Culinary Road Trips
There are plenty of ways for a restaurant or pub to expand its brand, but two innovative thinkers have come up with a way to connect with people around the country. Both Boston-based Himmel Hospitality Group and Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend, Oregon, are taking their brands on the road.
Earlier this year, Himmel Hospitality Group went on a three-week road trip across the country, collaborating with restaurants and chefs from D.C. to California, and hosting pop-up events along the way. Seven chefs from the restaurant group traveled in the RV, making the most of their stops along the way.
“The idea started percolating five years ago when we were visiting local farms and fishermen as part of a series we do at the restaurants,” says Chris Himmel, HHG’s executive vice president. “We try to source locally, and we have developed great relationships with vendors across the country, but we never really connect directly to the vendors [around the country] the way we do with our local sources.”
Himmel thought a food tour would be a great opportunity to bring some of the chefs working at HHG in contact with the vendors on a more personal level. Stops included Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville, Tennessee, and Abundant Seafood in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina—and in each city, a pop-up dining event was created.
At Zaytinya, one of the Think Food Group restaurants in Washington, D.C., from acclaimed chef José Andrés, a six-course dessert tasting menu was served with wine pairings. Executive pastry chef Molly Hanson from HHG’s Grill 23 & Bar in Boston and the group’s beverage director, Brahm Callahan, teamed up with Think Food Group’s director of research & development, Chef Rick Billings, and its wine director, Andy Myers.
While diners attending the special events clearly benefited, the chefs and restaurateurs also benefited from the collaborations. HHG chefs said they were inspired by the vendors and by the other chefs they met along the way. “We have opportunities like never before to bring back fresh product and integrate that into our menu,” Himmel says. “When you work in a kitchen, you can be stuck in a grind and not even see the outside of the restaurant or the city. The tour is a great way to get our chefs excited and hopefully our guests will be excited [by the results] as well.”
In a similar tour running from May through October, Deschutes Brewery is bringing a pub experience to select cities throughout the U.S. The second annual Street Pub Tour will start in Arlington, Virginia, and make stops in Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Philadelphia; Sacramento, California; and in Minnesota’s Twin Cities.
“In each city, we are partnering with a local charity and donating 100 percent of the proceeds to help that charity achieve its mission, whatever it is,” says Joey Pleich, field marketing manager for Deschutes Brewery. The tour includes a 400-foot transportable bar that was handcrafted in Oregon, and Jeff Usinowicz, corporate executive chef for Deschutes, will team up with local chefs in each city to create food pairings.
“We’re taking the pub to the people. The main benefit is that we get to leave our fingerprint on these different communities,” Pleich says. “It’s an opportunity to showcase our beers, but also to impact every community we visit. Last year we raised more than $400,000 [for seven charities], and this year we’re hoping to do even more.”