Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Santa Barbara City College Named #1 Community College in America by Value Colleges

Santa Barbara City College, my first alma mater and a school that I've publicly stated changed my life, has been named the number one community college in the nation for 2018 by Value Colleges, an organization that provides prospective students with a practical guide to the most financially sound investments in higher education.

There are more than 1,700 community colleges in the U.S. offering associates’ degrees, certificates and diplomas. SBCC received its impressive number one ranking after Value Colleges collected data from a number of sources, including U.S. News & World Report and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

“Santa Barbara City College continues to excel in the educational programs we provide to our community. We are proud to be recognized for the work our faculty and staff do every day to support the academic success of our students,” said Dr. Anthony E. Beebe, the school’s Superintendent and President. 

In their analysis of SBCC, Value Colleges concluded that the school is dedicated to building the region’s workforce in services, technology, education and government. 
After an analysis of the data, SBCC emerged at the top of Value Colleges' list for quality, affordability and reputation.

Santa Barbara City College is in fact a shining symbol of what a school can mean to a community. SBCC is Santa Barbara's gem. As fine a school as nearby University of California Santa Barbara is, Santa Barbara City College is a source of great pride to the locals.

Just read some of the coverage of Santa Barbara's recent wildfires and mudslides. Santa Barbara City College transformed from a college to a community center, temporary school, animal shelter, and much more. It became  a real focal point, a central gathering center, a safe zone during this crisis.

It's amazing what we can do with our lives with two simple tools: information and hope. That's what SBCC gave me. Every school matters. But this school is special. The unrivaled natural beauty of its seaside campus, which makes you want to learn and literally makes you want to spend all your time on campus, is exceeded only by the dedication and compassion of its teachers. The best educators I've ever had were at SBCC. Ask anyone who attended. They'll tell you the same thing.

They not only taught me, they inspired me. They showed me I was capable of doing and being just about anything in this life that I wanted to do and be. They also taught me the bitterest pill I ever swallowed: You have to study and work in a class even if the subject matter doesn't interest you. 

In truth, only a few classes didn't interest me, but I excelled in those, too. Because I discovered that life really is about working hard and doing your best even if you're not always fired up about what you are learning. It may sound trite, a cliche', but it still has to be learned. I took that another step, though, and forced myself to find something interesting in every lecture, in every class. I even dug deep to find something of interest in my micro-economics class! Who knew!

I recently signed a contract with the SBCC Foundation to write a book about the school, with a focus on the students, teachers and faculty who have made it great. We're looking far and wide for alumni. If you are reading this and went to Santa Barbara City College, or know anyone who has, please email me at jreno@san.rr.com, or call me at 858-397-4950. I would love to hear your story. 

My days at SBCC: Rebel With A Cause?
When I enrolled at SBCC in the early 1980's, I had ambition, but no real direction. I had goals, but no real plans. The professors recognized my potential, and my frustration. If anything, my problem was that I had too many interests and thus could not focus. 
Everyone who attended, taught at, worked at SBCC is a part of a large family. And I'm especially proud of the school's national reputation for the demonstrably positive impact it has had on minority and low-income students.

SBCC gives students from disadvantaged communities the opportunity to move forward in careers as diverse as music, medicine, and engineering. In recent years, SBCC has expanded its online programs significantly, as well, developing more than two dozen fully online degree and certificate programs in areas ranging from business and marketing to information management and medical coding. 

Value Colleges went through an evidently exhaustive study of America's community colleges before giving Santa Barbara City College the nod. But they didn't have to go to all that trouble. If they'd asked me, I could've told them without hesitation that SBCC is #1. If you think I am biased, well, then you didn't go to school there. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Smartphone, No Service? PB's Cafe'-Bar Europa Debuts Innovative Phone-to-Table Ordering System

On a sun-drenched afternoon in Spain in 1982, Basilio Ceravolo happened upon a charming café in Madrid called Museo del Jamon (“The Ham Museum”), where whole, aging hams hung from the bar with the pigs’ cleft foot still intact.

A closer look revealed the grease from each ham dripping into cups strategically hung from a hook at the bottom. The grease was then spread on delicious homemade bread and served on request to customers who entered the café.

“I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I walked into that place,” Basilio says. “It was special. The people were so warm and friendly, they were talking to each other in a civil manner about the issues of the day, and just really enjoying themselves and celebrating life.”

Basilio recalls that customers would eat “delicious food and drink beer and wine, but more slowly and in smaller doses than what we are used to seeing in America, and everyone was smiling and laughing."

Two decades later, when Basilio opened his own restaurant/bar in Pacific Beach, he sought to recreate the joie de vivre of those Western Mediterranean bars and eateries he so enjoyed in Southern Europe.

And he's succeeded. Basilio’s Café-Bar Europa, an ultra-hip but super-chill tapas restaurant (and much more), is pure joy.

No hams hang from the bar, but the café offers gourmet dining, drinking and nightly live-music (jazz, blues, bossa nova, folk) in a happy, laid-back atmosphere unlike anything else you’ll find in San Diego.

