Thursday, May 1, 2008

Can't go back and can't stand still...

...but I can wax nostalgic for a moment or three while pondering the future.  It has truly been an honor to watch the Magnolia community form around these four walls at the corner of Haight and Masonic.  Now more than a decade into this little adventure, Magnolia is a public house in the truest sense of the words.  You and our hardworking staff make it so.  The proof is in the sense of ownership you take in the place.  I have no doubt that for many of you this pub does indeed feel a little bit like home.  

That has never been more evident than now, as I try to shepherd Magnolia into its second decade with pragmatic enthusiasm for the future AND glorious reverence for the past.  I'm a little bit floored by the outpouring of comments and feelings about the recently manifesting changes.  The ongoing dialogue I have been having with the extended Magnolia family has ben enlightening and energizing, as I develop a deeper understanding of just how important Magnolia is to you.  Many of you are as excited as I am but some are understandably worried that they could be losing their "local".  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here's the deal: Change has always been the norm around here and Magnolia has always felt a little bit like a grand experiment, even as it slipped comfortably into its role as a reliable corner brewpub.  It's probably no secret (see: pub name, murals, beer names, music selection) that the Good Old Grateful Dead provided a healthy dose of inspiration for this quirky place.  

More on that another time.  For now, that inspiration can be distilled down to a handful of thoughts: the DIY/chart-your-own-course/think-different approach to one's art/craft/career, the power and importance of community, the surprising creative energy of the groupmind, the responsibility to be kind to each other and the earth, and, most importantly, the mantra of endless, limitless curiosity that weaves its way through all of the above.  Somewhere along the way, this stuff got fused into my DNA and thus it is part of Magnolia's DNA.

The beer drives this bus, but it has equal co-conspirators in the food, the room, and the hospitality.  Within a year of falling in love with brewing I knew I'd express that love via a brewpub.  I made pilgrimages to England and Germany and soaked up the role of local beer and local pubs in strengthening a sense of place and community.  Equally important, I appreciated the opportunity to control the beer from grain to glass, and to further shape the beer experience via the food and atmosphere surrounding it.  

While the gastropub movement was just taking off in England at that time, the bar for food was lower at the average American brewpub.  But if the strong message from the brewery was to source everything with care and make everything with passion and respect, how could that philosophy be turned on and off like a switch between brewery and kitchen?  With that in mind, Magnolia was set on a course, in 1997, with Tim McCutcheon minding the stoves, to remake American brewpub food expectations.  We have both succeeded and failed at times at staying true to this vision but Magnolia is at its best when the food is approached with the same creativity and passion that we pour into the brewery.

Fueled by that mission, it was inevitable that Magnolia and the Slow Food Movement would find each other.  And with that came the tools, information, and enlightenment about our larger role in sustainability as well as our responsibility to offer our guests food and drink that is "good, clean, and fair", as they like to say in the Slow Food world.

What I hope this illustrates is that this is a path we have chosen.  There is no turning back.  When we put our sustainability, our food choices, our brewing techniques, or our vision for community and hospitality under the microscope, this path requires us to continually find ways to be better at everything.  It presents challenges, like the fact that the ingredients we are talking about are not cheap, that our space and systems sometimes hold us back, that these lofty ideals can only be achieved by 100% commitment by our entire family, etc.

But I think we are onto something here.  We're a brewery and pub on a mission, and I'm thrilled by how many of you are along for the ride.  I feel a great responsibility to keep Magnolia fresh and vibrant, so that it can pursue and refine this mission for decades to come.  The renovations, the menu, the new logo and design elements will all, I promise, enable us to rally around this philosophy and do a much better job of being your favorite, neighborhood brewpub.


sarah said...

Thanks for the cool new blog...good luck with the renovation this week!

I live around the corner and have a love/frustration relationship with the pub. Love the food, love the beer, love the space, love the hours. Frustrated by the crowding at the bar, that there's never a table available(a good problem, admittedly), and mostly that i'm not allowed to sit down until my "party" (read: husband) shows up to meet me.

I look forward to seeing the new menu and the refreshed space. I dread seeing the even more crowded doorway!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I am really excited about your renovation. Magnolia has been my absolute favorite restaurant in San Francisco for some time now, initially because of my obsession with craft beer, but susequently because you guys also have a great menu and great food (I crave your onion rings), and because I live right down the street in the lower Haight.

I plan on fighting the crowds on Wednesday for a first look at the new Magnolia and will definitely keep reading your blog.