Chicago in 2000. She got her bachelor’s degree from Whittier College in Southern California.

“When I moved out here to Atascadero, my family told me ‘you’re good at it, so keep doing it,’” Lee said. She moved to the area with family 11 years ago.

McConnell got into real estate after he bought his first home in Paso Robles.

“It was a very painful process with lots of problems,” McConnell said. “I’m a very hands-on person so I took over the reins.”

At the time he was waiting tables in Paso Robles, so with a little encouragement from the agent handling the sale of the home he bought, he got his real estate license.

While working at ReMax in Paso Robles, Lee and McConnell met and have been together as a couple for the last seven years and are now engaged. They now live in Paso Robles with McConnell’s 15-year-old daughter.

Their joint venture began several years before they actually took the leap and started Heart to Heart.

“One day Mark was reading ‘The Peace Pilgrim’ and turned around said, ‘we’re going to give away 50 percent of our income, and then turned around,” Lee said.

“I want to do something meaningful for the rest of my life,” McConnell added, saying the story of Mildred Lisette Norman, the Peace Pilgrim and a non-denominational spiritual teacher spoke to McConnell. “Late in her life, she gave up all her possessions and spent all of her life spreading a message of peace. That struck a cord in me to have such a conviction in something.”

Lee added that for her, she felt particularly moved to give so much a way after visiting her father in Philippines and seeing how the people there live.

“She’s the one who said we were going to start,” McConnell said.

So they did. And they have no plans of stopping any time soon.

“I really believe this is something that will be duplicated and emulated,” McConnell said, adding that while most businesses have a giving component to the business, he’d like to see this model, where giving is a central part of the business, take off. “Just doing good, being respectful, being kind – that’s how the world is meant to be done.”

“We’d like to see more people doing this,” Lee said. “In America, there really shouldn’t be suffering. Why do we have so many issues? If we don’t work together, we aren’t fixing anything. People want to help other people.”

Some of the nonprofits that Heart to Heart has benefitted include Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation, The Wellness Kitchen, Boys and Girls Club, Camp Natoma, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, Woods Humane Society, Second Chance at Love, Transitional Food and Shelter, Cancer Support Community, Meade Canine Humane Society, the Templeton High School Marching Band Boosters and Jack’s Helping Hands.

Heart to Heart Real Estate is located at 1226 Park St. in downtown Paso Robles. Lee and McConnell can be reached at 805-674-0297 or 805-464-1007 or go to www.hearttoheartrealestate.com.

This story was first published in Journal Plus in April 2016.

Enrique Torres works his way from the cellar to producing his own wine

Enrique Torres with his wine, Diablo Paso. Photo by Stephanie Austin
Enrique Torres with his wine, Diablo Paso. Photo by Stephanie Austin

Enrique Torres has only lived in the United States since 2001, when he got a job working harvest for Martin Family wines in Paso Robles. He came to the area from Mexico with his girlfriend, Nora, who had family in the area. After harvest he got hired as a cellar rat in the winery. This month he will open his first tasting room in downtown Paso Robles for his label, Diablo Paso.

The tasting room at 827 13th St. is a joint venture with Denis Degher of Mojo Cellars. The tasting room, which does not yet have a name, will be a blend of the two wineries, Torres said. Torres and Degher met when the two both worked for Vinoteca in downtown Paso Robles, Torres as a part-time worker behind the bar and Degher as a musician.

“We’re going to make it very comfortable for people to taste wines, but also have a glass of wine or bottle,” Torres said.

Diablo Paso focuses on Spanish-style wines and Mojo Cellars specializes on Bordeaux wines. Torres is a lover of cigars, something that he said pairs well with wine, and would like to offer cigars along with the wine at some point.

“Nothing’s super heavy, cigars are like wine, they have some heavy flavors [and some light],” Torres said. “My favorite are medium [cigars from Connecticut]. I would learn to love to make my own cigars one day.”

While Torres and Degher will often be found behind the wine tasting bar, Torres said with a smile that he won’t be found during harvest. In addition to Diablo Paso, Torres will continue to work fulltime at CaliPaso and Nora at Paso Robles Housing Authority. Nora joins Torres for the big events.

When he first got to Paso Robles, Torres said, he knew very little English, just “hello.” He said he kept asking questions of the winemaker, Alan Kinne.

