Danville Brewing’s high-end beers, burgers instant success
By Lou Fancher
Sometimes the best and worst trouble two Tri-Valley guys can have is bourbon barrel-aged craft beer and burgers with bacon that taste like a million bucks.
When Marcus Maita and Randy Negi launched the Danville Brewing Company on Sept. 20, the respective Alamo and Danville residents had planned their brew pub for the local market with meticulous care. They knew they had a good shot at hitting their target. Boy, did they.
“We had a three-hour wait and no break between lunch and dinner. The part that hindered us was the huge influx of business,” says Negi, recalling the first three weeks after opening. “If the house-made buns came out too big or too small, if a dish wasn’t right, it gave us little room to fix the kinks. We still have two managers on all the time.”
Negi brought to the new, 3,800-square-foot restaurant the triple-hit know-how born of his education that includes a bachelor’s of science degree from Cal Poly Pomona, nearly three decades working in the hospitality industry and experience in his current positions as general and managing partner of Danville’s Bridges restaurant and the Vine wine shop and owner of four San Francisco breakfast/lunch cafes called Café Venue.
Maita arrived as a member of a family whose history in the beer business dates back to Prohibition. His passion for bringing artisan beer to Danville is the restaurant’s cornerstone.
The menu is focused on gourmet burgers made with grass-fed beef, salads featuring local produce, house-cut fries, sandwiches served on in-house baked breads and by-the-bay-centric finishes like Alameda Point Root Beer Float and Caramel Sea Salt Pretzel Bites.
And of course, there’s the Money Burger, a happy mouth-maker served with millionaire’s bacon (bacon cooked with seasonings and brown sugar or maple syrup), smoked Gouda, roasted tomato relish and fresh herb aioli.
“Someone put maple syrup and pepper on thick-cut bacon and said it tastes like a million bucks. We decided to call it the Money Burger. You can get a fried egg on it, you know,” says Negi.
You can also get one of seven house beers, brewed in the on-site 10-barrel brewing system with shiny top-of-the-line equipment visible behind a glass wall. There’s Danville IPA, a balanced brew with enough bitterness to offset the malt’s multi-sweet flavors. More IPAs, a coconut/coffee stout, blond ale, award-winning brewer Matt Sager’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookie and other options round out the lineup. Sager credits his “dessert beer” to his wife, who challenged him to create a beer that tasted like the much-loved baked treat.
“I started thinking about the ingredients: I toasted the oatmeal to get a nutty, baked quality. I spiced it with nutmeg and cinnamon,” Sager says.
Worried that it was going to bomb, Sager nevertheless debuted it in 2010 at the Northern California Homebrewers’ Festival. It took first place in a nationwide competition later that year.
“By the end, people were chasing me down for the recipe.”
On tap in addition to the house beers are local “guest beers” selected by Maita and Sager. They source within a 100-mile radius and search for brews that expand the offerings. Sierra Nevada Narwhal, a bourbon barrel-aged stout with currants added and Morgan Territory Apogee, a chocolaty, light licorice Baltic Porter representation, receive a callout recommendation from Sager.
Negi says the restaurant’s cocktails aren’t the main focus but reflect their philosophy that says restaurant customers are looking for specialty items. A small-batch coconut stout beer might find its way into a cocktail as might the Alameda Point craft sodas, Alamo-based Zolo artisan coffee, and house-made lemonade.
“Customers want something with a twist, so you can go a notch above, like using taro chips and ahi poke instead of beef for nachos. But you can’t go too far,” says Negi, who grew up eating and continues to enjoy comfort food like meatloaf, beef stew and spaghetti.
Negi agreed to join Maita, whose vision it was to open the elevated gastro beer pub in Danville because they’re like-minded.
“We’re both reserved. We know that a corporate way of doing things adds structure. It taught me how to forecast sales and work with numbers.”
But working hands-on in a kitchen or brewery arguably offers the largest lessons needed to run a successful, stable culinary establishment. Their years of experience according to Negi have taught them that flexibility is key.
“Sometimes, you just can’t do it your way. You have to be open to new ideas,” he says.
Other lessons? Using sustainable ingredients and in-house preparations costs more in labor dollars and requires more time to prepare but results in a superior product. Yelp is good feedback — “Too soggy” comments about the fish and chips caused them to adjust the batter — but outlier, extreme posts are best viewed as too subjective to be helpful. Hiring and training employees, essential to good service, Negi says, is similar to understanding customers.
“I get to know them, find out their likes and dislikes. It makes me happy. I never wake up feeling like I’m going to work. It sounds crazy, but hospitality is just in my blood.”