A satisfied customer exits from Idyology over the weekend.

Idyology’s location has boasted a creekside restaurant for decades, one of them being The Chart House. This location offers one of the most attractive patio ambiances on the mountain, offering two areas for outdoor dining — the upper deck and the lower patio area next to Strawberry Creek.

Carmel Benson is the new owner of Idyology. She bought the business on Feb. 29, just days before COVID-19 shut down businesses. While that threw a wrench in her plans to open, she finally opened the outdoor dining area Sept. 3, just in time for Labor Day weekend.

Benson is new to the restaurant business and actually comes from a psychology background in corporate America.

The upper deck was full Saturday night as people enjoyed their meals.

Benson is originally from New York. She received her bachelor’s degree in French from Columbia University in 1980 even though she always had an interest in psychology.

“I was fascinated by the idea of doing a study of anything that was statistically valid,” Benson explained. “So, I went to the University of California, Santa Cruz for my master’s in psychology and my doctorate in social/organizational psychology. I finished them in 2001. My dissertation was on leadership style which I apply to everything in my life, including Idyology.”

No matter what the circumstances are people always want to feel like their voice is heard. What Benson learned is how people are willing to deal with change when they are able to provide their input from the very beginning.

The lower deck, complete with beautiful lighting, was also full Saturday night.

“Just the fact that they were asked makes them feel validated,” Benson explained. “Their input matters. That’s why it’s so important for my staff and the community to give me their input and ideas of what they want Idyology to be.”

Wherever Benson has worked — including companies like Apple and Cisco Systems — she was in charge of their employee engagement or employee satisfaction programs.

So while she might not have much restaurant experience, she does have the knowledge to create a happy environment for her staff and customers.

“The smallest companies I’ve worked for have had between 1,500 to 3,500 people and helping them understand and brand the culture they already have,” Benson said. “That’s essentially the same size as this town. I want to create an ambiance for the town that fits the town and continues to evolve. I’ve been getting input from locals since I first stepped foot here to help make that a possibility.”

Benson found herself burnt out by her 20-year career in corporate America. She needed a change and fell in love with Idyllwild the minute she arrived.

Benson had never even heard of Idyllwild until she came here for a songwriting workshop put on by Brett Perkins back in January. Benson has always loved music and has written and recorded her own songs for years.

“I always thought having a wine bar or restaurant would be fun,” Benson acknowledged. “I came here for a songwriting workshop and left with an offer on the property.”

Carmel Benson, Idyology’s new owner.
Photo by Paige Cunningham

Benson said with a laugh, “I’m not used to loving being at work so much and my commute went from an hour and a half each way to five minutes.”

There are a lot of ideas and plans in the works for Idyology, entertainment being a big one. Unfortunately, with the current county and state restrictions due to COVID-19, Benson can’t have live music yet.

“Everyone is asking if we are going to do music and the answer is yes,” Benson said. “The other thing I want to do is stand-up comedy and maybe movie nights and weddings, parties and reunions. We’ve already had people asking about holiday parties.”

While Idyology has only been open for less than a month, the feedback has been massive. Benson is taking into account all the information she gets to make sure Idyology is an establishment that everyone enjoys.

“The local and broader community has been so supportive,” Benson said. “It’s been great. Everyone has been really understanding with the glitches and learning curve. We’ve received comments about how happy the staff is and how happy the customers are.”

Benson plans to sell Idyology apparel and possibly work out deals with other local businesses to sell their Idyllwild merchandise. She’s going to sell Idyology’s most popular sauces for customers to take home.

While Benson’s goal is to make sure her staff and customers are happy, she is realistic about how society can be.

“It’s not super important that everybody like me, but I would like people to know I always have good intentions,” Benson explained. “Even if I make a mistake, it’s always meant from a good place.”

Idyology is open for brunch, lunch and dinner. Hours are Thursday and Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Benson hopes to open Wednesdays as a locals’ night which would have discounted food and drink deals.

Idyology is looking for servers and kitchen staff. If you’re interested, email Benson at [email protected]. Idyology is located at 54905 N. Circle Dr.