Tina Lebar remembers walking into a cheese shop in Chicago and realizing what Ventura was missing: a place that featured a broad selection of wines and an international diversity of cheeses.
“I’m Italian,” Lebar said, “and I’ve always loved cheese.”
She had been going to Paradise Wines on Main Street for years, learning from owners Leah Coles and Cheryl Harding. She got to know them well and enjoyed the casual, relaxed atmosphere. Lebar was working at Westside Cellars, first as a server, then as a manager. Though Westside served a cheese plate, Lebar wanted more. The chef at Westside Cellars at the time, Kelly Briglio, was looking for something new since she’d left the restaurant over “differences” with the owner.
That’s when the offer to purchase Paradise Wines came up, and Paradise Pantry was born with Lebar and Briglio at the helm. The new iteration is still predominately a wine shop and will continue to offer wine tastings throughout the week. Standard tastings at their granite bar are $5 for five to six wines. The weekends will be reserved for a second flight of wine for $10.
“We wanted to offer a higher tier, something more focused, like single vineyard designates,” Lebar said.
In addition to the wine they will eventually be offering marinated olives, salads and sandwiches, even a few beers. But the star is the cheese. With nearly 40 cheeses on the menu, you’ll find something to fit your palette.
“There’s a void for cheese in Ventura,” Lebar said. From traditional mozzarella to French Abbaye de Belloc (a sheep’s milk cheese made by Benedictine monks at an abbey in France) to Oregon Blue and Goat Milk Feta, there is an impressive and eclectic line up.
“If you’ve ever been to Sonoma, they have all these artisnal, handmade cheeses and you don’t see that in Ventura,” Lebar said. “It was either, hey, we move up there, or we bring some of the North down here.”
The cheeses are sold either in pounds or quarter pounds and range from $2.90 for the least expensive quarter-pound purchase to $30 for a pound of the sottocenere, a semi-firm aged cow’s milk cheese with flecks of truffle.
With Allegria now closed, Paradise Pantry sees a prime opportunity to fill the appetite for wine and cheese lovers. The interior is more hip than Paradise Wines, with its pomegranate and avocado color scheme and music-themed paintings. There is the addition of tables and chairs so you can buy a glass or a bottle of wine, get your cheese and lounge.
The down side is that the store is small, and little more than a handful of people can fit comfortable inside the cramped quarters. Additionally, if you can get past the fairly indifferent attitude of the service, you’ll be fine. However, one would wish for more welcoming owners as they try their hand with a good idea and attempt to fill the void.