Friday, January 20, 2012

AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREA FERRUCCI of THE DARK HORSE INN

If San Francisco’s brand-new DARK HORSE INN isn’t proof positive that we, the craft beer-lovin’ public, have won then I tell ya I don’t know what is. When esoteric beer bars started popping up in a city’s hip culinary neighborhoods, it was something to celebrate for sure. Yet that was last year’s battle. Now, Dark Horse Inn co-owners Andrea Ferrucci and Sean Ingram are leading a new front, bring hyper-local beer & a family-friendly craft beer aesthetic to new territory: the neighborhoods beyond the culinary hotspots. Their location in SF’s Crocker-Amazon is a revelation, especially for me as I live within a loooong – but not too long - walk of here. You know how San Francisco is both a city and a county, with the same boundaries for each? This bar is located in the county – and yet, as Andrea mentions here, it’s super-close to just about everything by car or BART train.

After one excellent experience in their new bar earlier this week, I wanted to make sure that folks around the planet heard about The Dark Horse Inn and what they’re trying to achieve here. It’s instantly one of the best beer bars in the city if not the state, with zero pretension and a true neighborhood vibe. And they're fun people too - just look at 'em! Fun! We caught up with Andrea via email as she took what I’m sure was a very short break from running a bootstrapped, start-up business.


BEER SAMIZDAT:  How did you come to open a craft beer bar & restaurant in a San Francisco neighborhood (Crocker-Amazon) which is anything but a cultural and culinary oasis? In other words – why there, and not in, say, The Mission or SOMA?

Andrea Ferrucci: Sean and I had been looking for a location for about 3 years, in all parts of the city, before we found this one. We were open to just about any neighborhood if the location was a good fit. When we found this spot, it just seemed to have so much potential, both in the space itself and the neighborhood. After being told by a number of local businesses and residents that the neighborhood was in need of a place like ours, we were convinced that we would be able to carve a little spot for ourselves here. We're not a high-concept or trendy type of place that could easily draw attention in the middle of a saturated neighborhood like the Mission.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You opened the bar this past November, and it appears to be catching on with the locals. Has the craft beer dork demographic caught on to the bar yet, and how would you know if they had?

Andrea Ferrucci: The locals have definitely found us, and we love that. They've been very supportive and seem happy to have another option nearby. As far as the beer dorks (which we are, as well!) from the rest of the city, I think a few have found us. We usually take whatever time we can to talk to new customers, so we get an idea of where they come from and how they found us. There have been a handful who have mentioned they came in search of particular brews, so word is getting out. It just seems difficult to convince people that this neighborhood really isn't that far away from the rest of the city. It's about 10 minutes from the Mission (10 minutes from the ballpark via 280, according to a few visitors too), and there's plenty of parking at night. BART is 1/2 mile down the street, and a dozen or so buses stop right on the corner. We're hoping that participating in SF Beer Week this February will draw in some of the beer crowd that hasn't yet ventured out this way.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What’s your master plan for the beers you’re serving on tap? I notice that you’re serving from tiny nanobrewery Pacific BrewLabs – do you plan to continue that sort of hyper-local approach?

Andrea Ferrucci: Our taps will continue to feature small and local brews as often as possible. We are constantly looking for newcomers, including local nanobreweries, as that is what we'd like to focus on the most. We will continue to carry Pac Brew Labs, and Local Brewing will have a batch coming on next month. We love the idea of a tight-knit local community in a city where it's notoriously difficult to start a small business without a ton of money and/or connections. It's where our name came from - the dark horse contender.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  What would you say is the biggest adjustment or accommodation you’re having to make to help the neighborhood get comfortable with your bar & restaurant?

Andrea Ferrucci: There actually hasn't been a whole lot of adjustment we've had to make. It seems that the neighborhood was already looking for something like this, so we've been readily welcomed for the most part. There will always be a few territorial people that are reluctant to allow change, but they've been the vast minority. Even those who are unaccustomed to craft beer have been open to trying a lot of what we have on tap, despite not being familiar with it. People seem excited to try new things, and we've been pleasantly surprised to find that.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You’re running the bar with your partner Sean, if I’m not mistaken. Is this the first time you’ve been in business together? Any fisticuffs? What’s it like managing such a lean operation as a couple?

Andrea Ferrucci: Running a business as a couple has its own challenges. We're never apart. We come in to work together, we're here together all day, we go home together. Amazingly, we haven't gotten sick of each other! As in most situations, though, communication is key. We're a very small operation, so we really need to be able to talk to each other. Our other cook is a long-time friend. My brother moved out here to help renovate (he did all the carpentry work) and helps out when needed. It's a family business and we all know each other very well so it can be challenging sometimes to not make arguments personal, but we all still love each other so it works.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  How did the two of you come to be such beer lovers? Do you have a background in beer per se?

Andrea Ferrucci: Sean has worked in bars and restaurants on-and-off since he was 16, so he definitely has a background more of a background than I do. As far as becoming beer lovers, I guess that's just something that gradually happened. I grew up in a food-loving family, and drinks just naturally go along with food so I guess it was inevitable. We're totally spoiled living in an area that has access to so much good beer and wine, and in a time where the craft beer movement is exploding. It would be a shame not to take advantage of some of it!

BEER SAMIZDAT:  You seem to be taking an approach that both caters to the beer fiend, but also to the family who just wants a bite out with the kids. What are the challenges in trying to balance those two audiences?

Andrea Ferrucci: The funny thing is they seem to largely be the same audience. Our idea of wanting to be family-friendly came from watching our friends - couples with young kids who still want to be able to enjoy a good beer. We'd go to the Speakeasy Friday happy hours, a family-friendly place with craft brews, and listen to the laments that there were so few places that they could go and enjoy without having to get a babysitter. There's no reason that having a family has to mean not having any fun. It's not the 50's; moms don't have to just stay home and take care of the kids. I think we've evolved beyond that.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  How do you see The Dark Horse Inn integrating with the larger beer community in the San Francisco Bay Area this year?

Andrea Ferrucci: Fingers crossed that Beer Week will help us get our foot in the door. We've done a lot of reaching out to local brewers, so we'll do the best we can to build upon and keep up on those relationships. We'd love to be a place where beer people come to hang out, to kick back and have a good burger with a good beer. We don't aim to be at the epicenter of some huge beer revolution, but we'd be very happy with being the place the revolutionaries come to unwind.

BEER SAMIZDAT:  Finally, what’s your favorite beer that you’ve either served or hope to serve at your bar?

Andrea Ferrucci: We've had so many good ones that we wish we could keep on. If we had the space to go overboard on selection, we probably would (so it's a good thing we're somewhat physically restricted). We're big hop fans, so we'll probably get Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye (one of Sean's favorites) at some point. Victory Hop Devil is on the wish list too, as Victory expands out west. (I know, not exactly local...but much of my family is from PA, so it feels local to me!) We're also really looking forward to Speakeasy's Ritual Porter next month.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great article - thoughtful, articulate answers by owner Andrea Ferrucci.

Anonymous said...

Great article - thoughtful, articulate answers by owner Andrea Ferrucci.