The Art of the Chill

Ventura’s Landmark 78—a historical late Victorian house—has seen restaurants come and go, but now CandleLight Kitchen and Bar introduces ultra-contemporary style to a classic setting.

By James Scolari

Photos by James Scolari


he ice is perfect. It’s actually better than perfect; it’s double frozen and dispensed in immaculate square-inch cubes that melt more slowly than garden-variety ice, chilling rather than diluting. These frigid little marvels are the product of Cold Draft technology, executed by a very expensive machine that does one thing and does it very well—which proves an apt metaphor for the style and service ethic in play at Ventura’s CandleLight Kitchen and Bar.

Located in the historical City Landmark 78—a late Victorian house built on Santa Clara Street in 1912—CandleLight is one of the few places that offers Cold Draft cubes, and has likewise mastered the art of the flourish in its many disciplines. From the ice to the food presentation to the esoteric and deeply romantic stylings, this is a well-tuned hospitality engine, smoothly firing on all cylinders.

The outdoor patio features an expansive deck with room to lounge.

CandleLight is the brainchild of Garner Gerson, whose youthful appearance can be deceiving. Along with the dashing good looks and offhand charm of the consummate host, he carries an impressive pedigree as a fourth-generation restaurateur. The family business began nearly a hundred years ago as a “covered wagon club,” which grew into Malibu’s legendary Calamigos Ranch, the site of countless weddings and events. The Ranch served as a veritable lab for the perfection of the Gerson family coda in style and service, giving birth to numerous successful spinoff ventures, including CandleLight, first in Simi Valley and now in Ventura.

Downtown Ventura’s Landmark 78 building has been home to a wide variety of kitchens and taverns over the years, but nothing like this. In its current incarnation the space has undergone a dramatic re-imagining that preserves its legacy even as it spins it into a contemporary milieu that offers the best of both worlds.

True to its name, candlelight is ever-present throughout the establishment. Some 400 wicks alight on any given evening, lending an attractive and decidedly romantic hue to both patrons and perspectives—whether in the cozy dining room, the funky eyeball lounge, or the outdoor lounge with its sprawling, 20-person divan, private cabanas, expansive deck, and dramatic torch-lit waterfall.

The space has undergone a dramatic reimagining that preserves its legacy even as it spins it into a contemporary milieu.

The sweeping restyling of the historic space is emblematic of Gerson’s fresh approach. “We realized early on that we’re in the business of making memories,” he says. “It’s at the heart of everything we do, and it all needs to be done right.” Acknowledging that this building has been the scene of myriad culinary misfires, he adds, “Unless you reimagine the establishment from the ground up, how can you expect the result to be any different?”

The expectations for CandleLight are very different, indeed. With a 25-year lease on the property, this is a business with every intention of making the long haul—and the signs point to a faith that’s well founded, despite prevailing economic notions. “We keep a close eye on the industry and the economy. Sure, times are hard in many places. Look at Campanile, which has been a great success in Los Angeles; their business is down 20 percent over the last year. We just don’t believe it has to be that way. CandleLight in Simi Valley is in its fifth year and we’re actually up 70 percent.”

With its hip décor and dramatic style, CandleLight brings a contemporary edge to one of Ventura’s most historical properties.

Like its unique style, CandleLight’s menus are an esoteric pleasure, at once sophisticated and casual. Gerson studied at the renowned Apicius Culinary Institute of Florence, and his knowledge of food preparation combined with years of practical restaurant experience enables him to work within the kitchen hierarchy and oversee the front of the house.

“First and foremost, this business is an exercise in team building,” he says, noting that it’s a capacity in which successful restaurants typically excel, while failure often leads to a failed venture. “While our businesses are all family-owned, we do have equity partners, and in each case they’re former career members of our staff.”

Garner Gerson, owner of CandleLight Kitchen and Bar.

Gerson concludes that the philosophy behind CandleLight was to offer a romantic lounge—a comfortable place for dinner or drinks, dependable for a certain quality of experience. “We imagined a nice place where ladies could wear their new shoes,” he laughs.

Whether they succeeded in that ethic can be seen for oneself on any given evening. Simply drop in, with a mind for fine fare and an eye for the conspicuously feminine and decidedly well-turned heel.


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