“He told me to go learn English and he’d teach me,” Torres said. He enrolled at the Cuesta College Paso Robles campus. “I didn’t have an excuse not to go to class, I left work here and then [went to class on the way home].”

He then worked his way to assistant winemaker at Martin and Weyrich winery and when the winery was sold to CaliPaso, he was hired as assistant winemaker. He has continued to work with head winemaker Kinne.

“I started working with them and loved it,” Torres said, adding that he loves the Paso Robles community. “Great people. That’s the nice thing about Paso Robles – everyone knows each other.”

He’s worked at the same winery located on Buena Vista Drive off and on since 2001 – it’s just had different names over the years. For a year and a half he worked as operations manager at SVP Winery in Shandon before he was hired at CaliPaso.

A few years ago his employers allowed him to start making his own wine at the facility. He didn’t yet have his own license; he was able to make the wine under someone else’s license, but just couldn’t sell it until he had his own.

“When we first started Diablo Paso I wasn’t thinking of a tasting room at all,” Torres said. “But it’s difficult to sell when you’re small.”

That is the reason, he said, for opening the tasting room, to grow the wine club.

“Our goal is to grow our brand to maybe 1,500 cases because we want to keep our quality and control,” Torres said.

His first vintage from 2012 was 100 cases from three barrels of tempranillo. He now produces 500 cases of albariño, rosé, garnacha and tempranillo. He does everything for the wine from the grape to the bottle. He added that he has really great friends that help him bottle the wine.

“I still have some of that wine [from the first vintage] left over for [the] library,” Torres said, adding that he will open a three-liter bottle of first vintage tempranillo at the grand opening of the tasting room that is slated to open around the second weekend of March.

Torres and Nora have now been married for 12 years, after meeting when Nora was traveling and studying in Mexico. She visited Torres’ hometown of Ixtapa Zihutanejo, where they met.

“It’s a very small fishing village,” Torres said. “Then later in the year I came to Paso Robles to visit.”

Nora’s had family in Paso Robles since the 1980s, though she grew up on the East Coast, in Brooklyn. Torres moved to the East Coast for three months with Nora, who was then his fiancée. They have two sons, Max, 10, and Nico, 8.

The name of the wine label came to be because it’s a strong Spanish name to go along with Torres’ Spanish-style wines.

“Diablo used to be my nickname when I was a kid,” Torres said. “My mom’s still mad at me because I brought it back.”

He said it was also really important to him to have Paso in the name. He chose to include the Spanish cross on the label, so people realize that he’s not evil, even with the name Diablo on it.

Torres anticipates that the tasting room will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Monday. The tasting room opened in the space at 827 13th St., which was vacated by Baby’s Babble at the beginning of February. For more information about the winery, go to www.diablopasowines.com or call 805-975-6185.

This story was originally published in Journal Plus in March 2016.

There's something about LXV

LXV-pairing-1My favorite part about living on the California Central Coast — besides the proximity to the ocean and the mild winters — is living in the heart of wine country. I barely new anything about wine until I moved here. I knew there were white, pink and red wines, my knowledge barely extended beyond that.

After living in wine country — Paso Robles Wine Country specifically — I now know what varietals I prefer (for reds I like petite sirah, zinfandels and cabernets and for whites I prefer viogier and albariño) and what characteristics I like and what I don’t like (I don’t care for peppery wine, but would rather have a heavy, fruit-forward one).

So it’s no big surprise that when I get a call in the late morning asking if I’d like to attend a wine and food pairing in preparation for Valentine’s Day for later that day that I said “yes.”

LXV Wine owner Neeta Mittal is really the heart and soul of the winery and tasting room. I first experienced LXV’s wine and along with its spice pairing three years ago when I went to First Saturdays in downtown Paso Robles (an art and wine event that included a few wineries and art galleries) with a friend. LXV was one of a few wineries on the tour, so we went in for a wine tasting and got the the spice pairing for a reduced price. I had never been to a place that paired spice with wine.

Friend Stephanie and I tasting at LXV.
Friend Stephanie and I tasting at LXV.

