The Dutchess, a new project that features several high-profile LA restaurant veterans and one of the Central Coast’s most famous bakers, is easily the most ambitious place to open in Ojai of late this year. Opening January 6 inside a historic building that was one of Ojai’s first bakeries, the Dutchess comes from Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, who still operate their Rustic Canyon empire but moved out to start a farm in Ojai a few years ago. The duo partnered with Kate Pepper of Kate’s Bread, the cult bakery that uses natural fermentation and grains from Tehachapi Heritage Grain project, as well as pastry chef Kelsey Brito and chef Saw Naing. First announced in October, the project is meant to bring something new and exciting to one of the region’s most magical small-town destinations, while still offering everyday quality and comfort to the locals who live there.
Naing, who previously oversaw Tallula’s in Santa Monica, brings his Burmese-Indian background to the kitchen, with the daytime offerings mostly leaning into familiar Huckleberry/Kate’s Bread-esque loaves, pastries, and other morning fare. Expect croissants, pan au chocolate, cinnamon rolls, olive oil and citrus teacakes from Brito and Pepper, and samosa hand pies when the bakery debuts later this month. In the evenings, it’s a fully Burmese-Indian affair with tea leaf salad, chicken tikka skewers, naan and paratha, aloo puri, and biriyani with yogurt marinated Sonoma lamb shoulder.
When it opens, the Dutchess will serve from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner and then start cafe and bakery hours on January 19. Here are seven things to know about the Dutchess, Ojai’s most exciting restaurant to open in years and easily a destination-worthy spot for Angelenos.
The idea for the Dutchess is rooted in a family farm
Before the pandemic, Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb — who established Westside icons Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, and Milo and Olive — moved to Ojai to build a new home and establish their three-and-a-half acre 50/50 Farm. Nathan told Eater last year that after growing food and seeing the way of life in the area, they decided to build something for the community rather than taking the produce to LA. The new restaurant will allow the pair to stick closer to their new home.
Breakfast tacos played a key role in its development
When thinking about a local project, Nathan and Loeb were keen to partner with longtime friend Kate Pepper, the founder of Kate’s Bread. Pepper had worked for the Rustic Canyon group at Milo and Olive before opening her own successful bakery. The three then brought on Brito, a veteran of Huckleberry, and Naing, who helped open Tallula’s, and soon the ball was rolling. They met over breakfast tacos on Nathan’s porch and conceived a daytime bakery and cafe, with Burmese dishes and cocktails, beer, and wine and night.
The historic building’s oven gave the restaurant its name
Bill Baker opened one of Ojai’s first commercial bakeries inside this building in 1926, called Ojai Bakery. In years past, Laurel Moore, and her daughter Liz and son-in-law Jeremy operated Azu Restaurant in the space, though they eventually vacated the space to focus on Ojai Valley Brewery and taproom. This opened up the building for the five partners to do a restaurant there. Tthe original bakery’s brick oven is still inside, though it now acts as a dining room fireplace and has the words “the Dutchess” inscribed on it. The interior was designed by Sylvia Friedel and Wells Butler of Hunter and Davis and boasts a lived-in look with even more antique touches and well-appointed foliage.
Naing’s Burmese cooking will shake things up in Ventura County
Burmese cooking doesn’t have as much of a foothold in Southern California when compared to NorCal, though there have been standout openings through the years. Naing’s Burmese and Indian backgrounds will influence the ambitious dinner menu at the Dutchess, with starters of crispy potatoes, chickpea fritters, beets and pickled ginger, plus standards like beef satay skewers.
Braised beef masala sports golden raisins and potatoes while Flannery ranch flat iron steak with slow-braised cabbage comes with broken masala butter sauce. An organic half chicken cooked tandoori-style has fermented peppers, pickled shallots, and green onions; a Rio Gozo farms kabocha squash curry helms the vegetable section of the mains. Prices range from $9 to $16 for starters, $18 for the tea leaf salad that will likely be on most tables, and up to $38 for the leg of lamb, which comes with green chutney and paratha.
The desserts deserve their own highlight
Pastry chef Kelsey Brito, a longtime veteran of the Rustic Canyon empire, will prepare things with a strong Indian influence like passionfruit lassi pie and coconut creme brûlée with lemongrass (grown on 50/50 Farms) and lemon verbena. Kulfi comes with local Santa Barbara pistachios, rose geranium, and cardamom while chocolate coconut meringue tart sports local Tehachapi Grain Project Sonora wheat, salted caramel, and coconut sugar meringue.
The daytime menu will hold its own
While evenings feature Burmese dishes, daytime is more along the lines of what you might expect at Huckleberry or Milo and Olive, but with some Burmese flavors. Housemade coconut and almond milk feature into the coffee and espresso drinks that use locally roasted Bonito Coffee and teas from Magic Hour in Ojai. Anyone who has had Kate’s Bread from Pepper will find the pastries and loaves familiar. Lunchtime means grilled cheese sandwiches and lunch tiffins with curries, lentils, and rice while Brito will serve cakes, pies, and cookies. It’s a casual all-day situation that will appeal to visitors and locals alike.
Expect seasonal riffs on cocktail classics
Naing’s wife Brittany is the bar manager here, creating seasonal versions of classics like a tangerine Pegu Club, Old Fashioned with dates, coconut palm sugar, and banana bitters, or a drink called Rookie of the Year with Oaxacan pot still rum, persimmon, and 50/50 Farms sage. Wine drinks will have a decent glass selection, too, like Domaine du Nozay Sancerre or Schiava from Alto Adige’s Weingut Niklas winery.