Only three years ago, Tony Yanow was running a quiet Internet consulting business out of his home trying to figure out what he really wanted to do with his life after being fired as chief executive of music video website Music.com. Today, he is one of the most influential figures in L.A.’s growing craft beer movement. He serves dozens of hand-selected beers from California breweries at his successful Burbank bar, Tony’s Darts Away, and the Echo Park restaurant Mohawk Bend, which opened last summer in a converted movie theater. In October, he opened an Atwater Village brewery, where he makes beers for his Golden Road label that are distributed to more than 200 bars and restaurants in the county, and in Whole Foods markets throughout Southern California. The Canadian native, who has lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, also helped found Los Angeles County’s first beer brewer’s guild and has an event group on the side that holds beer festivals. Yanow sat down with the Business Journal at Mohawk Bend to talk about the L.A. craft beer scene; why he wrote a manifesto about 16-ounce pints; and how, at 41, he’s managed to avoid an occupational hazard: a beer gut – all while raising infant twins.
Question: When did you first have a beer?
Answer: I don’t remember the first time I had a beer. There are certain beers that I remember the instance of those beers. The first time I ever drank real ale was in England, and it blew my mind and it seemed so foreign. The first few sips of it I didn’t really like and then, as the evening settled in, I fell in love with them. I’ve been a fanatic ever since. I was 17, I think. I was in England with my parents and snuck out.
Where else have you drank beer?
I’ve done some beer traveling in Japan, and most recently we did a tour through Italy and found all these factories that were making mind-blowing amazing beer. France, Holland and England: (My wife) and I have mostly done European trips. I spent some time in Australia trying craft beers. Wherever we go, we drink beer.
What’s your favorite place for beer?
San Francisco, Toronado (pub). No question about it. I modeled Tony’s Darts Away after the Toronado. A couple years ago, my wife took me for my birthday to San Francisco, and we spent the weekend at Toronado and just drank beer. We stayed at a hotel nearby, would go out for dinner and then come back and have another beer.
So she likes beer, too, I take it. Is she also in the beer business?
She’s getting her M.B.A. We have a company called Beer and Food Management, an administrative company that does everything (to oversee our businesses). She is a principal of that company.
So why is Toronado so important?
For me, it’s a piece of heritage. As far as I know, it’s the most important craft beer bar in California. It has been open for 25 years, and then, there was nothing as far as I know. When I was traveling with the Grateful Dead, I’d go try these beers on tour but there was no place (else) to go drink them, but you could get them at Toronado. I’ve been going there pretty consistently for 20 years.
You toured with the Grateful Dead?
I wasn’t in the band. I followed them for the better part of seven years. I didn’t go to Europe. But I went to pretty much every West Coast show in the ’90s, and went to the East Coast at least once, sometimes two or three times, a year. I was on the road for the better part of seven years.
How did you finance that?
Selling smoothies. And we sold yo-yos for years. I was in a little group called the Yo-Family and we made Grateful Dead yo-yos and sold them in the parking lot. We charged 10 bucks in the early ’90s.
Yo-yos? How’d you get into that?
I’ve been throwing yo since I was a kid. Sadly, I haven’t learned a new trick in a while, but I’m pretty good at some old-school aerial tricks and string tricks. My favorites are the Transverse Flying Saucer and the Reverse Entry Double or Nothing.
So what’s the L.A. craft beer scene like?
It’s not as ingrained as in other cities, like in Portland, (Ore.), or San Francisco or San Diego. I think the main reason why is because those cities’ (beer scenes) are all based on breweries. In L.A. County, there’s like 9 million (people) – and to think that there’s so many people – and there’s no regional craft brewery.
So how did you get started in the scene?
I had been offered this job to manage a construction project in Moorpark and I was also offered a job working for my father doing Internet stuff and then had business ideas I was interested in pursuing. I was like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Then one day I was out for lunch with my sister and stepfather and they said, “Well, what do you want to do?” I was like, “Usually, I’m like on the phone and doing consulting and brewing beer at home and writing about beer.” And they were like, “You need to be in beer.”
What happened at your job at Music.com?
It was a tough time to make things happen on the Internet, so I took four years trying to make that happen. But tech isn’t my passion and it wasn’t my calling. We weren’t able to make something of it. So I actually was basically fired from my job by the board.
So how did you find Tony’s, a 40-year-old bar, in a quiet section of Burbank? Was it for sale?
I was working with a bunch of brokers at the time and Mario Carron (a local restaurant broker) called me to tell me about this little dive in Burbank. I walked in and said, “This place is cool. I can make something happen here.” Everybody who came and saw it said, “Are you crazy? It’s like this old man’s bar in the middle of nowhere. There’s no foot traffic.”
What did you see in it?
I like bars and clubs where you go in and it’s an extension of your living room. I was inspired by pubs in England where … people just going to the pub was just part of their day; it wasn’t like an outing.
So how did you make it work?
I put a team together and renovated it lightly. We installed a nice tap system and brought in 40 beers. I’d say we are very happy about how it’s been received by the community. We’ve got some national media and a few international awards. Last year, we got named one of the top 25 beer bars in the world by RateBeer and that was pretty cool.
Is it named after you?
