Today we’d like to introduce you to Russell Baker.
Russell, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born and raised on California’s Central Coast and have witnessed Paso Robles’ growth from a region of around a dozen wineries to more than 300 today. And while Paso (as the locals call it) has already firmly established itself as an award-winning wine destination, it is quickly earning a reputation as a popular attraction for things other than wine such as art, cycling, festivals, artisanal food, and craft beverages (including beer, cider & distilled spirits). In fact, the New York Times recently ranked Paso No. 6 on its list of “52 Places To Go in 2020”.
After graduating from Paso Robles High School, I attended UC Davis where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology. Inspired by my step-father who started Advance Adapters, Inc., a successful company that manufactures 4-wheel-drive aftermarket products (which he began in his garage in Downey before moving the business to Paso in the late ’70s), I developed a desire to start my own business at a young age. While in college, I enrolled in the Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy (SEA) in pursuit of that goal.
I have spent the past 23 years in the computer software industry, which has allowed me to travel the world and live in some amazing cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Raleigh before moving back to my hometown of Paso Robles. During those travels, I was introduced to some great outdoor beer gardens. One in particular – Biergarten San Francisco – inspired me with its simplicity. In a vacant lot in the middle of the Hayes Valley neighborhood, shipping containers served as a bar, kitchen, and restrooms; string lights created ambiance over an outdoor seating area filled with traditional beer garden tables. People lined up at the gate waiting for the place to open so they could enjoy traditional German beer and food in the company of friends in a casual, open-air setting. I thought to myself then that this was something that would be welcomed in my hometown. Although not uncommon in larger cities, this would be unique to Paso Robles and would provide a place for both locals and visitors to enjoy not only great local wines and craft beers but also the amazing weather we are so fortunate to have here on the Central Coast.
I spent the next few years saving money, researching and writing a business plan. I had my sights set on a couple of lots that had sat vacant for years, and I was hoping to be able to secure one of them with a long-term lease. However, I quickly discovered that plans were already underway for both lots to be developed into boutique hotels. One afternoon, I decided to ask the owner of a local walk-up pizza restaurant (that had been around for over 30 years and that I had enjoyed as a kid) if he would rent out the back of his largely unused lot. He told me…