That visit led me to pitch story about the winery’s wine and spice pairing to Edible SLO a year later. It wasn’t until a year after that that I was assigned to write the story. (Click here to go to the Holidays 2015 issue, the story begins on Page 24.) I had just arrived for an extended stay in Japan when I got the assignment, so I conducted the interview with Neeta via email and Skype. I’ve interviewed thousands of people over the last 20 years, and there are a few that stand out — in both good and not-so-good ways. Neeta is one of the good ones.

A few months later I returned home from Japan and one of my first stops was at LXV. The day after Christmas with my parents and brother. It was the last stop after a day of wine tasting. After two other wineries, my parents were wined out, but came along for the ride. I had been hyping up LXV, and was prepared for my family not to feel the same (isn’t that what always happens when you tell people how wonderful something is and then when they experience it, it isn’t; or they don’t just find it as appealing?). But from from the moment we arrived, my mom was hooked.

Even with my parents not tasting, Neeta and her staff made sure everyone was taken care of and brought them a plate of goodies to nibble on. My brother and I became wine club members that day. Because of the wine. Because of the Indian food lunches and dinners available only to club members. Because of Neeta.

I could go on about the wine club and all the times I’ve been since joining the wine club less than two months ago, but I won’t. Instead I’ll tell you about the wine and food pairing I went to on Monday, which just happened to be my birthday.

An Aphrodisiac Pairing

Neeta invited a few journalists for the special tasting, but said it didn’t matter if I wrote about it or not. She just wanted us to have a good time. And we did. I stayed after the tasting was over with a couple of other women just talking.

The two hours before, Neeta treated us to five of the different wines LXV produced, along with cheese, meats and other food that will be on the tasting menu for Valentine’s Day — starting today through Monday.

Neeta blended her Indian culture and the Kama Sutra for the Valentine’s tasting menu.

“Aphrodisiac foods generally have some things in common, regardless of where they come from,” Neeta said. “They stimulate pleasure centers, for example via intoxicating aromas. Some are rich in amino acids that help build strength and boost performance. Honey with its sweet and pleasing, provides a sugar boost and contains some zinc, which helps support healthy libido.”

Now, Neeta did temper that you won’t have a response from your libido if you’re not with the right person, so no worries about having a response to the food and wine.

The Spiritual Laws of Love: An Aphrodisiac PairingLXV-pairing-1

  • Attraction
    Summer Satine: Viognier
    Honey Comb
    Fromager D’affinois (cheese with truffles)
    Jack Fruit
    Naan with GheeLXV-rose
  • Infatuation
    Heart Note: Rosé (Sangiovese)
    Langres (cheese)
    Barnier Black Provencal Olives
    Absinthe Popcorn
  • LXV-wine-3Intimacy
    Reserve Sangiovese: Brunello
    Fougerus Cheese
    Uni Pasta (uni is sea urchin)
    ProsciuttoLXV-wine-4
  • Surrender
    Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
    Pork and Pistachio Pate
    Finocchiona SalamiLXV-Spellbound
  • Ecstasy
    Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah
    Smokey Blue Cheese
    Bone Marrow (this was actually really delicious!)
    Pan Forte

This was a fabulous food and wine pairing, particularly picked with lovers in mind.

“The whole idea is to have fun,” Neeta said as we were going through the pairing. If you love food and wine, this something I recommend. There are always tons of choices for special events such as this. As a quite and reserved person, I like going places where the people are more outgoing. I want to chat with others and have a good time, I’m just not the most outgoing, so I need a little encouragement.

For more information on upcoming events at LXV, click here. And if you ever want to go for a wine tasting at LXV, hit me up. I’ll take any excuse to go wine tasting.

Retired Atascadero teacher writes book about her uncle who died in Vietnam

Lynne-Lorine-LudwickLynn Higgins self-published, ‘The Box’

–After five years of writing, rewriting, editing and designing, Atascadero resident Lynn Higgins self-published “The Box,” which is a memoir about her Uncle Edward August Schultz.

Higgins was 19 when her uncle lost his life in combat in Vietnam at the age of 21, just three months after he was deployed. “He never wanted to go to war, but he never complained,” Higgins said.

Edward "Eddy" August Schultz graduated from San Luis Obispo High School in 1965. He died in Vietnam in 1968.
Edward “Eddy” August Schultz graduated from San Luis Obispo High School in 1965. He died in Vietnam in 1968.

