Unique food and craft beer

Wolf’s Ridge Brewing – Interview

Wolf’s Ridge Brewing is Columbus Ohio’s newest full restaurant / brewery. The brewery offers a unique dinning experience that incorporates their beers, as well as beer ingredients, into many of their dishes. TapPullers sat down with the father and son team who own Wolf’s Ridge brewing to talk about their new business.

B = Bob: Wolf’s Ridge Owner (son)

A = Alan: Wolf’s Ridge Owner (father)

P = Pete: TapPullers

 Starting Up

P: I wanted to start out at the beginning. Could you talk about the background of the brewery, the start up story?

A: I’ve always had a love of craft beer. With my previous job I did a lot of traveling and had the opportunity to go to a lot of craft breweries and brewpubs. I really enjoyed it and I got into homebrewing. I had a lot of fun with that. The more that I thought about it, the more that I thought it might be a good business opportunity.  So I started looking at building out a brewery and doing research on it. During the course of the research, I came to the conclusion that it really needed to have a restaurant as part of the operation.  That’s where Bob came in.

B: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to run a restaurant. I have been very interested in the hospitality side of things. I worked at a hotel for a while, really got excited about the overall guest experience of the establishment.   I lived in Chicago for a while and I really got into the food scene out there, went to really cool restaurants, and experienced a new kind of dining, that’s starting to take on here in Columbus a little bit, its more of the casual, but upscale type of food. That’s something that we wanted to bring here, and our chef Seth is a huge part of that. The entire kitchen and staff in general are a huge part of creating that environment for us here.

P: I think it’s unique that you guys are working as a father son team. That’s a really cool aspect of the brewery. Can you talk about what it’s like to work together as a father son team?

A: You know, I think that in a lot of cases it’s a positive thing because I’ve known him all his life (haha) and I think we have complete trust with each other. Doesn’t mean that we don’t butt heads over ideas. You’re going to have that when you have strong opinioned people right? In terms of the partnership, the trust is phenomenal and we can turn things over to each other and I have complete trust and confidence in that relationship. I think any family business is going to have its challenges because you are family and family tends to be opinionated.

P Always a little more passion there.

A; Yeah and I think it’s worked really well the way that we’ve structured it. Bob he’s a partner and he also runs the restaurant. That’s his passion, that’s what he wants to do, and I want to run the brewery. I’m running the brewery and obviously there’s a lot of cross over between the two, but I think we’ve got a pretty good division. I try to help out in the restaurant when they let me and we haven’t grown the brewery that much, but Bob’s passion is to make sure the restaurant is supporting the overall mission of the brewery.

B: It’s really helped the way we have gotten started with this. During the initial planning we worked together, but I was still living in Chicago. Since Nov. of 2012 we both quit our jobs and have been on this full time. So we were 10 months construction, and we were heavily involved in that. We built all the tables together; we had a lot of time to kind of get those major working together things out of the way, disagreements and things like that, but it’s all positive. I think we both are opinionated but in a good way, so it’s good.

P: I think it’s awesome that you’re able to work together. I usually think of a family business as something that’s passed down from father to son. It’s really cool that yours is built by father and son.

A: Yeah we’re really building it for Bob actually (haha) because I’m going to be getting out before he is. In addition to Bob and Lauren, my other daughter Lisa and her husband Aaron are partners as well. Lisa and Aaron are investors. Bob’s sister, my daughter Kathy, works here in front of house. She’s going to be the front of house manager. My son Paul works here assisting and my son Steven works here a little bit too.

P: Wow!

B: Everybody, and my mom works here too. She quit her job and is here full time, definitely a family business.

P: Certainly, can you talk a little bit about the name Wolf’s Ridge and what it means?

A: Sure, we were originally Dublin Brewing Company and were looking for a space up in the Dublin area. As we talked through the business model, we came to the conclusion that we needed to scale up a lot more than we were originally expecting. We decided to come downtown and try to be a part of what’s happening downtown. Obviously that old name wouldn’t work any more so we started looking around and found a couple of articles that reference this area as Wolf’s Ridge. Prior to this being Columbus it was an unsettled area. It was an undeveloped area next to Franklinton and it was known as Wolf’s Ridge.

P: Did you guys have any troubles at startup that you can look back on and laugh?

A: I don’t know if we are far enough along to laugh about it yet (haha).

B: I think construction was relatively smooth while we were in it, but there were things that came up. Dealing with the city here and there was somewhat difficult at times. We had a really good group of subcontractors that did an incredible job. It made that a little bit easier to handle. We learned a few things but it’s really nothing major.

