The Lost Druid Brewery in Avondale Estates held its grand opening at 11:55 a.m. June 21, a moment precisely timed to celebrate the summer solstice.
But husband-and-wife owners Robert Hopek and Stacia Familo-Hopek aren’t exactly New Age devotees. In fact, he’s the CEO of GetNetworks, a commercial web hosting and design company. And she’s a retired corporate warrior with a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology.
Together, they decided an “own premise” brewery was the kind of family business they wanted to build — adopting a model that relies primarily on revenue from sales in the taproom. And to that end, they bought a piece of property on Washington Street, and constructed a 6,800-square-foot building from the ground up.
A longtime homebrewer, Hopek is using a 500-liter Brewiks pub-style brewing system built in Slovenia to turn out a steady stream of new beers, mostly based on classic styles, tweaked with food-friendly culinary ingredients.
Recent examples include a slow pour honey basil ale called Aromatic Hive, a hazy IPA and house-made lemonade blend called Mistic Radler, a hybrid Munich dunkel with smoked malts called the Great Trilithon, and a hefty Old World Imperial stout called Shattered Lands.
Call it a brewery/brewpub hybrid, what sets the Lost Druid apart is a taproom that features a kitchen with a beer-focused menu created by executive chef Chantel Mines.
Though Mines changes up the menu seasonally, and often creates new dishes to pair with new beers, regular items include a meat and cheese board, drunken mussels in smoked pork beer broth, smoked wings, and a stout-braised bratwurst served on a house-made roll.
Last week, Hopek, Familo-Hopek and Mines sat down in the taproom to talk about opening the Lost Druid, and some of the ideas behind the beer and food.
“We looked at buildings to rent, and what we found in the price range we were looking for, it would have been almost as much to retrofit a place as putting something together ourselves,” Familo-Hopek said. “And certainly, because of the size, it’s beneficial to have the kitchen, because that helps bring in more revenue. Our taproom is industrial looking, but it’s also a very comfortable space for people to come and relax, and have a conversation with one another.”
Before getting into the restaurant business, Mines was a paralegal. But when she decided it was time to change careers, she started out as dishwasher and line cook at Denny’s. Five years later, she worked her way up to become an executive chef.
“I worked in all kinds of kitchens, from bars to fine dining,” Mines said. “I think that’s been crucial to my career and to helping me grow. When I was a kid, I lived in South America for five years with my family. I also feel like that had a serious influence on my cooking. I’m in love with bold flavors, and things like cilantro and garlic and cumin. But my family is from the South, so that comes into my cooking, too.
“Here we aim to do a tapas-style menu that connects with the beer. The challenge is the beers change a lot, but that allows me to change the food a lot. The base menu is comfort food that can relate to multiple beers. With the specials that I do, I try to target a specific beer. Currently, we’re doing a spent grain cake. In other dishes, like the drunken mussels or the bratwurst, I’m cooking with the beer and adding other ingredients to enhance the flavor.”
Talking about the beer he’s brewing, Hopek said his approach is fairly straightforward, though sometimes it leans toward lesser-known ancient and European styles, in keeping with the brewery’s name.
“We do add some adjuncts here and there, but nothing too extreme,” he allowed. “Our herbal beers turned out to be quite popular. I was really surprised. The honey basil was the one that I honestly had the least expectation for, and it ended up being one of our most popular beers so far. The other was our Sacred Grove, which was a lemon rosemary ale, and that one was incredibly popular, too. We ended up using it as a base for a shandy, and people absolutely loved that, especially at brunch time. Also playing into the druid side of things, we intend to have one or two beers where we play with smoked malts.”
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at Lost Druid Brewery in Avondale Estates.
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