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Osayi Endolyn

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The Brand Man: Meet Atlanta restaurateurs’ best-kept secret

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Alvin Diec
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Alvin Diec is arguably the most in-demand brand guru on Atlanta’s dining scene, and you’ve never heard of him. Diec, who’s 34, prefers it that way. The unassuming graphic designer with thick-framed glasses is the quirky brain behind the websites, menus, trucker hats, and souvenir postcards of more than 44 Atlanta restaurants and retailers. You can thank him for spearheading the trend toward matchbooks, too—who needed those business cards anyway?

Office of Brothers is the six-person business Diec co-owns with design partner Travis Ekmark, but Diec takes the lead on their food and restaurant clients. The General Muir. Staple­house. Victory Sandwich Bar. Little Trouble. Antico Pizza Napoletana. All 10 of Ford Fry’s local restaurants, from JCT Kitchen to Superica. Even Wild Heaven Craft Beers’ iconic yellow can for Emergency Drinking Beer has Diec’s creative stamp.

Alvin Diec
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

In spite of his rock star status in the food industry, Diec is self-effacing. (“Our style? It’s bad style.”) And he is so inundated with projects (Whole Foods Market and Williams-Sonoma have called upon him) that when approached by us, he made a strange request. “Is this going to be a take-down piece?” Diec asked. “You can tell them I’m horrible. Actually, tell them I’m dead.”

Even if we obliged, no one would buy it. A glance on his website shows that the city’s most respected chefs have been tripping over themselves to benefit from Diec’s golden touch. His success shines even brighter given his random introduction to the field.

“I just pulled a book off the shelf,” he recalls. The book was A Designer’s Art by Paul Rand. This was in 2003, and Diec was a computer science major at the University of Florida. “I realized there was this thing called graphic design.” He completed his degree and moved to Atlanta to enroll at the Portfolio Center. Jobs at agencies like Matchstic and Green Olive Media followed, where Diec worked with many food and beverage clients. That’s how he met Fry, who became one of Diec’s first solo clients in 2011 with the launch of No. 246, Fry’s Italian restaurant in Decatur.

“I have total faith in Alvin,” says Fry, who has since worked closely with Diec to name and create the look for all of his Atlanta restaurants.
“With most agencies, they give you three examples and a presentation. With Alvin you get one, but that one is right.”

Diec’s fans rave about his keen sensitivity to a chef’s vision and his ability to insert eccentric humor. “Sometimes you want to mess with people,” he says of the inside jokes that he slips in. With Gato, Diec decided to replace the L’s on the menu with R’s instead. Diec is of Asian heritage, so perhaps this was not as close to the third rail as it sounds. “We never seek to offend anyone, but we like to put stuff in there that can surprise.”

Today most of Diec’s clients have become his buddies, too. Just like a chef, he’s known for keeping night owl hours. He has client meetings over margaritas instead of a conference room table. And as in the kitchen culture he has come to deeply understand, he knows that humor goes a long way. His best ideas begin by asking, “Wouldn’t it be funny if . . . ?” The only thing he needs more of is sleep.

Behind the brand
Diec on the philosophy and inspiration behind some of his designs.

Alvin DiecEmergency Drinking Beer for Wild Heaven Craft Beers
We based the packaging on government-issued military supply from the 1950s.

Alvin DiecSOS Tiki Bar menu
One of our designers wore vintage Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts for a week.

Alvin DiecGrassroots Farms trucker hat
The most popular hat that we’ve made. We also made hats for No. 246 so that the kitchen could wear something that was not a fishnet.

This article originally appeared in our October 2016 issue.

H&F Bread Co. wants to produce one million baked goods per day

Jerusalam bagel
Jerusalam bagel

Courtesy of H&F Bread Co.

The Atlanta baking scene made multiple headlines this week when reports that 2016 James Beard Award semifinalist Rob Alexander had abruptly returned to H&F Bread Co. The news was surprising in that Alexander’s most recent venture at Emory Point’s TGM Bread was only a few months old and off to a highly-lauded start. As it turns out, H&F’s efforts to become a marquee national baked goods manufacturer were enough to entice Alexander’s westward move.

We spoke with H&F Bread Co. general manager Roger Hodge about the company’s national push, a forthcoming branded flour product, and the possibility of a third production facility. H&F has a second facility under construction at 1500 Marietta Blvd. At full capacity, Hodge estimates the 50,000-square-foot space will produce one million baked goods per day with a staff of 150. Their Koenig line alone can handle up to 360,000 hamburger buns per day— a smart plan, should Atlanta’s go-to burger bun garner a similar following nationwide.