Higgins started the book after her friend Jim Petersen told her he was traveling to Vietnam in 2009. She asked if he would stop by the village of Hoc Mon if he went by it. He did, and he stopped in the village. She said he came across some men who were Viet Cong members.

“These men were in the same battle [as my uncle],” she said. “One of the men started crying and told of his loss.”

That man then told Petersen to wait, and he took off on his bicycle and returned with a box; a gift for Higgins.

“To me, they were the enemy,” she said, but then she said she realized that they suffered as much, if not more, loss than those on the side of the United States. “I was so blown away by it. i knew this was a story I had to share. It’s not just for me, but for anyone with loss. I had to share his gift.”

Not long before Petersen’s trip, Schultz’s best friend and former platoon mate, Andy Wahrenbrock –a man he spent 24/7 with during the war– had contacted Higgins’ family.

“I thought everyone in his platoon had died – that’s not the true story, but what I thought for years,” she said.

Eddy Schultz service photo from 1968. He was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Three months into his deployment he was killed in action.
Eddy Schultz service photo from 1968. He was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Three months into his deployment he was killed in action.

Wahrenbrock, who now lives in Bakersfield, told them of the battle that took Schultz’s life, as well as the battles that preceded it. With his help, Higgins was able to write about Schultz’s life leading up to his death. Until Wahrenbrock visited Higgins’ family, they did not know that anyone from his platoon has survived. He was able to tell the family what happened in the war, and how Schultz died. Because Schultz and Wahrenbrock were together all day and night during the war, Higgins said she was able to get a pretty good picture of what her uncle experienced.

She knew the age and where the man from the Viet Cong was from and used the history of people growing up there in her book. She told the story of both sides from when Schultz was a boy through his death.

Schultz graduated from San Luis Obispo High School in 1965 and was drafted in 1968 when he was 21. Three months after he was deployed to Vietnam he was killed in action. Because Schultz was only two years older than Higgins, he was the last of six children in her mother’s family, they were very close. Higgins mom, Lorine, was the oldest and often took her mother and Schultz places around town. Higgins said Schultz was more like a brother to her than an uncle.

The 182-page book was released on Jan. 9 via Amazon.com through its print-on-demand feature under the name Lynne Lorine Ludwick. The book is $10 and is printed and mailed once it is purchased. As of Jan. 15, Higgins said she had already sold 40 books. A friend of hers will be having a book signing and book launch party for her in the near future, most likely in March. She will announce the event on her website. Her sister, Judy McPhail, a speech therapist at Almond Acres Charter Academy in San Miguel, took the photo on the cover of the book and Higgins’ daughter, Lauren Christophel, who currently lives in Truckee, designed the cover.

Higgins taught special education full-time for Atascadero Unified School District for 20 years, after subbing for 10 years. She has three children, Lindsey Lau, who graduated from Atascadero High School in 1998; Christophel, who graduated from AHS in 2001; and Michael Higgins, who graduated from AHS in 2003.

Higgins was born and raised in San Luis Obispo. She graduated from SLO High School in 1967 and spent her eighth grade year in Atascadero.

She is also starting a scholarship in honor of her uncle. For more information on it, click here.

This was originally published on Paso Robles Daily News.

Amsterdam Coffee House becoming Kreuzberg Coffee

Kreuzberg Paso Robles
From left, Alexander Ruckendorfer, Chris Tarcon and James Whitaker stand inside their new coffee shop in downtown Paso Robles. Photo by Heather Young

Coffee house closed Sunday, reopens Feb. 12

–Owners of San Luis Obispo based Kreuzberg Coffee Company James Whitaker, Chris Tarcon and Alexander Ruckendorfer purchased Amsterdam Coffee House at 725 13th St. at the end of 2015 and took over ownership on Jan. 1. They have closed the coffee shop temporarily for a remodel and will re-open the locale as a branch of Kreuzberg later this week. The coffee shop closed Sunday at 3 p.m. and will reopen on Friday. On Saturday, Feb. 13 a grand opening celebration will be held with free drip coffee and cookies served.

Whitaker said they planned the closure to impact business the least number days as possible. They will change the interior and at the same time bring over a number of menu items from their San Luis Obispo coffee house. The interior will more closely resemble the other coffee shop they own.