It was called Tony’s Darts Away when I bought it. A few years before I bought it, this guy Daniel bought it and took white primer paint and painted over the Tony’s and it just said Darts Away. The primer wore away and it clearly said Tony’s and that sign is hanging in the back. When I bought it, I thought you don’t rechristen a boat so you don’t rechristen a bar.
How do you pick your beers?
When we first started, it was really important to me to not just get the beer but to know the people behind the beer and to understand better what I was getting involved in and who I was representing. So we went brewery to brewery to dozens of breweries all over the state and picked the beers I thought were best. Sometimes we’d go to a place and say, “We’ll take anything we could get from you,” or we’d pick nothing.
What’s your favorite beer?
(My brewery’s) Point the Way IPA. PTW delivers what I am looking for most often in a beer: great hoppy aromas and flavors, enough maltiness to give it a satisfying mouth feel, and a nice balance between the bitterness and sweetness. At 5.2 percent (alcohol), it gives me what I’m looking for and doesn’t knock me off my feet like most of today’s IPAs do.
OK, so you know your beer. Now, what about Mohawk Bend?
This place is kind of funny. This is not what I intended to open originally but it took so long and we just kept adding to it. The original plan was to only use the front half of it as a beer bar and a pizza and beer place. The back half of it we were going to rent to somebody else because it was just way too big. Now I can seat 120 people (in the) back.
How’s business at your new brewery?
We are very fortunate to have a lot of demand for beer so we are a little oversold right now.
How much beer do you make?
We have the capacity of about 9,000 or 10,000 barrels of beer for a whole year. For Budweiser, that’s an hour. We are doing the best we can to get it out to market, but we are a brand-new startup brewery so it’s hard to boost production on the equipment that we have. There’s more equipment coming.
How did you finance all this? Max out your credit cards?
(Laughs.) I’ve done that a few times. I’ve been pretty lucky with the investments that I’ve made. I’ve had a few good jobs; I’ve got support from my family. I’ve done a bunch of things that really kind of lined up for me and now those businesses are able to help me power new businesses. That’s a good place to be; though I did refinance my house today to get a little more money for the brewery.
Do you plan to go national?
I have no plans or desire to expand beyond the state of California. I’m a believer in drinking local fresh beer and there’s a reason why I serve California beer. Frankly, I am so focused on getting beer to Venice and Pasadena that I can’t even think outside Los Angeles County.
Tell us about your beer manifesto.
I had written this whole thing (on our websites) about what a real pint meant and this fellow from San Diego said you have to check out this Honest Pint project in Oregon where they measure pints and you have to serve it up in a real 16-ounce glass. So I sent them a copy of my manifesto and a picture of beer in my glasses with a nice thick head on it and a nice-looking beer. I showed them that in the beer you get about 16 to 16.5 ounces. They said, “We have never given anyone an Honest Pint certification before they opened up; we are sending one to you because we think this is a cool thing.” So that was a feather in our cap and made us feel good.
Tell me about this brewer’s guild that kicked off last month.
We are a bunch of L.A. County brewers working together to promote and foster the craft of brewing in our area. The L.A. craft beer scene is developing very quickly but the number of brewers here is still small compared to many other metro areas. By banding together, we help one another in a lot ways.
So how do you manage all this with twins?
I wake up to babies crying at 5:30 usually and get the babies and bring them to bed with us. My wife nurses them, and I’m running around getting diapers and burp cloths. Then around 6:35 I get my older daughter ready and take her down to the bus stop. I’m usually out the door by 9:15. I usually have a meeting every two hours on the hour booked throughout the day because there’s always something going on.
What about your weekends and evenings?
We always take Sundays off and on the weekend I have a lot more time. But I have those three or four hours in the morning, and then I try four or five days a week to get home for tuck in and bath, which is my responsibility most of the time. It’s pretty hectic, and if I go back at night then I try to be home by midnight but sometimes its 1 or 2 a.m. It depends.
When do you relax?
I try to relax on Sundays with the kids, but it’s hard right now to get much relaxation time.
Just curious, but how much beer do you drink on a typical night?
I am very lucky that I am surrounded by great beer all day every day. I am the proverbial kid in a candy store. I’m constantly tasting new beers but usually only a few ounces at a time. I usually have one or two when I get home at night.
I notice you don’t have a beer gut. How is that possible?
As far as not showing a gut, it’s all in the clothes you wear. (Smiles) Lately, I haven’t had much time for exercise, but I do like to play basketball on Saturdays. I walk my dog when I can, and I try to run and hike when I can. Something about running around after three kids and chasing between the businesses seems to keep my metabolism high – either that or good genes. Thanks, mom and dad.
Company: Beer and Food Management LLC
Born: Montreal; 1971.
Education: B.A., anthropology and sociology, University of British Columbia; completed owner-president management program at Harvard Business School.
Career Turning Point: Deciding to go into beer business; teaming up with business partner Meg Gill.
Influential People: Wife, Amy; parents; business partners Meg Gill and Paige Reilly.
Personal: Lives in Los Feliz with wife; 9-year-old daughter, Marley; 10-month-old twins, boy Hudson and girl Chloe.
Activities: Drinking beer, yo-yo’s, basketball, travel, spending time with family.
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