The news about Rob Alexander’s return to H&F Bread Co. emphasized his new role in strategic growth and product development. What will that look like?
Rob has joined our executive team, and he’ll be focusing on artisan and innovation, which is key to our regional and national strategy. We’ve noticed in our industry that companies become very small or they become large and corporate. Often, the product value diminishes as the larger companies grow. We want to avoid that. We’re fighting a business model where not a lot of people have been.

Was approaching Alexander a recent development or something in the works for a while?
This was a fresh idea. Joe Best [CEO] and I knew that we had several limitations because of the size of our current facility. The first thing was to build strong, sustainable growth. Our new facility [on Marietta Blvd.] is one aspect, and our team that defines our product is the other. Between Rob, Leo Grigorio, and Eddie Wright, our executive baking team, we now have 100 years of experience in the industry.

H&F Bread Co. sells wholesale to restaurants and retailers and direct to consumers at the bakery and online. What business developments are on the horizon?
In 2015, we had approximately 99 percent fresh business—that’s direct store delivery to restaurants, retailers, super markets, and our retail shop at bakery. Only one percent of our business was frozen. This year (keeping in mind we’re only in the second quarter), we’re at about 84 percent fresh and 16 percent frozen. So we’re building this new facility to expand our bandwidth.

We’ve also acquired a partnership in the farming industry, and we are going to have our own H&F branded flour—an organic flour and a sprouted flour. We will sell it to retailers, and we will use that flour to produce a line of products for Delta airlines, Whole Foods Market, and some of our other partners. The first crop is being milled now. We’re aiming to have it ready for fall.

How are you able to increase frozen production and maintain that local, fresh bread quality?
We are advocates of clean label products, and with that, you’re against the clock. When the bread comes out of the oven, you have a period of time to get that product to the consumer before it becomes inconsumable. With blast freezing and nitrogen-based freezing systems, you can preserve the product quality without use of chemical-based preservatives in the product. We’ve done blind testing and no one is able to say that a certain item is fresh or frozen. If our product is frozen and then restored according to label specifications, the quality stands.

Looking out five to 10 years from now, what can we expect from H&F?
Our strategy is to build and fill the forthcoming facility. Once that’s done, and depending on growth and partnerships, we’ll possibly build a third here in the Atlanta area, probably 100,000 to 200,000 square feet. That will be our flagship location for future regional business. We want to continue to have a local and fresh approach for a larger market, larger distributors, and still focus on quality, consistency, and cost. People want to get a great product, but they want it for a marketable price. Quality is a sound business strategy.

King of Carbs: Rob Alexander is the reason your sandwich rocks

Rob Alexander bread Atlanta
Swing by TGM Bread Tuesday through Friday (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for a soup and sandwich pop-up.

Photograph by Todd Burandt

The bun on that famous H&F cheeseburger? The bread for that banner cheesesteak at Fred’s Meat & Bread? You can thank Rob Alexander for both—and a whole lot more. Alexander currently oversees bread production for the General Muir, its sister restaurants (Yalla, Fred’s Meat & Bread, West Egg), and a growing number of wholesale clients. In February, the General Muir expanded next door with TGM Bread, a 2,000-square-foot production space for the thousands of loaves he and his team pull out of the ovens each day. [Editor’s Note: As of June 6, 2016, Alexander is no longer with the General Muir]

Since 2008, some of our favorite sandwiches and burgers have been served on bread baked by Rob Alexander.

Rob Alexander bread AtlantaH&F Bread Co.
2008 to 2012
At 20 years old, after discovering baker Daniel Leader’s book Bread Alone, Alexander decided to get into the kitchen. “I was charmed by the story,” he says. He trained in bakeries from North Carolina to the French Rhône-Alpes, then joined Linton Hopkins in 2008. He developed 150 recipes for H&F Bread Co., which supplies dozens of restaurants today.

Clockwise from top left:
Southern Sandwich Loaf (Grilled cheese at Yeah! Burger), Pain de Mie Hamburger Bun (H&F cheeseburger, double stack at Bocado), Pain au Levain Bâtard (Pintxos at Cooks & Soldiers), Hot Dog Bun (Lobster roll at Octopus Bar, Frankly Hot Dogs), French Baguette (Bread service at Bones)

Rob Alexander bread AtlantaThe General Muir
2014 to 2016
Alexander was ready to develop another bread program when chef Todd Ginsberg, who had opened the General Muir the year before, called asking about which type of rye flour he should use in what would become the city’s best corned beef sandwich. Soon after Alexander joined Ginsberg to become the restaurant’s head baker.

