One of Mike Keller’s favorite college jobs was working at the Chart House restaurant in Redondo Beach. “It’s good today, but back then it was the premier fine dining experience with the best steaks, seafood, salad bar and view in the South Bay,” he says. “The Cowboy Steak was a short-lived menu item around 1995. That motivated me to create my first BBQ rub, which 15 years later became California Rancher Oaky & Smoky seasoning.”
Mike, who lives in El Segundo with his family, is no stranger to seasoning. He’s been creating his own for decades—everything from Bali-inspired exotic spices for his mom to Santa Maria-style BBQ for his friends in the U.K.
“They loved it, and I found myself telling the story of authentic California flavors, ingredients and techniques,” he shares. “At that moment I realized California had a great story and plenty of history to tell via flavor.”
Experiencing career burnout in technology sales, Mike took a chance after watching his good friend Rob Croxall walk away from a well-paying aerospace finance position to start El Segundo Brewing Company. “I thought, ‘If Rob is leaving a good job to start something and he has a family to support, then I have no excuse for not leaving my job and giving California Rancher a shot.’”
Nine years later, after funding the business 100% on his own, California Rancher racks up sales via the web and word of mouth (his product is also sold locally at Manhattan Meats and Boccato’s). He sources ingredients as close to home as possible.
For example, the signature Santa Maria-style seasoning is Mike’s interpretation of a traditional, Central California seasoning. “I didn’t want to duplicate other brands but instead put my twist on it by adding more texture, less salt and using natural and organic ingredients.”
“They loved it, and I found myself telling the story of authentic California flavors, ingredients and techniques.”
The Monterey Seafood seasoning is a tip of the hat to the fishing legacy of the Golden State and made to complement but not overwhelm quality local seafood.
As a master griller, Mike has big plans for summer cooking. “I’ve been playing with sous vide Santa Maria-seasoned ribeye with a reverse sear in a cast-iron pan,” he says. “They are incredibly easy, delicious and nothing like the leather steaks our parents cooked on their hibachis.”