Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Smokestack Lightning: Meet Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewery

Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewery sips one of his trademark beers in front of the huge cooler holding kegs. Next door his new restaurant, Smokestack, prepares for opening.
It has been four years since Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery and the Alembic Bar, announced that he would be expanding his brewery to Dogpatch.  For a long time the only evidence that something indeed was happening were construction noises overheard as you walked by the site next to Mr.&Mrs. Miscellaneous ice cream in the American Industrial Center.  Folks ordering their ice cream had to speak up a little louder and everyone wondered when we would get a peek at the new restaurant called Smokestack. Curiosity peaked when it was revealed that the food would focus on BBQ -- a category that is definitely not over saturated in San Francisco.

With construction noise at full volume as his team races towards a March opening and a glass of Blue Bell Bitter in front of me, we chatted about McLean's latest venture.
Tanks at the new Magnolia Brewery in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA., now in full operation. 
Why do you do what you do?

I consider it my calling.  I love creating all the pieces that go in to making this a successful business.  I get to be both artist and scientist -- I get to feed my creative side by being involved in the design of the restaurants and all creative aspects of the business and I also get to be a scientist in the actual making of our beer. 

I went to school in Boston and I graduated with a degree in corporate finance.  But I had also fallen in love with making beer, with the science of brewing.  As many people know, I was a deadhead -- I followed the band the Grateful Dead around the country and I wanted to go to California.  The culture surrounding the Grateful Dead was one of rejecting mass market anything so the individual nature of craft beer really caught on at the shows.  You could tell the towns where the deadheads had just come through -- the Budweiser would still be on the supermarket shelves but all the craft beer would be sold out!  And most towns no matter how small seemed to offer their own local craft beer.

I really got hooked on the flavor and the independent spirit of the craft beer movement.  So much so that I spent a lot of time in Europe and especially England to learn more about brewing.  I especially loved the pride of place that beer had in England. I then participated in the Masters Brewers Program at UC Davis.  I've been involved in craft brewing since 1991 and in 1997 opened Magnolia on Haight Street and in 2006 opened Alembic.

I also realized that I wanted to extend the obsession and passion that I have for brewing beer to the food side. Customers might come initially for the beer but they return again and again for both the beer and the food. 
The Bar under construction at Smokestack Restaurant in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA. The bar will be stocked with a large selection of whiskey to compliment the BBQ.

Why Dogpatch?

I really can't imagine us expanding our brewery or opening this restaurant in any other San Francisco neighborhood.  A friend of mine lived in Dogpatch in the 1990s so I knew of the neighborhood. I know the folks behind several Dogpatch businesses including Serpentine, Sutton Cellars and Michael Recchiuti.  So I knew little bits and pieces about the neighborhood.

Actually, it was Michael who first planted the seed for us to open here.  He said that they had an awesome landlord at their offices in the American Industrial Center.  And really, who says that?  Who ever says they have an awesome landlord!  I knew I had to check it out.

And then ultimately, no many other neighborhoods had the physical space that we needed so that eliminated 90% of the rest of San Francisco.  This location will allow us to produce 5,000 barrels a year and more and that will allow us to explore other wholesale and bottling opportunities beyond the wholesaling that we currently provide to restaurants and bars.

The other piece was that although we wanted to expand brewery production, we also knew we wanted a restaurant.  And for that, you need to have a community.  We wanted to offer the complete experience of brew and food. 

I very much believe in the pub culture of England where the pubs are part of the fabric of the community and that's what I want to create with my restaurants.  This neighborhood offers us both the space we need and a vibrant community.

We will have a full bar at this location and the restaurant will open at 11 a.m. and serve throughout the day, seven days a week.  We want to be able to accommodate all the different people in this community whether your eat lunch at noon or at 3. 

At Smokestack, Dennis Lee, one of the owners of Namu Gaji will be chef.  I think his food is heartfelt and honest.  I like that he also owns a restaurant business -- we see eye-to-eye on business matters.

And the name, Smokestack?

Well, there is the obvious reference to the industrial nature of Dogpatch plus I wanted another reference to the Grateful Dead as I did with my other two locations.  So Smokestack also refers to a Howlin' Wolf song that the Grateful Dead covered.

(editor's note:  McLean has been to 150 Grateful Dead concerts.)

Gloves near the fully operational beermaking tanks at Magnolia Brewery in Dogpatch, San Francisco, CA

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