Clockwise from top left:
Pita (Shawarma at Yalla), Hamburger Bun (Double burger stack at the General Muir; Bacon cheeseburger at Fred’s Meat & Bread), Rye (Pastrami sandwich at the General Muir), Krog Street Sub (‘Shroom Shire Cheesteak at Fred’s Meat & Bread), Sesame Bread (Spiedie at Ticonderoga Club), Cibatta (Roasted turkey sandwich at the General Muir)

Photography credits: Bread, Alexander: Todd Burandt; Cooks & Soldiers: Heidi Geldhauser; Frankly Hot Dogs: Evan Mah; H&F: Courtesy of H&F; Spiedie: Courtesy of Ticonderoga/Mia Yakel; Fred’s Meat & Bread: LuAnne DeMeo; General Muir: Greg Dupree; Yalla: Caroline C. Kilgore

This article originally appeared in our May 2016 issue.

Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Set up in downtown Athens in a beautifully restored Chevy dealership-turned-tire shop, the Athens brewery best known for its island breezy IPA Tropicália, has picked up another reputation: constantly selling out of beer. If your favorite retail hub is Creature Comforts-dry (Hop City at Krog Street recently told us they have the beer in stock “for an hour on Thursdays”), the next best bet is to go where you know another keg is on always on deck. Athena, an easy-going Berliner Weisse, is refreshing any day. Seasonals shine here, too, if you’re fortunate enough to taste them—we like Koko Buni (a coconut-coffee milk porter) in colder months, and the crisp Cucumber and Lime Tritonia, a delightful gose that makes you wish it was summer all the time.

Good to Know: Just over one year old, Creature Comforts is the creative brainchild of David Stein (former head brewer at Twain’s Billiards & Tap), and his buddy Adam Beauchamp (previously of SweetWater Brewing Co.). Head brewer Blake Tyers came aboard later, followed by a tour staff that’s Cicerone certified (akin to the sommelier designation in wine).

Address: 271 West Hancock Avenue, Athens

Hours of Operation:
Tuesday thru Friday, 5-8 p.m.
Saturday, 1-4 p.m.

Website: creaturecomfortsbeer.com

Kids: OK

Pets: OK, dogs on leash

SweetWater Brewing Company

Photograph courtesy of Sweetwater Brewing Company
Photograph courtesy of SweetWater Brewing Company

SweetWater might be the only brewery in town where a possibly hungover (yet welcoming) tour guide will describe the scientific release of CO2 during fermentation as a “yeast fart.” Indeed these guys are out to have a good, chill time. Start with their signature pale ale, 420, practically Atlanta’s default brew, and winter seasonal Happy Ending, an award-winning imperial stout. India Pale Ale is a straight classic, one even the most humorless of beer snobs give due props. This crew enjoys a party, and tour time can be festive (and packed with thirsty visitors). Stay focused and don’t miss Dank Tank one-offs when available (that Belgian strong ale is an oldie we’ll miss)—once they’re gone, they don’t come back.

Good to know: Named for the state creek, Atlanta’s first brewery to make it big (115,000 square-foot brewhouse! Pouring in 15 states! Possibly going public!) has grown substantially since Colorado college buddies Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney first began. The duo was inspired by the 1996 Olympics and set up shop a year later.

Address: 195 Ottley Drive

Hours of Operation
Wednesday thru Friday, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, 2:00-4:30 p.m.

Website: sweetwaterbrew.com

Kids: OK, with a parent or legal guardian

Pets: OK, leashed dogs outside only

Check out our oral history of how SweetWater came to be.

Blue Tarp Brewing Company

While the backyard-like ambience leaves something to be desired, fans come for the beer and face time with friends. Regulars love double IPA Mother Hoppin’ (dry-hopped Amarillo gives it a nice edge). Funk Weisse is the first in the FunkleTarp sour series, a refreshing Berliner style ale that sometimes gets a fun grapefruit treatment. The brewery plans to kick off canned production in late summer or early fall, so in addition to crowlers available on tour day, fans will be able bring home six-packs of Cascade Killa IPA, session ale Bantam Weight, and of course, Funk Weisse.

Good to know: This tiny brewery on East College Avenue now boasts some heavy hitting neighbors on the booze scene—Three Taverns Brewery, Twain’s Brewpub, Wild Heaven one-half mile away, and corn whiskey maker Independent Distillery just a couple of doors down. But when Tom Stahl first opened for business in 2012, the 3,000 square-foot brewing space was the first of its kind in Decatur. Once a biochemist at the University of Georgia, Stahl home brewed for about a year before realizing his hobby was becoming his ideal profession. He would eventually attend the American Brewer’s Guild in Vermont in 2005, then head west to learn the trade at Left Hand Brewing Company in 2006. The build-out of the brewery took longer than anticipated—Stahl tells visitors that seven different investors jumped ship once the Great Recession hit, but he was eventually able to open for tasting and tours in 2013 (Stahl welded much of the stainless steel equipment himself).