Basilio, a longtime respected tax accountant in San Diego, has reinvented himself as a bold, creative and customer-friendly restaurateur. A foodie and natural and cordial host, he believes his eatery is popular in large part because it fills an unmet need in the American dining landscape.

The European tradition – specifically the way they literally just stop what they are doing to enjoy the passage of time and enjoy each other -- is gaining favor for many Americans who are stressed out over bitter politics, gun violence and so much more.

Since ancient times, the Western Mediterranean has been described by those who frequent its shores as the “Turquoise Sea.” How appropriate that Basilio’s cafe is located on Turquoise Street, just a couple blocks from the ocean.

There was a time not so long ago when Pacific Beach, known by the locals simply as PB, was not anyone’s idea of a restaurant destination -- unless you consider breakfasts at Kono’s Cafe on the beach fine dining (which on some Sunday mornings I actually do).

But PB has grown up. It has come into its own, especially when it comes to dining. I’ve written about a handful of the fun and funky beach town’s coolest eateries, including Costa Brava, The Patio on Lamont, Ambrogio15 and Izakaya.

But to date I’ve neglected to mention my personal favorite, Café-Bar Europa, which reflects Basilio’s electric and eclectic personality. The café, like Basilio, is one of a kind!

Basilio Forging Another New Restaurant Trend

Already a San Diego restaurant trend-setter, Basilio is at the forefront of a new trend that I think inevitably will catch on in restaurants nationwide.

His latest innovation is called phone-to-table ordering. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. That’s the point. It’s a no-brainer, actually, but surprisingly hard to find.

Ceravolo rolled this idea out in July 2017, he says, and has worked out the kinks. It’s streamlined now.

Basilio says he brought the system to life because of the unique atmosphere and style of his place.

“It can get quite busy and difficult to take everyone's orders. With this simple technology, our customers can order what they want and they get it right away. We also offer ordering from a cashier for people who don't have smartphones, but we offer 20% off for everyone using our phone-to-table system,” he says.

Basilio explains that about 95% of all his customers now use Phone-to-table and it’s working well for them. “We are able to get everyone served and everyone happy,” he says.

How does it work? It’s actually very simple. You simply walk into the café, pick a table (each table is numbered), then go to CafeBarEuropa.com and click on the “ORDER HERE – PHONE-TO-TABLE” icon, and do your thing.

On the site, you can view the entire extensive menu of Tapas, paellas and entrees, soups and salads, gourmet foods, craft beers, wines and sangrias, veggie and vegan options, and much more.

But no rush, remember? Take your time. Look over the entire menu, because the food is superb and the selections are many. The mushroom soup is the best I have ever had. In my life. It’s amazing. And my wife loves the handcrafted Red Sangria.

Once you've made your choices, just click on each one, kind of like when you’re buying clothes online, and then go to the check out page. they will be delivered to your table.

Online Orders are 20% OFF! That is: 10% off Menu Prices AND half off service charges (10% online vs 20% at the register). The friendly staff will assist you if you have any questions.

The phone-to-table idea is really convenient, and evidently a big hit. “It seems to be taking off,” Basilio says. “People really like it. They also appreciate the fact that they don't have anyone bugging them to order if they don't want to."

Customers are evidently all in.

Says Carina Fleckner, “I can't believe I've been in San Diego for almost three years and had never been there until recently. I heard about it through Mario [Marauak], the Brazilian musician who plays there on Fridays and Saturdays. It's a super cozy place with very chilled atmosphere. When I opened the menu, I couldn't help but smile.”

Fleckner says she especially enjoys the Spanish and Italian dishes.

“Having lived in Spain for five years, I was pleasantly surprised,” she says. “Everything I had was delicious, including the sangria. Yum. I must have spent around five hours there... eating, chatting and enjoying the music.”

Fleckner says she also met Basilio and they talked about the new system of ordering and paying online.

“I loved it,” she says. “It saves you money, since you get a discount, and you don't get interrupted. Not that I would mind it that much because all the staff I met were lovely people. I highly recommend it. Kudos.”

Janine Holman says Café Bar Europa “is truly amazing. I loved spending my evening here. The staff was very attentive and courteous. It was fantastic meeting Basilio. What he and his staff have created truly provides for a magnificent night. Cafe-Bar Europa is my new favorite place.”

Casey Maslakow wholeheartedly agrees, saying the eatery has a “great atmosphere” and “an interesting ordering system that works. It’s an overall great experience.”

Everything Works, But the Live Music is Tops

A big thumbs up for what Ceravolo has done here. He's a very creative guy, and he knows what people like. The food, of course, is the thing. And for my money Cafe'-Bar Europa has the tastiest selection of fine food in Pacific Beach.

But as much as I love the food and the kick-back vibe of the place, the live music is what keeps me coming back for more. There is music ever night (they're closed Mondays).

Legendary San Diego blues man Tomcat Courtney is one of the many regulars, and he never disappoints.

Cafe-Bar Europa is located at 873 Turquoise Street in North Pacific Beach. Reservations are not required for parties of 6 or less, and large party arrangements can be made on the restaurant’s phone-to-table system.

Any more questions? Call 858-488-4200.