Pedal Haus is not Julian Wright’s first rodeo in the restaurant industry, but it might just be his magnum opus.
And the modern, lively brewery just got a makeover.
Wright, now a seasoned fixture in the restaurant scene, worked as a bartender at the Islands that occupied the space on Mill and 7th Street in Tempe nearly two decades ago. He opened his first restaurant and bar, both of which are now defunct, on Mill 16 years ago. He is also the mastermind behind successful local eateries La Bocca, Modern Margarita and The Handlebar. He opened Pedal Haus Brewery last September.
The brewpub closed for the summer to facilitate a serious facelift, which includes private rooms, more windows, a redesigned beer garden, communal bungalows with fire pits, TVs and sound systems, a beer silo, several new brewing tanks and a revamped menu. On November 3, Wright will host a grand re-opening from 5 to 10 p.m. with live music, free drinks, games and giveaways.
For the uninitiated, a brewpub is a restaurant that ferments the frothy goodness right on-site. Wright says Pedal Haus is about the “vibes” as much as it is about making delicious food and tasty beer.
“We’re a brewery, a bar, a restaurant and even an entertainment venue with games and bands,” says Wright. “But I think at the end of the day, it’s just a big socially fun environment based around really good quality craft beer.”
Craft beer, compartmentalizing the vibe & the Cadillac of pizza ovens
Though the centerpiece of a restaurant is decidedly the food, Wright says the atmosphere is equally important. He says a driving force in renovating the restaurant was to “compartmentalize the vibes.” Wright wanted to create a space that was simultaneously intimate and communal.
When he describes the rearrangement, it sounds more like a lively house party than a brewpub.
“ASU games are a perfect example,” he says. “Older people want to sit in the dining room where it’s a little bit quieter but they can still see the game. There are people that really want their own private space. We got the music cranking in the bar over there, and we have games going on, so this place has so many different vibes. It really caters to a lot of people at the same time … With this kind of like an environment that you can find whatever mood you’re in or what type of style fits you.”
Room to get more tank’d
There was another glaring need — more space for brewing.
“We were selling a lot of beer here, and starting to sell a lot of beer out on the market. I realized we had enough space to brew it here and not have to open a brewing manufacturing facility somewhere else,” he explains. “We knew we wanted the brewing tanks to be much more visible and be part of the atmosphere; we also wanted them to be more clustered together. And we wanted room to be able to add more.”
Two new brewing tanks were installed, with plans to add more and display them prominently in the center of the dining room. The menu has also been revamped with the help of a versatile new pizza oven.
“It’s the Cadillac of pizza ovens,” Wright says with a smirk.
Previously, the restaurant purveyed made-to-order burgers and steaks and high-end appetizers like charcuterie boards, that were tedious to prepare.
“We wanted to figure out a menu that’s still quality,” Wright explains. “The menu’s maybe not quite as fancy as it was before, but it’s way more efficient now.”
Though Wright says he’s much happier with the new menu, there’s still room for improvement.
“There are some things that suck and some things that are selling out,” he says matter-of-factly. “Every week we sit down and we’re like, ‘Ok, what’s the feedback? What do we want to get rid of?’ We usually do that for six months or a year until we find that every item on our menu you can’t take off — because you know you’re going to piss off a few people.”
Wright also says the team sets a standard of getting food out in five minutes.
The most popular item is a classic staple: chicken strips.
“We marinate them in buttermilk; we have an incredibly well-seasoned batter and they’re freakin’ amazing. And they sell like crazy,” he says.
The new menu also features lobster rolls and a Mediterranean platter featuring babaganoush and dalmatas. Wright says the next frontier is a vegetarian menu.
Wright says the remodel promises to cultivate a more lively energy in the place.
“We’re staying open later on the weekends. We have DJs and live bands way more than we ever had before. We have fire pits. People are staying and partying,” he says.
Not only does each fire pit have its own TV, but there are 38 TVs around the restaurant, making it an ideal destination for game days. Wright says they also have deals on Sundays: $3 beers and mimosas and half-off wings.
What’s on Tap? Staying Power
Wright says purveying provisions on Mill can be challenging because there’s always so much going on. He’s not sweating the competition, though.
“Every time a new restaurant or bar opens, while in some respects, on the small level might be competition, I look at it like that’s another customer I can sell my beer to, so that’s really exciting,” he says. “I’ve always set out to do something that didn’t exist already. I’m not trying to go head-to-head with other people; it’s not my style.”
Though brewpubs aren’t necessarily a new concept, Wright claims they’re currently having a heyday.
“I think brewpubs are some of the hottest restaurant concepts going,” he posits. “Craft beer is eclipsing all other spirits as far as noise and media coverage.”
Though he says trends come and go in the comestible and cocktail world, craft beer is here to stay.
“I think it’s got lasting power, just like quality organic food has lasting power,” he explains. “And the variety that exists these days, it’s like never before in history … there’s a new brewery opening up every month at least. But there are still less breweries per capita than there were pre-prohibition, so there’s still room to grow.”
After the grand re-opening, Pedal Haus plans to release one to two beers a week. According to Wright, they usually have six staple beers and six to eight seasonal beers on tap. They recently acquisitioned a pilot system that will allow them to make smaller batches of brew. Wright wants to strike a balance between experimental and accessible.
“We’re building a reputation for having really good quality true-to-style beer,” says Wright. “But the pilot system will allow Ian — our new brewer — to introduce some more funky stuff.”
Though business is booming, Wright doesn’t forget where he came from — behind the bar. And that’s where you can find him on odd weekends and game days.
“It’s like fighting with your troops out on the front lines, and showing them that you can not only hang but lead,” he says. “I could’ve gone the route of opening up hundreds of restaurants all over the country, and I made the decision to have a lot of potential and spend most of my time and energy into one thing with one group of people … I love this place, the way it looks, feels, all the different spaces and vibes and the challenge of figuring it all out. We’re not defined by these four walls.”