It was all about the hair.
Well, mostly about the hair. It was also about Morrissey worship, tattoos, and a multitude of girlfriends. Verve’s Seabright roastery filled with Ted Holladay’s friends and enemies (as if one can distinguish between the two) Friday night, February 21. Holladay, Santa Cruz design icon, lingered outside and stepped into the coffee bar for an Americano. “I thought there would be a lot of pomps,” Holladay poked at himself, maybe warming up. His signature pompadour stood at attention, a little like a shield ready for the barrage. Roasters filed into the front row: NextSpace founder Jeremy Neuner, HillTromper funder Eric Johnson, Plantronics’ Darren Caddes, two of Holladay’s brothers, Michael Hendricks of Allterra, and Margaret Rosas of Looker and TechRaising. “Everybody loves a good Holladay roast!” said marketing strategist Andrew Mueller (who claimed he would tweet that before I could blog it, but I think I beat him to it.) The roasters compared notes. “Is there a limit on how many hair jokes we can make?” Eric Johnson asked. “I’m nervous,” Johnson said. When I asked him if he was nervous he’d make Ted mad, he instantly laughed. “I don’t think you can insult Ted. He just doesn’t care enough.” Relaxed in a super-high-backed magenta velour throne provided by Echo Antiques, Holladay wrapped himself in that invisibility cloak of total coolness. “Ted is like 4’ 8” and the rest is hair,” Jeremy Neuner taunted. Neuner’s dialogue leaned heavily on that famous hair (good thing the pomp was stiffened with all that wax) and opened the door to ruthlessly low blows. Neuner: “Ted’s children are here.” Holladay: “And my girlfriend.” Neuner: “Several of them, actually.” The audience relaxed back in their chairs and breathed a sigh of relief that there would be holding absolutely no holding back. Neuner was unapologetic. “Sometimes when you do these things, there’s collateral damage,” he said. Indeed, the crowd included Holladay’s kids and their young friends, plus Santa Cruz tech innovators, start-up founders, networkers, CEOs, CFOs, hipsters and TechRaisers—and some of Holladay’s former and (we’re sure) future clients and collaborators. “Are you excited to hear your dad get insulted all night?” Event Santa Cruz creator Matthew Swinnerton asked Holladay’s ecstatic children. Eric Johnson inquired into Holladay’s move from his stylish West Side studio to an airstream trailer in the woods. Where does he keep all those hair styling products now? Is this the unexpected, cutting-edge next layer of cool? “I guess when you look like that, anything you do is cool,” Johnson said. But the roasters gave into sentimentalism and pointed to the real reason everyone was there. “Ted is dedicated to putting Santa Cruz on the map,” Jeremy Neuner said. “He is rebranding Santa Cruz.” Darrin Caddes’ especially stinging monologue gave way to heartfelt praise of Holladay’s prestigious work. Unanimous gratitude was showered upon Holladay for his dedication to making Santa Cruz as fashionable and well-branded as he is. Margaret Rosas conceded that, one she got to know him, she realized Ted Holladay was not, in fact, the sexist, egotistical creep she’d imagined the designer of the Betty’s Burgers pin-up girl must be. Holladay leaned toward his soft side, too. When asked about the nicest thing about Santa Cruz, he said, “I love my community. I love the people I know.” And the sentiment was reflected clearly by the buzzing crowd, as everyone pulled a hidden Fonzie-style black comb from under the chairs. “Ted is genuinely one of the kindest, most big-hearted people I know, and he’s got a passion for life that is contagious,” Art Holladay said. The whole irony of Ted Holladay is this: while everyone jokes that looks like he doesn’t belongs in Santa Cruz—he showers, he smells good (like a woman, according to Neuner), he doesn’t wear flip-flops in winter—he’s helped shaped what this town looks like, why people think it’s cool, how it makes money, and what we all love about living here. The truth is that Ted Holladay stands out because he’s an innovator—and that’s why it’s so enjoyable to make fun of him. And it made this roast into a bonfire.