Sandwich Generations Mourn John Braid, Montecito’s King of Meat and Cheese
Owner of popular Village Cheese & Wine Store dies at 84, leaving a legacy of just-the-basics ‘half on a whole’ and legions of well-fed fans
John Braid, father of five, grandfather of six, and the longtime proprietor of Village Cheese & Wine Store in Montecito’s Upper Village, died Jan. 27. He was 84.
If we stop right there, that’s ample evidence of a life well lived.
But the description fails to capture the iconic nature of Braid, a New Zealand immigrant with a Kiwi accent and a mop of white hair, whose no-frills sandwich shop fed generations of Montecito Union School students, surfers, construction workers, and thousands of other locals of every age and income level.
Open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, lunchtime customers usually can be found queued up right out the door of the venerable store at 1485 East Valley Road, near Via Vai Trattoria Pizzeria.
The shop is a popular after-school hangout for elementary school kids, and older ones, too — even adults who graduated from Montecito Union decades before. The spacious lawn in front is one of the safest places to walk to from the nearby MUS campus, and offers children an open place to congregate with friends and eat sandwiches while waiting for their parents to pick them up.
Simple, fun, innocent and safe, it truly embodies why urban transplants love Montecito.
Of course, besides using good quality meats, cheese, fresh-baked bread and minimal condiments, the basic fare of meat and cheese is often what kids love best.
“A half on a whole. Yellow or Dijon?” Braid’s choices were few but he had something for everyone.
Braid always remembered kids’ names, a shot of self-esteem for youngsters even after they had grown up.
My youngest daughter, Lizzy, now 23, is one of them, and it delights her still when she’s home from college.
“How ya doin’, Liz?” Braid would call out when she came in for lunch. “How are your sister, Julia, and your brother, Rob?”
He also always seemed to know what she liked, even before she had ordered. Talk about customer service.
No pretense, no glitz or glam or prima donnas. A sandwich, soda or juice, chips and, if your mom is in a good mood, some candy. It’s predictable and comforting and speaks to the store’s longevity.
A recent Yelp posting said it best: “The consensus is unanimous: great customer service, a simple sandwich that you could make at home but some how tasted better there!”
Braid also filled his store shelves with miscellaneous dry goods from Britain like English biscuits, mint jelly or Cadbury chocolate bars, wine and imported cheeses.
The kids, of course, are more interested in the candy and chips strategically located with the chips by the cash registers.
At lunch, customers typically wait in a long, orderly line, visiting with fellow customers, while Braid’s longtime co-workers, Victoria Delgado and Kelly Stanford, helped him with each made-to-order sandwich.
Delgado worked with Braid for 22 years, Stanford for 10.
“He was not only my boss, but my best friend,” Stanford told Noozhawk.
“John was like the Pied Piper for kids,” Delgado added. “He was the kindest and most generous of souls.”
On a visit late last week, the shop hummed along like some of the fancy cars that fill the parking lot these days.
“Both ladies loved my dad dearly and really stepped up to the plate for him in running and operating the shop in his final days and months,” Braid’s son, Patrick, told me, referring to his father’s devoted employees.
Clare Swan, a neighboring store owner, mourned Braid’s passing, and the era his death seemed to close.
“The community has lost an important member,” she said. “They just don’t make them like John anymore.”
Braid immigrated to the United States from New Zealand, where he had grown up in an orphanage. Before coming to America, he worked in a sheep-shearing gang and on a ranch until inheriting a wine store in Wellington from his mother, Ethel, which Patrick Braid said “was the impetus for acquiring the Village Cheese & Wine.”
Braid moved to Santa Barbara in 1974, shortly after marrying his wife, Jovita, a pen pal who was living in Mexico. They settled on Santa Barbara because she felt it was the most beautiful city she had seen during her world travels. Shortly afterward, Braid became the shop’s owner.
An avid surfer until later in his life, Braid never lost his slim physique or New Zealand accent. The store’s vibe reflects his love of surfing. Surfing photos, surfing magazines and surfing posters line the walls.
Village Cheese & Wine Store is perfectly suited for a small beach town with a strong surf culture and a devoted clientele that prefers board shorts, flips-flops and T-shirts year round.
The upscale neighborhood that Montecito has become actually grew up around Braid’s place, but he never changed his formula.
It is not hard to imagine Braid still catching a wave or two at Hammonds. He will be sorely missed, and we will always remember his name.
Braid’s funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara, 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, Suite 21. A public paddle-out is planned to celebrate his life. Call the shop at 805.969.3815 for details.
— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.