Our friends over at Tony’s Darts Away launched a blog today! Their first post is all about the founding of the L.A. Vegan Beer and Food Fest. The food, beer and music fest is curated by a trio of talented folks including Tony Yanow, our guest blogger! We hope you enjoy reading his walk down memory lane! Be sure to watch the Darts Away blog for more beer news.
Meet the Founders:
QuarryGirl: Influential and anonymous vegan food blogger. She hand picks each delicious vegan vendor.
Nic Adler of the Roxy: Owner of The Roxy and well known in both music and nightlife circles. He brings the tunes.
Tony Yanow of Tony’s Darts Away: Owner of Burbank’s beloved Tony’s Darts Away, he puts the beer in Beer Fest.
Enter QuarryGirl via Review(s)
Just two days after opening Tony’s Darts Away, I got word that QuarryGirl had reviewed us – GULP.
As her readers know, she can be cruel if not impressed. Of course, she can also be very kind. I wasn’t sure if our Vegan/Not Vegan menu would pass her sniff test. The concept of featuring vegan food but offering a healthy number of animal-based foods was fairly uncommon. Hardcore vegans could find it off-putting.
(A little background: The concept was born because my wife Amy and I wanted a place that would be inclusive, not exclusive. We eat a primarily plant-based diet and wanted to open the vegan door but not shove anyone through it. It was an easy decision really, but it has had an enormous impact on our business model.)
Reflecting on that first QuarryGirl review still puts a lump in my throat. It was amazing. Glowing, in fact, and it had a huge impact on Tony’s Darts Away right out of the gate. When I read, “I’d go as far as to say that Tony’s Darts Away is the BEST bar in L.A. for vegans. The beer selection, food choices and ambiance give that perfect combination of consumption and enjoyment,” I was beaming with pride and felt as relieved as I did humbled.
QuarryGirl’s blog was something that I read frequently. She was someone who I admired and appreciated. Not only is she vegan but she’s a huge craft beer fan. While she was anonymous, she seemed to be omnipresent in our local vegan world.
Then she came back. She normally doesn’t review a place twice in such quick succession, but on April 21st, just 7 days after her previous review, she returned – DOUBLE GULP.
This time the review was even better. In bold type at the bottom of the lengthy review and account of her visit: “Tony’s Darts Away is by far the best bar in LA for vegans—and our favorite bar, period.” I got a tear in my eye. That was huge, and I was further humbled. In case you’re interested, here is the review.
It turned out that QuarryGirl had never even stepped foot in Tony’s Darts Away. QuarryGirl’s husband, aka Mr. Meaner, had actually come the previous times and authored the glowing reviews. It said his name at the top but I never noticed. Just one month after our second amazing review, yet another post. The third post in five weeks with the title: Tony’s Darts Away: It Just Keeps Getting Better.
These three blog posts and all of the comments that they garnered had such a profound impact on Tony’s Darts Away. Vegans will go far and wide to find a good meal. They will go even further if some fun is involved because fun and vegan don’t often go hand in hand.
I owed much of our early success to this mystery couple.
One day as I was walking out of the pub and a quiet young lady popped out of the last barstool at the corner of the bar. She stopped me as I passed by. “Are you Tony?” She had a big, somewhat sheepish smile on her face. She seemed genuinely excited to meet me.
I smiled, “Yes, I am. Thanks for coming in. What’s your name?” Or something like that.
She got close and whispered, “I’m QuarryGirl.”
We hugged. I called Amy and told her I was going to be late – I was having a beer with QuarryGirl.
She introduced me to her husband and we had a nice chat over a beer or two. I expressed to them how ever grateful I was for all that they had done and that I was thrilled to meet them. I tried to comp their bill and they wouldn’t accept it – but I did manage to buy them some beers. They were very chill and very unassuming and not at all what I expected.
Over the next few months I got to know them a little better and they continued to write wonderful things. One day I reached out to them and asked if there was anything that I could do for them. A fundraiser, a sponsored event, a gathering of her loyal fans – anything at all to help repay her and to help her build her brand. She declined every idea saying that she enjoyed her anonymity, but she would think about it and get back to me. Believe me, I was thinking about it too.
Enter Nic Adler via The Council
Nic Adler’s wife Alison is part of a small group of women that Nic called “The Council.” They earned such a moniker because they are a very tight-knit group of women who always look out for each other. Apparently, they put Nic through the wringer when they were vetting him for Alison. I myself went through that same vetting process a couple years later when I started dating my wife, Amy. Amy was also a council member. Amy and I fell hard for each other and between the two of us the tightness of our relationship was never in doubt. The jury was still out as far as the Council was concerned and no one was more suspicious than the ever-loyal and protective Alison.
I recall spending the Fourth of July at Nic’s father’s house on a beach in Malibu. After several drinks, I found myself sitting next to Alison, who I had only met once before. She grilled me. I tried to reassure her that I had only Amy’s best interest at heart. She furrowed her brow in a very suspicious way. Alison is tiny but can be tough. She took a protective posture and let me know she thought Amy and I were moving way too fast as a couple.
“You know, I’m totally in love with your friend over there,“ I said, looking over at Amy who acknowledged my glance but was beyond earshot. If Alison had been grilling me before, she kicked it into high gear and the full battery of questions was unleashed. I did the best I could but it took a while before Alison warmed up to me.
As the companion of a Council member, I was invited and expected to attend the many functions of its members. I went to most of them and Nic was usually there. We got along fine but there was always a lot of demand for his attention so it took a while before our friendship developed.
He and I drank beer whenever we saw one another. I think he enjoyed learning and trying new beers as much as I loved introducing styles and varieties to him. His soon-to-be brother-in-law Mark and good old friend Morgan were also really into craft beer. I easily bonded with them whenever we saw each other. Nic was seeing craft beer passion up close and from many people. He was always up for trying whatever we were drinking and never shy to voice his opinions.
One day, Nic and I were talking and he asked if Tony’s Darts Away would like to do a beer event at his club, The Roxy on Sunset. I had long admired Nic and what he was able to accomplish in his career. Naturally, I was very excited at the opportunity to work with him. He has a well-deserved tremendous reputation in Los Angeles music, entertainment and hospitality.
The Spark: An Idea is Born
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Nic is a passionate vegan. “Do you know QuarryGirl?” I queried.
“Of course,” he replied. “Not personally, but of course I read her blog.” Everyone did.
That day I called QuarryGirl and asked her if she was interested. Turns out she is a big fan of Nic’s. He’s huge on social networks and is prolific about his veganism. We got to work right away.
The concept was odd and very different. With the Roxy handling music, facility and event planning, QuarryGirl promoting and bringing in food vendors, and Tony’s Darts Away bringing in brewers, we had the makings of a great team.
Fast forward six years — an event that began in the Roxy parking lot with just a few food vendors and a dozen or so craft breweries has grown to include more than 80 vegan food and beer vendors at The Rose Bowl. The event has sold out the last four years in a row so we moved it to a bigger venue. We couldn’t be more grateful to the Los Angeles community for embracing the festival and making it their own. This organically grown festival is my single favorite event of the year.