By Raiza Giorgi

It was a perfect day to raise a glass and toast the life and passing of Figueroa Mountain Brewing founder Jim Dietenhofer on July 27, with a slight breeze tempering the hot weather as it blew through St. Mark’s-in-the Valley Episcopal Church. 

Several hundred people gathered to celebrate his life and the impact he left not only on his family but also on the Santa Ynez Valley and surrounding communities. 

The service was filled with laughter as his family and those who knew him best told stories. 

“My grandpa was the best. He taught me how to play basketball, football, run track and how to drive a car,” said his 8-year-old grandson, Gray, which got the whole crowd laughing. 

Dietenhofer’s daughter, Heather Itzla, told a story to demonstrate her father’s constant support. When she made an awful sculpture of a baby head in a pottery class, she said, her proud dad displayed it in his yard.

“I’m sure it has given many people nightmares, but he was always encouraging,” Itzla said. 

Dietenhofer was born in Pinehurst, N.C., on Sept., 28, 1946, where he played basketball and was known for dancing The Shag, a popular dance of the day. He was drafted into the Army and served in Vietnam. When he returned home he took a road trip across the country with a friend. What was supposed to be a round trip became one-way, as Dietenhofer stayed in California. 

He met his wife Judie in 1970, and after they married in 1972 they moved to Chicago to further his career in precious metals and commodities. They had an opportunity to come back to California and moved to Hacienda Heights to raise their family. 

After starting a successful business in Los Angeles and seeing the growth and congestion in the LA area, the Dietenhofers decided to buy a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1979. They planned their dream house and after construction moved their family to Los Olivos and have been there ever since. He ran his Southern California business from an office in Ventura for more than 40 years.

“My dad woke up before everyone else, kissed us good-bye and made the long commute to L.A. every day to provide for us. He got home just in time to coach our sports team or watch us in performances, and he did it with love,” his son Jaime said during the service. 

Dietenhofer volunteered on fundraising committees for various local nonprofits, was a member of Viking Charities in Solvang, and served as a Santa Ynez Valley Union High School board member.  

“He was very competitive and made a game to see how much money he could raise. He wouldn’t stop until you either donated a few dollars or changed your phone number,” Jaime Dietenhofer said as the crowd laughed. 

Growing up, Jaime said, he was very close with his parents and in college his friends were horrified when Jaime said he told his parents all the stories of their shenanigans. 

“They understood once my parents came to visit. My dad was right there in the middle of it,” he said. 

The Dietenhofers have won many medals for their unique beers since starting Figueroa Mountain Brewing in 2010. Their rapid growth now includes six tasting rooms along the Central Coast from Westlake Village to Arroyo Grande. 

“He believed in people and saw the potential that they had.  He received great joy in seeing other people happy and made a consistent effort to make people smile. He said his goal in life was to make someone smile every day, and I plan on following that,” his son said.

In Dietenhofer’s memory, the family suggests donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.