One of the bigger Los Angeles bar and restaurant stories to come out of the past year has been the rise of the Artisanal Brewers Collective, a previously-unknown operation that started to buy up bar groups and standalone spots — as well as building their own — in what has felt like record time. For most of its existence the only truly known name in the bunch has been Tony Yanow, the Golden Road Brewing co-founder who walked away with a pretty paycheck after the once-craft brewery sold off to conglomerate AB InBev back in 2015. Everyone else in the eight-person collective has mostly remained, well, if not anonymous, at least busy enough to not feel like talking much.
What has been left to fill the void is conversation after conversation about ABC’s buying prowess, especially after they snapped up the entire ACME Hospitality portfolio of Downtown bars, including Library Bar and Beelman’s Pub. To put it bluntly, ABC has been the whispered talk of most craft beer bars around town, from its rehab of the iconic Brennan’s Pub space on the Westside to its plans to bring a big restaurant and beer project to booming West Adams.
Now, after a year of acquisitions and openings — the company recently unveiled their long-awaited Bluebird Brasserie in Sherman Oaks — the Artisanal Brewers Collective is ready to talk. Or, more accurately, to set the record straight.
“I think people think that we are really rich,” says Yanow, sitting inside one of the low arches of Bluebird Brasserie on a sunny spring day. “That’s obviously a misconception.” He laughs, but Yanow is also aware of the perception that ABC has had since first coming online. The limited outside view of the company is one of excess and domination, while inside the team — mostly long-term friends and former Golden Road co-workers with complementary backgrounds — works hand-in-hand to pull off a given project. Or, more often than not, to do the due business diligence and then walk away. “We also don’t have a five year plan,” says Yanow.
“Theoretically we have this process,” Yanow explains, “where we are given opportunities about locations, partnership possibilities, restaurants for sale, all this stuff that comes around.” From there, longtime collaborator Paige Reilly gets involved as Director of Operations. If the building, the deal, or the idea seems like a fit, they turn to Daniel Popielinksi, the company’s Chief Operating Officer; Jon Lerdsuwanrut, ABC’s Chief Systems Officer; and Cary Berger, the Chief Administrative Officer and lead counsel for the group.
All of them have input on what may or may not move forward, and that’s before adding in the company’s primary architect Wayne Childs or the food and brewing teams. At least theoretically. “Lots of things can kill a deal, especially with restaurants,” says Yanow.
Which is all to say: As busy as the ABC team is — and they genuinely seem to be moving in a million different directions at once — much of what ABC spends their time on doesn’t even see the light of day, just like any bar and restaurant group. And in a way, that’s partly baked into everyone’s process.
“To be honest, we do worry about being cookie-cutter, because we so don’t want to be,” says Reilly. “We say that we’re happily the most inefficient restaurant collective ever. We have to redo everything every time, at least on the concept side.”
There is, of course, some overlap. It doesn’t take an eagle eye to notice the team’s penchant for vegan food — something Yanow has advocated for since first buying up Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank and opening Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. Beelman’s Pub recently pushed out a new vegan menu and there are likely to be plant-based items on the menus of any restaurant the company touches. Culinary Director Trevor Faris, himself a former Golden Road alum, notes the menu overlap while making sure to point out just how different a place like, say, The Stalking Horse in West LA will be from the modern project the group is undertaking along La Brea.
Several of ABC’s projects also involve a working on-site brewing system, where diners can watch their beer go from tap to glass (often a matter of a few feet) while dining out. That’s the purview of Noah Regnery, the award-winning brewmaster who hails from Pizza Port Brewing in San Diego (where, coincidentally enough, ABC has also opened a project). Regnery and his team are responsible not only for the logistics of setting up small brewing systems inside an area restaurant space (something the city of Los Angeles has not historically made easy), but also for crafting a diverse portfolio of beers that feel unique to the neighborhood and the restaurants and bars they occupy. The Stalking Horse might carry a line of English-style ales, say, while Bluebird skews Belgian and another future project leans in on the hoppy sunshine of California.
The company currently has eleven open restaurants and bars, with roughly half a dozen in the pipeline, but despite the growth Director of Operations Reilly is adamant that ABC’s projects should fit the place they’re in, rather than force something that doesn’t work just because there’s already an existing model. “Everybody is always keen to look forward to what’s next, but we also wanted to know what has been missing since the beginning,” says Reilly. “I think for us that’s the mix of great beer with great food with great service with great design. We sum it up by saying ‘Every neighborhood deserves a great brewpub.’”
Every neighborhood, indeed.