A: I think the biggest thing was keeping things moving during the construction phase. That was the major challenge. We both lost a ton of weight and worked our tails off. We learned a little bit about juggling engineers and architects and city building officials.

B: That’s a good point. We were heavily involved in the demolition and construction. Our executive chef Seth has been involved from the concept up through developing the menu. He was in here helping us winter 2012-2013 taking down drop ceiling, taking out walls, pulling up carpet. From then on we’ve been filling in cracks.

P: The whole team helped in the build?

A: Yea!

B: Seth is very passionate about food. He’s been on board since we got started.

The Wolf’s Ridge Team

P: You’re one of the only new breweries in town with a full restaurant. Can you talk a little bit more about the team that you’ve built and how it’s helped make Wolf’s Ridge a success?

B: It’s like my dad said earlier. It was really important for us to have a restaurant to act as a brand for the brewery, especially when we got up and running. My passion for the experience, we wanted to take that and build a staff that could support that. I knew right away that Seth would be a good fit. He’s been a homebrewer for a long time so he knows beer, knows how to work with beer, and does so very well. If you look through the menu there are a lot of things that incorporate beer. Not just on a cursory level, but very in depth in a lot of the dishes. He uses beer pretty seriously, and beer ingredients. Hops and things like that. He was the first piece of it and he was able to find some really talented guys. Sous chiefs Andy and Chris are both really passionate about everything that we’re doing in the kitchen and that just trickles down to the entire kitchen staff. Front of house, I can’t say enough good things about everybody. We were pretty honest about what we were trying to do with all of our interviews so they understood the concept; they knew that this was going to be a fun place to work. But at the end of the day it all comes down to guest experience and we want to make sure that everybody has a pleasant experience here. They just do an incredible job. It was really important to make sure that they understood that while this food may look up scale, some people may not respond well to that. They are the perfect delivery to make that food more presentable, more approachable, and less pretentious than it may look like from the outside.

The Concept, the Food, and the Beer

A: Do you want to tell him a little more about your inspiration? This is a relatively new menu concept and approach to this kind of food for Columbus.

B: Yea. We knew that it was going to be. Some of these dishes you may see at other restaurants in the city, but buy-in-large the things that Seth has created are new to this city and a little bit different. We wanted to make this food approachable, but give people a little bit of adventure, let them explore a little bit. Things like the stout braised venison, perfect way that Seth uses our stout and braises the venison and that is a unique dish. Hop brined chicken. He creates a concentrated hop liquid and brines the chicken in that. These things that are a little bit different but tie well with everything we are doing in the brewery. We thought that Columbus would respond well and they really have; very, very positive about everything that we are doing here.

P: You’re making me hungry! You jumped ahead a little bit to my question about how your beer plays into your food and vice versa. I don’t know if the food plays back into the brewhouse. Could you expand a little bit more?

B: It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. Seth is starting to look a little bit more forward and create ideas and we would possibly do beers off that. Initially it started out with what we had available. We started brewing some of the styles that my dad had been working on for many years. Seth took that and ran with it. Using our IPA in the muscles instead of white wine like a lot of places will do. [He] made whole grain mustard using the IPA, which was our first beer. Once we got the Notty Brown he started using that. Made some syrup out of it. We have a Hop cider glaze that we use in the pork chop. He dry hops the cider. You can see the progression is becoming more using the bare ingredients. We are really excited. We have a Belgian series that is coming out. We are going to have three Belgians: a Belgian Tripel, Double, and a Belgian pale. Once they all come out we are going to do a Belgian dinner and pair some foods.

P: I may have to come back for that. I’m a big fan of Belgian beers.

A: You know we look at the food and the beer as part of a continuum. They are not a separate parallel. They are part of a continuum of craft food and craft beer. That’s what we try to leverage. Have people come in and experience the beer as part of the meal, not in conjunction with their meal. That’s where Seth’s been really good. When we look at the beer that comes through the taps, he’s probably one of the biggest users. He’ll come out and get two gallons at a shot and take it back to the kitchen. It’s definitely a part of the menu.

B: We haven’t yet mentioned Ryan. He’s our brewer. He and Seth are definitely talking more and I think they may start collaborating a little bit more and creating some interesting things. Seth and his brother actually worked with Ryn on the imperial IPA, which turned out to be a really wonderful beer.

A: Yea it was Seth and his brother’s recipe. Ryan modified it a little bit making it a true collaboration beer.

P: Do you think Seth may start sneaking some kitchen ingredients into any of the batches here soon?