Address: 731 East College Avenue, Decatur

Hours of Operation:
Saturday, 3:30-7 p.m.

Website: bluetarpbrew.com

Kids: OK

Pets: Nope

Reformation Brewery

The name Martin Luther is probably not the first historical figure that comes to mind when you think of craft beer. But ask co-founder Spencer Nix, and it makes perfect sense—Luther, a Protestant reformer of the 16th century, was known to invite folks over to discuss life, God, and nature while sharing beer. Chances are, most conversations at a brewery won’t be that philosophical. But who can blame them for trying? Paying homage to early Euro days, you’ll find several Belgian-inspired beers in addition to a strong IPA and a toasty porter. Try Cadence, a fig-laced Belgian ale; Union, a bright wit style with orange zest; and on reserve, Providence, a crisp Tripel.

Good to Know: Nix and co-founder Nick Downs started Reformation after years of home brewing together. The two met when Downs was flying commercial jets to Europe, being sure to pick up delicious souvenirs to share upon his return. When Down’s route changed, the buddies focused on home brewing. Soon enough they had plenty to share, and people to share it with. Then came the brewery.

Address: 500 Arnold Mill Way, Woodstock

Hours of Operation:
Thursday and Friday, 5:30-8 p.m.
Saturday, 2-4 p.m.

Website: reformationbrewery.com

Kids: OK

Pets: OK

Red Brick Brewing Company

redbrick02_courtesy
Photograph courtesy of Red Brick Brewing Company

Red Brick Brewing Company

From surviving old beer laws that banned high gravity brews to having their original location threatened by a road expansion project, Atlanta’s oldest brewery has brewed award-winning beers (like their flagship IPA, Hoplanta) and grown a loyal fan base against plenty of odds. Brewers Garett Lockhart and Steve Anderson keep the taps replete with tempting options. Current interests flow on One-Off Wednesdays, where you’ll get first dibs on brewery-only experiments (we hope the Amarillo Session has a resurrection). Bonus: Visit on a Friday or Saturday and pair your chosen brew with lamb ribs from the mom-and-pop barbecue masters Home Eatz, who pitch their tent out front. You’ll be grabbing another rack to-go along with your Red Brick growler when it’s time to leave.

Good to know: Originally known as Atlanta Brewing Company, Red Brick was founded in 1993 by former Guinness executive Greg Kelly, who oversaw the brewery’s longest-running collaboration with The Vortex Bar & Grill—then, a bohemian pilsner called Laughing Skull, which has since transitioned to the easy-drinking American amber ale we all know today. Bob Budd became president in 2006. They moved to Defoors Hills Road on the Westside, and in 2010, changed their name to Red Brick.

Address: 2323 Defoor Hills Road

Hours of Operation:
Wednesday thru Friday, 5-8 p.m.
Saturday, 10:45 a.m.-1:45 p.m. 2-5 p.m.
Sunday, 1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Website: redbrickbrewing.com

Kids: Under 21 OK for tours only

Pets: OK, outside only

Wild Heaven Craft Beers

With signature pours like the Invocation, a Belgian-style golden ale (nice and dry with a touch of fruitiness), and their imperial brown Ode to Mercy (brewed with coffee from Athens’ 1000 Faces), Wild Heaven has become a beloved destination for its neighbors in Avondale Estates. If you’ve tried the originals, be sure to taste barrel-aged varieties (Bordeaux-aged Invocation; tequila-aged Ode to Mercy) as they can go fast. For a bright, light, super drinkable ale, ask for Emergency Drinking Beer (the hints of lemongrass come from produce purchased at Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market).

Check for new offerings like the wild ale Southern Brewing Company collaboration, Swan Swan Hummingbird, made for perfect summer imbibing. Depending on the day, you might catch head brewer Jake Adams slicing up fresh fruit for a new batch of something sure to be divine. And since we’re in heaven, don’t miss the Pearly Gates—Johnson’s one-barrel pilot batch system offers brews that won’t be found any place else.

Good to know: A short hop away from its Belgian-style cousin Three Taverns, an R.E.M song inspired the name for Wild Heaven, which launched in 2010. With Nick Purdy at the helm (Paste magazine publisher) and Eric Johnson (owner of Trappeze Pub in Athens) as brewmaster, the former warehouse location didn’t actually open for tasting until June 2014. During that in-between period, the team contract brewed in Greenville, S.C. until they were able to break ground. Still, they managed to keep the Atlanta area flush with their go-to brews.

Address: 135B Maple Street, Decatur

Hours of Operation:
Thursday and Friday 5:30-8:30 p.m.
Saturday, 2-6 p.m.
Sunday, 2-5 p.m.

Website: wildheavencraftbeers.com

Kids: OK, Sundays only

Pets: OK, leashed and in designated areas only

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