Kreuzberg Paso Robles
A cappuccino at Kreuzberg is a work of art. Owner James Whitaker said that the secret to a perfect cappuccino is getting the milk hot enough to bring out the most sweetness, but not so hot that it becomes bitter. The drink is then paired with a small cookie. Photo by Heather Young

The trio owns Kreuzberg Coffee Company, which roasts the coffee beans Amsterdam Coffee House had been using for the last year. The coffee company also sells its beans to coffee shops around the county. The three started the roastery, which is located inside Kreuzberg Coffee House in downtown San Luis Obispo, in 2014.

Whitaker and Tarcon started the first coffee shop in 2010 as an experiment in a building that was slated to be torn down for the city’s Chinatown development. Whitaker said they took out a month-to-month lease to see what would happen, not expecting it to last this long. After 10 months on Monterey Street, they moved to their current location at 685 Higuera St., in a large store front that used to house a Chinese restaurant.

The two were inspired by the time they spent in Germany in coffee shops. Whitaker lived in Germany for two years and Tarcon went to visit. The two spent their days, and nights, at coffee shops around Germany, especially in Kreuzberg, a neighborhood in Berlin.

“You see incredibly hip concepts [there], you want to take these concepts to your hometown because they don’t have it,” Whitaker said. “They become cultural hubs,” Tarcon said.

In Germany, both Tarcon and Whitaker were working as freelance web designers so would set up shop, so to speak, in a coffee shop eating breakfast and lunch there while enjoying coffee. “Sometimes we’d find ourselves at one cafe all day and all night,” Tarcon said.

Whitaker added that the business models they saw in Germany were coffee shops that would become night clubs, or that would offer something else in the evening.

After the started their first business in SLO, Whitaker and Tarcon then opened Batch, a small store front making custom ice cream sandwiches with fresh made cookies and ice cream, across from Big Sky Café at 1108 Broad St. A small Batch will be put into the Paso Robles coffee shop with window service at the door to the left of the main entrance. The owners said Batch won’t be open right away, but they hope to have it up and running by spring. The duo also owns Bowl’d, which make acai bowls and smoothies, at 1028 Chorro St.

With all of their businesses in downtown SLO, Whitaker said they’d been looking to open a second coffee shop somewhere else, so when the previous owners of Amsterdam approached them about buying the business, the timing was right.

“We’ve been fans of Amsterdam,” Whitaker said, adding that the location in downtown Paso Robles is perfect. The coffee shop will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Whitaker said it is a bit of change from previous hours when the business opened at 6 a.m.

“We may change it based on customer demands and events,” Whitaker said, adding that they want to have open mic nights and live music at sometime in the future.

This story was originally published on Feb. 9, 2016, in Paso Robles Daily News.

Kreuzberg Paso Robles
This is what Kreuzberg, formerly Amsterdam Coffee House, will look like when work is complete at the end of this week. Design by Chris Tarcon

Lance Iunker seeks to bring alternative PTSD therapy to veterans

Dale Zeulner and Lance Iunker. Photo by Millie Drum
Dale Zeulner and Lance Iunker. Photo by Millie Drum

Lance Iunker is a veteran who served in Iraq for only a few months before he was severely injured. He returned home to San Luis Obispo after 10 months in a military hospital in Georgia. His battle with posttraumatic stress disorder eventually led to his current veterans project with the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly.

The Institute’s Operation Headstrong project is led by Iunker, who began working for the Institute in early 2015, just months after he graduated from Cal Poly with a Bachelor of Arts in political science.

Born and raised in San Luis Obispo, Iunker enlisted in the Army’s delayed entry program before he graduated from SLO High School in 2006. He immediately went to boot camp after graduation and was sent to Iraq with the United States Army Reconnaissance Surveillance Target Acquisition Unit in January 2007 as an airborne infantryman. He was seriously wounded in an incident on Sept. 10, 2007. An incident that left seven dead and 11, including Iunker, severely injured. He returned to SLO in July 2008 and married his wife, Laurie, in 2010. Laurie is a second-grade teacher at Guadalupe Elementary School.

