There are many reason that one might know Tony Yanow. He's the guy who revamped Tony's Darts Away with a vegan and craft beer slant, a year later he converted the old Ramona Theatre into the above pictured Mohawk Bend, a sort of modern farm-to-table brewpub with many craft beers, pizzas and more, plus a healthy dose of vegan fare. Then, Yanow took the brewpub concept one step further with the launch of his very own craft brewery, Golden Road Brewing, followed by its sister restaurant. Crazy that he accomplished this all in under two and a half years. Today Eater takes a candid chat with Yanow about Mohawk Bend, which recently surpassed the one year mark. Yanow talks about a busy but messy first month, repeat changes, and the road ahead.
What's the history here and how did Mohawk Bend come to be? I've always wanted to open a beer and pizza place in Echo Park. For over 10 years, I had passed by this old theater, watching it slowly decay right on Sunset Boulevard, and eventually it just clicked. It took almost a year to negotiate a lease and more than a year to build. Overall, this restaurant is the result of persistence, hard work, and vision.
As for the physical opening, what was the build like? The space was built in 1913 as a vaudeville theater. It went through multiple reincarnations throughout the years, but has only ever been owned by a couple people. When I took over it was in extremely rough shape. Absolutely everything inside needed to be either repaired or completely rebuilt. Working with Kris Keith at Spacecraft was a huge help, he did a great job of capturing the vibe that I was looking for, keeping it both wide open and cozy at the same time.
Did you have to make any changes after the first month of biz? Ha! Any changes? All we did was make changes! We were so overwhelmed by the interest and the crowds that we never had time to make systems changes; we were just in a constant state of reacting. The restaurant holds about 275 guests. The kitchen can accommodate that many but not when they all order at the same time. For the first six weeks that we were open there were lines to get in every night at 5 p.m. The kitchen staff, which was just trying to get their sea legs, was just getting completely slammed. Honestly, the first month was a mess. I was thrilled with all the guests that were excited to check us out, but we just weren't ready for the onslaught. It cost us a lot of repeat customers, but it also taught us a few good lessons. The good news was that there was a genuine demand and interest in what we had created, now we just needed to step up our game to meet and honor that demand.
What changed six months in? At six months in we hired GM "Daniel," a real pro manager. I worked with the Tony's Darts Away team to open Mohawk Bend, they are my dear friends and we put the whole concept together, and it was a very collaborative effort. We used to meet at my house once a week and dream up what our ideal neighborhood restaurant/pub would be like. Great food, lots of vegan, all local and organic and fresh, rooms with different vibes, incredible cocktails, lots of plants, a reflection of the area and of course, loads of beer! As a team, I think we did a great job of conceiving and actuating the vision, but we were not capable of installing systems and operating a restaurant of that size and such demand. When we hired Daniel, everything started to iron out. He is a great operator who taught me a lot about the restaurant business. We made some key changes to our personnel and our processes without losing that original ethic and vision.
Tell us about the menu. From the start, as with Tony's Darts Away, I knew I wanted a half vegan, half non-vegan menu built to serve and satisfy everyone and (of course) go great with beer. For the bar program, I wanted to continue our commitment to supporting local, and Keith Taylor (our former bar manager) did an amazing job of pulling that together. Our bar is filled with 100+ bottles of California craft spirits, which is unique and challenging but something we're very proud of.
How has the menu evolved over the past year? When we opened we had two visionary chefs. Randy St. Clair (currently the executive chef at my other pub, Tony's Darts Away in Burbank) and Sera Pelle (she still consults for our vegan menu, but is very busy tending to her organic farm and cooking for her family of seven). Both brought a lot of fun and creativity to the menu. When Randy decided to go back to Tony's Darts Away and Sera went back to her farm and her family, we found Mike Garber, who made an immediate impact. Some of Randy and Sera's dishes remain on the menu but most of the current menu is Mike. He has a great sensibility for seasonal cooking, and is continually upping the game in our kitchen. We also have some great help from Miel, who is actually one of our hosts but is one heck a good vegan chef. She has been collaborating with Mike on some of our very tasty vegan offerings.
Which dishes do you feel most represent the kitchen here? Our buffalo cauliflower is hands down the most popular. Almost everyone gets it, but Chef Mike is much more proud of some of his other crowd pleasers like our burger and our amazing pizzas. My favorite is the Banh Mi. Mike always has amazing farmers market finds on Wednesdays, and I try to never miss his Meatless Monday menus.
Does it feel like it has been a year? I can't believe it's only been a year. I've been knee deep in this place for a lot longer than that and it feels like it's been a decade. I'm thrilled that we made it through the first year without killing one another and I look forward to an even better year two. We are better at what we do now and always improving and with GM Dana Robertson and chef Mike Garber we are poised for a lot of growth in the coming years.
What's on tap for the future? Keep the ship steady, keep improving the menu and the service, and keep selling some of the best beer on earth. Between Mohawk Bend, Tony's Darts Away, Golden Road Brewing and three kids, I'm just hoping to stay sane at this point.
·All One Year In Coverage [~ELA~]