Modern America seems to have two distinctive types of restaurateurs. There’s the type who invests in logistically moving synthesized meat bi-products across multiple continents, and then there’s the type who believes in reputation. Rob and Laina McFerren, founders of Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Company, are definitely the latter. When the married couple first made their restaurant-concept a reality in 1997, their philosophy was by no means overly complicated. They just wanted a place where people could find delight in unique cuisine and relax over their choice of specially crafted brews.
Now, 14 years later, the McFerrens have won a slew of awards for their food and drink, as well as for the overall excellence of their service. The recognition they’ve received falls back on their initial concept, and reflects the core values all successful restaurants share: good environment, good food and an overall good experience.
There’s nothing about a sensible approach to providing a dining experience that automatically prevents challenges from arising. Tightly running an award-winning restaurant and inhouse brewery is far from easy, and without Rob and Laina’s backgrounds in brewing and foodservice operations, who knows where the start-up would be today. Another aspect is the ingredients; it’s only common sense to have locally harvested, health-conscious produce and meats readily available for everyday use, but arranging that independently requires both effort and insight.
A quick glimpse at Wolf Creek’s menu illustrates how the establishment has put its signature on specialty dishes, redefining old favorites as well as inventing new ones. Made-from-scratch items such as
a seared Ahi salad tossed with rice noodles and a ginger-citrus vinaigrette, as well as a loaded breakfast pizza and a very popular lime chicken taco have helped to reinforce the restaurant’s creativity. The dessert menu is also worth acknowledging. “We’ve established a loyal following with our food, as well as our beers,” says Laina, who stresses the importance of providing her diners with fresh ingredients that come from local resources - many of which are provided by Jordano’s with the help of Jordano’s Account Executive Joe Ramboldt.
This freshness also reflects on the beer menu. Along with a number of seasonal brews that are in constant rotation, two of the most widely recognized Wolf Creek beers are the Bavarian-style Howlin’ Hefeweizen, which is infused with banana, clove and apricot, and the American-style Golden Eagle Ale, which features the mild bitterness and malty flavor that so many Americans have grown to love, but without that mass-production aftertaste that many have come to hate. Both brews are award winners, namely the Howlin’ Hefeweizen, which recently added the California Beer Festival’s “Best in Show” to its list of recognitions. This is quite a remarkable accomplishment for Rob, who deals hands-on with the brewing, considering that California is one of the nation’s leading states for microbreweries, and that his first experience with crafting beer came in the form of a home-brew kit that Laina gave him as a Christmas gift.
While Wolf Creek beers are only available at the restaurant’s two locations in Valencia and Calabasas, customers are still able to take the beers home with them in growlers, which are sold on-site. There’s also an option to place special orders, in the case of someone desiring a barrels worth of a favorite brew. Does this practice, making beer available for take-out, generate extra revenue? Not necessarily. But Wolf Creek does it, and will continue to do it, simply because they know it’s the right thing to do. “It’s mainly a way of building recognition,” says Laina. Although the profit isn’t there, Wolf Creek has enough foresight to realize that offering this service to its customers only adds to the reasons for them to return again and again.
For Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Co., the future is constantly being taken into consideration, and a progressive model of business is the focus. Unlike most restaurants, the focus on building profit takes a backseat to the focus on building reputation.
Having a solid foundation built on the food, the drink and the overall experience provided by the restaurant and its
staff is essential, but pushing forward with a conscientious decision to be as genuine and self-reliant as possible is something that is universally understood. Wolf Creek realizes not only what it can take from the surrounding area, but also what it can give back, even by operating out of ecoconscious buildings that minimize pollution. The restaurant has emerged as an exemplary model for Green businesses throughout the state, and investors have taken notice. What’s “next on the plate” for Wolf Creek? Likely a third, fourth and fifth location. Ideally, distribution of the beer would expand as well; the growler system is good for now, but six- and twelvepacks stocked in grocery stores nationwide would solidify the business as a household name.