Both Kevin Lefere and Ryan Pyle long aspired to open a brewpub. Lefere, a Michigan expat and self-trained chef, wanted to recreate the vibe of his home state, where every street corner is home to a brewery. Pyle, an award-winning homebrewer from Oklahoma, wanted serve his beers when and where they're freshest.
The problem was, neither individually felt they could handle the workload or necessarily had the expertise to make the business successful. When mutual friends introduced the two now-North Texas residents in 2014, however, the pieces clicked.
Drinkers will be able to appreciate the fruits of their labor when Bankhead Brewing Co. opens in Rowlett in early June.
The business, located a stone's throw from the downtown DART station, is named for the historic Bankhead Highway, which was developed in 1916 and runs cross-country from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, Calif. It traverses 850 miles through Texas from Texarkana to El Paso, and passes through downtown Rowlett where Main Street and the brewpub now reside.
Fittingly, Bankhead Brewing Co. will reflect its namesake history with a rustic, "downtown Texas" vibe, says Lefere. The building itself, a new construction, will be 5,000 square feet with an additional 2,000 square feet of beer garden space.
What's there to drink?
Pyle has spent more than 20 years honing his brewing skills, crafting beers primarily inspired by European styles.
He bought his first homebrew kit on this 21st birthday; he had to drive three hours from where he was attending college at Northwestern Oklahoma State University just to do so. Pyle didn't pursue brewing right off the bat, but a career in healthcare consulting sent him from coast-to-coast across America where he would make side trips to visit the local breweries.
A few times, Pyle recalls watching the brewers at work and being invited into the brew house to learn first hand how they perfected their craft. He'll never forget the one piece of advice he received that would shape his trajectory into professional brewing.
"You need to do a brewpub if you're going to go into this business," Pyle remembers one brewer saying, because "you get the beer at its peak freshness."
With the help of the Brewing Network podcast, Pyle grew from hobbyist to award-winning homebrewer, specializing in German styles, such as Hefewezien and Munich Helles lager, which drinkers can expect to find at Bankhead. In 2015, his Dortmunder lager recipe won top honors at the North Texas Limbo Challenge competition.
Bankhead Brewing will house a 15-barrel brewing system, custom built for what Pyle calls a "tall and skinny" brew house. The fermentation tanks are 20-foot two-in-one vessels, meaning they can hold two different beers in separate tanks that are stacked on top of one another. The system is also equipped for "step mash decoction," a brewing technique Pyle says has been the difference between a losing and winning beer in competitions he's entered.
In addition to a year-round lineup of brews, Bankhead Brewing will offer seasonal and experimental recipes, alongside wine on tap and a full bar.
What's for dinner?
Lefere has worked in restaurants since he was 16 years old. In 2009, he and his brother opened Zanata in Rockwall, a causal eatery that utilizes local and organic ingredients as well as seasonal flavors. (They also owned a second Zanata in Plano, but that location burned down two years ago.)
Bankhead's menu will largely reflect Zanata's concept as well as its cooking style. The restaurant functions exclusively using wood-burning ovens, meaning there are no convection appliances or stove tops in the kitchen.
"What we can do out of these ovens, like boiling water is so ancient a cooking style, but also adds a lot of flavor," says Lefere.
The only difference is Bankhead will have a fryer; otherwise all dishes will be cooked in a pecan wood-burning oven, which achieves the appropriate cooking temperature without releasing too much smoke, says Lefere. Plus, it smells great.
The menu will be a mix of small plates and family-style entrees, such as blistered Brussels sprouts, pizzas and salads. Bankhead will also have a kid's menu that also features organic ingredients.
Hungry yet? Keep up with Bankhead Brewing Co. on Facebook for more details.