A: You know we did do that with the holiday. We had a holiday-spiced ale that was very well received. Yea, I think as we continue on we’ll start looking at maybe some summer wheats and do some things there.

B: Again, it really helps that he [Seth] has a background in homebrewing. On some levels he understands it almost as much as he understands food.

P: Has starting a restaurant and brewery at the same time lead to any added challenges?

B: Dealing with various departments of the city that we needed to open the brewery is one thing, but adding a commercial kitchen to that. Fire suppression systems, hoods, all that stuff adds another layer. I think we put how many new penetrations in the roof here?

A: 18 new holes in the roof; roofers cringe I’m sure.

B: It was taking this building, which is well suited for what we did in it, but completely gutting it: New pluming, new wiring, whole new HVAC system. The construction was just a lot when we look back on it. That was the biggest thing.

A: In addition there are a lot of details when putting a brewery together, but there’s probably ten times more details when putting a restaurant together so that was a significant additional challenge.

P: I know starting either on its own can be a big challenge.

A: Right. We were starting it from scratch and we got a space that was a bare space.

B: That’s a good point. Operationally it’s a whole different ball game to keep the consistency, which is something that we’re focused on pretty heavily. To make sure not only the food, but the service is consistent. So when people come back they have the same great experience they had the last time. We employ about 40 people and to have that right off the bat and do as well as it did, I can’t say enough about everybody here who has done an incredible job the last five months.

P: You employed 40 people right off the bat?!

A: Yea.

B: It’s grown, but we started off with a pretty heavy staff. Our initial payroll kind of shocked us.

P: All right we’ve got to sell some food and some beer. Quick!

A: Exactly! But luckily Bob and the restaurant operations have gotten some really positive and significant press right out of the gate. We won best new restaurant of 2013 by Columbus Monthly Magazine. So getting that kind of recognition has really driven the volume. People are passionate about craft beer. People come here to Columbus from all over the state and it’s a lot of fun talking with people who really care about their food and beer. They are really excited about what we’re doing.

The Future

P: So when we were here last you told us you’d been open for about 4 months.

B: It will be five on Thursday.

P: So what does the future hold for Wolf’s Ridge?

A: Growth! We are just trying to keep up with it. We are building out a taproom in the back, converting our warehouse into a taproom so that will about double the number of seats in the building. We are not going to have a full service restaurant back there. We still have to figure out what we can do from the kitchen.

B: We’ll have food on some level, we just don’t know. With the restaurant up here being the focus and whatever the kitchen can comfortably manage without any experience of suffering up here, We’ll try to do back there. It just depends. We’re really excited about that space. It’s going to be more casual, more beer focused. Again this is definitely more dinning centric up here. You can see the brewery and that’s great, but back there it is going to be something that’s a little bit more craft beer friendly.

P: Any plans on packaging or releasing your beer around town?

A: Yea. Distribution was always part of our plan. We’ve sized the brew house significantly over what we needed to support what we imagined here. That is definitely part of our plans. We are looking at sometime in the next several months trying to start that process. Initially we will be distributing kegs to bars and restaurants and eventually we will add bottling / canning as part of that. There is a mobile canning operation. We’ll probably leverage them to package a few different styles.

P: That seems to be popular right now.

A: There are a few different things that lend themselves to that. Summer beers that you want to take on picnics or take them out to the lake. You don’t want to bring bottles you want to bring cans. It’s a lot more amenable to an outdoor, summer agenda lifestyle.

P: Do you guys have one word or phrase that you could use to define your operation?

A: Our motto is “Experience the craft of food and beer”.

B: We really want to showcase the food alongside the beer and as my dad said, they are a continuum of one another. Craft beer isn’t just beer, its experience, its community, that’s one of the things that makes craft beer what it is. The entire craft beer community around the world is so supportive of one another. Such a small piece of the pie, everybody is really trying to elevate beer. It’s great when we work together. A lot of incredible things have happened.

P: Any plans on collaborations with any other local breweries?

A: I’m sure; especially once we get the taproom opened we will do that. When we initially opened we did have several local breweries beers on tap. One of the first things we did before we were even opened was a charity event that was organized by North High [Brewing]. The first annual bike the breweries tour. We are certainly going to do those kinds of things. It’s a small community here. I joke about when Bob and I were up to our elbows in dirt and dust during the construction phase on a hot summer afternoon this apparition would appear on the stairs with a six-pack under his arms. It was Dick Stevens from Elevator! He came down with a six-pack “You guys look like you need a beer!”

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