Around the same time, he joined Operation Open Home, a program started by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration, to bridge the gap between veterans and the services that help them. He was led to that program after he applied for the G.I. Bill and was denied because he was told he hadn’t completed his full term of service – he was wounded in an incident that occurred in combat, but was not considered a combat-related accident. Operation Welcome Home Project assisted him in filling out the needed paperwork.

“Unbeknownst to me, I was one of the first through the project,” Iunker said. “I was one of the first success stories.”

He was then asked by Schwarzenegger to give a speech on his experience in the military and in the project on the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego in June 2010.

In his speech he told about the incident that wounded him – his unit had gone after 17 high-value targets and captured them. On the way back to base, the soldier driving the vehicle lost control, went through a guardrail and went off a 50-foot overpass. Iunker shattered three vertebrae in his back, some bones in his chest, had lung contusions, broken bones in his face and one ear was completely removed. A plastic surgeon visiting Baghdad was able to put his ear back together, Iunker said, and it took 70 staples to put his head back together.

“Only by God’s grace I survived,” he said. “I had to learn to walk again.”

Operation Welcome Home also helped him find a job – training soldiers. He continues to work for that company – formerly SRI International and now called Ravenswood Solutions – two months out of the year. He is a chief

“I love it,” he said. “It worked amazingly while I was using the G.I. Bill.”

He started a student veteran organization on Cal Poly and spoke about veteran suicide and its prevention while he was at Cal Poly. He’s spoken many times over the year about his military service, how he was wounded and what happened after.

He graduated from Cal Poly in December 2014 and started working for the institute in February 2015. There he started Operation Headstrong, the mission of which is to “find effective and viable alternative or non-traditional methods to help veterans conquer the multitude of challenges they face when returning home from combat.”

“Though my physical wounds were healing, my psychological injuries were just starting. I spent years having nightmares, flashbacks, and battled insomnia,” Iunker said.

After trying traditional methods of treatments, which he said often included pills of some sort, he found a neurofeedback therapy trial.

“[It] significantly reduced my symptoms of PTSD and allowed me to get off many of the medications I was on,” Iunker said. “I started sleeping and my nightmares and flashbacks went away.”

He said some of the challenges veterans face are un- and underemployment, insomnia, flashbacks and nightmares, mental illness, alcohol and substance abuse, homelessness, increased divorce rates and dependence on prescription medication.

“Every day 22 veterans die by suicide, which has led to 24 times as many deaths by suicide than combat deaths since 1999. It is obvious the current methods of treatment are not working,” Iunker said.

So he’s taken what worked for him – neurofeedback therapy –and is working toward making that a reality for other veterans. First, he’s raising money to fund a local case study for 20 to 30 veterans who have PTSD. If that is successful, a larger scale case will be conducted for veterans around the country. Eventually, he’d like to make the neurofeedback devices available to all veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Operation Headstrong partnered with SenseLabs in Atascadero because it developed a new mobile device. When Iunker underwent the neurofeedback therapy, he drove over the Grade from SLO to Templeton four times a week to get the training sessions. The device is basically a headset that pairs with an Apple device. The headset assesses the veteran’s neurologic status and then gives him or her a protocol for training. Then the patient spends 20 minutes retraining his or her brain with a digital game that rewards the brain for producing lower brain waves.

“When you’re in combat, your brain gets stuck in the ‘new normal’ of bad things happening,” Iunker said. “This is to redefine the ‘normal.’ The most important thing of recovery of PTSD is sleep, so if you’re unable to sleep … you’re unable to [get better]. … It at least helps sleep. If we’re able to improve sleep, it’s at least half the battle.”

Iunker said that it took him a lot training sessions. “[I] didn’t notice a lot of improvement until 40 or 50 sessions.” He had been having a lot of flashbacks – seeing, feeling, hearing and smelling and explosion while doing day-to-day activities. “[The neurofeedback therapy] really helped ease those,” he said.

The therapy helps get the brain back into a meditative state, Iunker said. It is recommended that the training sessions be done at least three times a week up to six times a week.

Right now Iunker is working to raise $30,000 to fund the local case study. He said at least a quarter of the funds have been raised so far. Once the project has the money, the case study will begin. For more information on the project or to donate, go to www.operationheadstrong.com.

