New owners making ‘quiet changes’ to iconic property in Santa Ynez Valley
The Ballard Inn, one of the Santa Ynez Valley’s most iconic lodging and dining properties, has a new ownership team who are making shifts in its design and branding as well as expanding its restaurant concepts and food and beverage programming.
Chicago transplant Christopher Hyldahl and Southern California-raised Rick Ringer, commercial real estate veterans with a combined 45 years in the industry, acquired The Ballard Inn in September 2021 and have been deliberately introducing quiet changes to the award-winning hospitality property in the Santa Ynez Valley.
The Ballard Inn was previously owned and operated by Santa Barbara County chef Budi Kazali and his family, who purchased the property in 2004. The Inn, built in 1985, is located in the historic town of Ballard, a pastoral village with a population of less than 1,000, the smallest and oldest Santa Ynez Valley community with buildings dating to the 1880s when Ballard was a stop along an important stretch of the stagecoach route.
“The past few years have changed the face of everything in our world, but through the toughest part of the pandemic, this region not only survived, it thrived. Santa Ynez Valley’s food scene has progressed beyond what most would have imagined possible. Our farms and ranches are quite literally blossoming with fresh produce and proteins, and our hospitality industry is hot,” said Mr. Hyldahl.
“The inn is loved by so many, but it is time for another edit, just to add a more current splash of flavor and to bring the entire concept to the next level. We’re keeping the elements which have served everyone well over the years and adding to those for this next phase of the Inn’s life,” added Mr. Ringer.
At the helm of The Ballard Inn’s new creative direction and interiors is Whitney Able Melnick of the Santa Ynez Valley-based firm, R2PxDESIGN. Black patina finishes coat accent pieces and points throughout the inn’s grand lobby and interior dining room as well as the trim on the two-story building’s exterior.
Surprising pops of pattern and color now play on library walls, in bathrooms and in guest suites, while select metal and wood pieces that speak more to the village’s founding years now populate the rambling common areas and individual Inn rooms.
A Victorian-era, Herm N. Petersen & Son København piano from Denmark, made from walnut with brass candle sconces, shares parlor space with mid-century, burnt-orange velvet arm chairs, complementing the warm tones in the antique woods.
In the sultry dining room done up in moody hues of peacock blues, a dual-sided fireplace acts as a focal point for diners indulging in executive chef Brendan Collins’s Southern-tinged, locally sourced menus.
Mr. Hyldahl was raised in relatively small Michigan towns and lived in varied cities until settling in Chicago, where he remained for 10 years before relocating to Malibu with his wife, Jessica. Before purchasing The Ballard Inn, he had a lengthy commercial real estate career, co-founding Blueprint HealthCare Real Estate Advisors, a Chicago-based company.
“I’ve always been passionate about art, furniture, design, wine and food. When the Inn came up for sale, it was particularly timely as I was exiting both my real estate career and Malibu, moving to a dream home we found in Santa Ynez,” said Mr. Hyldahl.
“I am committing this next stage of my life to spending time with my family and watching our son grow, but I’ve also been searching for a platform which would allow me to contribute to our new community, to authentically help people.”
Speaking about The Ballard Inn’s staff, Mr. Hyldahl said, “They are appreciated, valued and pushed to learn. We count on them, and they count on us. It would be wonderful if everyone stayed at the inn, but if they end up venturing to new venues, my hope is that they look back and always have a special place in their hearts for this property and the opportunity we’re looking to provide.”
The Hyldahls now reside full time in the Santa Ynez Valley with their 3-year-old son.
Mr. Ringer and his wife, Wendy, have three daughters, the eldest of which competes in three-day equestrian eventing. Another of his daughters, one of a set of twins, is also a passionate equestrian, making the Santa Ynez Valley’s burgeoning equestrian community an ideal environment for the family.
The Ringers had been visiting the area for decades, and in 2015, they purchased a “forever” home in Santa Ynez within walking distance to The Ballard Inn. The family currently splits time between the Pacific Palisades and Santa Ynez.
Mr. Ringer has, for the past 25 years, been a broker and principal in commercial real estate. In his 20s, he worked hospitality industry jobs and has come full circle with his new hotel ownership role.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be lucky enough to own something as special as The Ballard Inn,” said Mr. Ringer. “At my core, I am the type of person who strives to have a positive impact on the people I meet, whether family, friends, work colleagues, folks in the community or Inn guests. I am honored to be an ambassador of one of the crown jewels of the area, and I take that responsibility to heart.”
“The Ballard Inn is a legacy asset for me and my family that we plan to own and operate in perpetuity. I am so pleased to run the property with my partner, Chris, and his family. We are now locals and are loyal to our own. But we also look forward to welcoming travelers and to showing them everything that the Santa Ynez Valley has to offer.”
The restaurant at The Ballard Inn now features an array of vegetable-based dishes alongside fresh seafood and beef menu items and a signature cola-brined fried chicken.
In the coming months, the inn will debut a new, second dining concept located entirely outdoors in the side yard. The new food and beverage platform will center on a wood-fire oven, with both daytime and evening menus, and greenery-surrounded seating areas for leisurely lounging.
The Ballard Inn will also be launching various event series and will soon post plans for holiday celebrations through New Year’s.
“Simply put, we are committed to our locals and our tourists,” said Mr. Hyldahl. “We are elevating this experience from a real estate and design perspective as well as culinary and service.”