During one the speeches he gave, Paso Robles resident Dale Zeulner heard Iunker speak at Band of Brothers at First Baptist Church in Paso Robles. During that speech, Iunker said that since the Army considered it a “non-combat-related” accident, none of the soldiers involved in it received Purple Hearts.

Zeulner was given a Purple Heart by a wife of a man who earned it. Since that time, Zeulner said he was looking for a soldier who deserved it. When he heard Iunker speak, he knew he was the one to get the Purple Heart. On Veterans Day, Iunker spoke and then was presented the Purple Heart by Zeulner, who is now 91 years of age.

This story was originally published the February 2016 issue of SLO Journal.

Nonprofit forms to save Atascadero Printery

The Atascadero Printery Building was built in 1915. Atascadero Printery Foundation looks to protect the building from further decay and eventually restore it to a community-use building. Photo by Heather Young
The Atascadero Printery Building was built in 1915. Atascadero Printery Foundation looks to protect the building from further decay and eventually restore it to a community-use building. Photo by Heather Young

Citizens want to board up windows to protect historic building from further damage

–The Atascadero Printery Building has been red-tagged and boarded up since the San Simeon Earthquake hit the county in 2003. It has remained relatively untouched since, leaving most of the windows broken and the building quickly deteriorating, according to Karen McNamara, the president of Atascadero Printery Foundation.

The foundation officially formed in October 2015 with the mission to save the printery. McNamara said the group’s first mission is to get access to board up the windows and secure the building to prevent further damage as possible. The second step, she said, is to gain possession of the building, which is owned by an LLC of Kelly Gearhart, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison after he pled guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.

The earthquake that devastated the building occurred while Gearhart was in process of taking over ownership from the Masonic Temple and the city of Atascadero. The Masons purchased the building in the early 1950s, historian Lon Allan said, and later had an agreement with the city that ownership would revert back to the Masons if it were not used as a youth center.

Gearhart had plans to turn the historic building into an event center that would be open to the public at least four times a year as required because the city was unable to continue to operate its youth center due to the damage. That allowed the city to take FEMA money meant for the building and use it to construct Colony Community Center on Traffic Way. The plans for the building were put on hold after Gearhart was accused of defrauding hundreds of investors in a Ponzi real estate scheme.

The building, McNamara said, is inaccessible even to those who want to protect the building from vandalism and further deterioration because Gearhart’s LLC retained ownership of the building, even though the rest of his assets were part of his bankruptcy. So no one can legally enter the property without Gearhart’s permission or a court order that has to be obtained by the city.

The group came out of talks between Mike McNamara and Nick Mattson, but Mike died in June 2015 before anything could start. With encouragement from their four children, Jamie, April, Brian and Cody, and son-in-law, Luke, Karen decided to undertake saving the printery as a way to honor her husband.

“He didn’t like to complain,” Karen said. “If he didn’t like something, he did something about it. He was just a really good man… Mike and Nick both grew up here, it’s a building they both care about.”

Karen is co-chair of the foundation with Jenny Tittlekim. The board is made up of Vice Chairman Chuck Dunlap, Secretary Kat Dunlap, Treasurer Nicholas Mattson and Director Barbie Butz. Anyone who wants to get involved in any way can contact Karen at (805) 459-5113 or mcrealtor@rocketmail.com.

The building is on the historic building registry, Karen said, so it cannot be torn down, but is in danger of falling down if left as it is.

“We decided to be the ones to take it on,” Karen said. “We only want this to be a community building with the possibility of renting out some of the offices upstairs.”

Right now the building is scheduled to go to auction in May, Karen said. The building has a $1 million lien on it, and $400,000 worth of back taxes attached, which anyone who purchases the building would have to pay. She said $2,500 is needed just to board the windows up.

Karen said she envisions the building as a community building that focuses on the performing arts. She asks anyone raising money for a performing arts center in the North County, especially Atascadero, to consider putting money for a building toward purchasing and renovating the printery.

“It is kind of a big can of worms,” Karen said, adding that after the foundation takes possession of the building, it then needs to be restored. “It’s just a shame to let it deteriorate.”

The building was constructed in 1915 and printed the first issue of the Atascadero News in mid-January 1916, and several months later printed the first issue of Women’s Illustrated, Allan said.

This story was originally published on A-Town Daily News.