This is One Year In, in which Eater Austin interviews chefs and owners on the occasion of their restaurant's first anniversary. This week, we speak with Lindsay and Bay Anthon, owners of Hopfields.
[Photo: Raymond Thompson/EATX]
Campus-area gastropub Hopfields opened to almost immediate rave reviews last winter, and they've been building a dedicated following of beer aficionados and French food lovers ever since.
Eater Austin caught up with husband-and-wife owners Lindsay and Bay Anthon, who look back on a year of curating one of the city's best tap walls, teaching their five-year-old the ways of bar ownership and expanding the pub well before they ever thought they'd need to.
Does Hopfields today look different than what you'd originally imagined?
Lindsay Anthon: Physically, the first thing that comes to mind is our expansion. We did not expect to do that after just one year. So yeah, I think that's kind of a really big deal. We found that to accommodate larger groups that really seem to be interested in coming to Hopfields, that we had to do something. It was a small space before. I know when we talked to other restaurant owners when we were leasing the space, they were like, 'What are you going to do with that? It's so small?' And we're trying to validate ourselves like, 'Look at Barley Swine! They're small, too!' And then Drink.Well opened up after we did, and it was like see, you can do something in a small space.
Getting the bigger space has been good for accommodating groups. Even our patio, Boomerang's was nice enough to share their patio with us. That was really a plus, especially in the warmer summer months.
What about in terms of the menu?
Lindsay Anthon: As far as the menu is concerned, I would say that it's different, too. We didn't know that our food was going to become quite as popular as it has. We still are really beer-forward, and that's what our focus really was, and we thought, 'As long as our food doesn't completely suck, we'll be okay.' And then we got just a really great team of passionate people who really took what we had in mind for the food and just completely ran with it. And that was awesome.
Because like I said, we didn't really have, didn't set out to be a food kind of place. That was a really nice surprise.
At what point did you realize that people were coming in for the food?
Lindsay Anthon: It was really soon. It was like a month in. We were like, 'Wow, our food is actually bringing in a lot more people than we thought.' When we looked at our Yelp reviews, we had some feedback on the beers. The beers were a given. You know what you're going to get. When you have 42 taps you have an idea of what you were going to get. But I think the food really started to take center stage at that point. It was really, really quickly that we figured that out. And then we had to keep going with it.
Have you made any changes to the food or the drink offerings over the year?
Lindsay Anthon: We were so beer-forward, and Bay and I, we'll be the first to admit we have no idea about wine. When we go to a restaurant we just ask the waiter what we should get. So we started off with Carter [Wilsford] of Peché, and he's a mixologist and he's really into wine. We were really happy to have him and he's still with us. He's really driven the whole wine part. People see our wine list and they raise our eyebrows and go, 'This is really cool.' That's when you know you're doing it right. Thank you, Carter! For picking good wine, because I don't know what they are. Everyone else seems to like them.
And same with the cocktails. Bay and I were long-time customers of Peché, we loved that place. We'd go and have something different, it opened our eyes to all different types of drinks. You know, we were coming from drinking vodka tonics, whatever we could stomach. But going to Peché, we really were starting to crave cocktails, so we're happy to be able to duplicate some of that with our beer and wine list.
Food-wise, what have people reacted to the best over the last year?
Lindsay Anthon: I'd say that our Pascal burger has been a really big hit. You can get a hamburger in a lot of places in Austin, and ours is really different. It's not like, truffle oil, the really fancy ingredients. It's got Camembert cheese. And with my mom growing up in France, it was just always on the table. It's like butter. It's not even fancy, it's just cheese. Everybody has it in their house. It's not expensive. But it really adds depth. Same with the Dijon mustard and also the cornichons that we use. I think they're a little spicier than the regular kind, so the whole flavors all together really work. When you first read off the ingredients you might be like, 'That's so weird," but it's really good.
And the steak frites, we experimented and started out with a flank. And that's traditionally how it's made, a steak frites is with a flank. It got harder and harder to source it, and the thing with meat right now, when you use local ingredients you're at the mercy of what's available at the moment. So we ended up switching to a filet. I think it's a really good cut of meat, and we're really proud of our steak. It's really simple. Steak and fries. But it's just so good.
How did you choose that location initially?
Lindsay Anthon: We searched around Austin for a location for two years. We had in our midns and in our hearts an idea that we would find an old house, somewhere around Lamar. Like central-ish. We had really strict requirements at first. And as we kept looking and looking and not finding anything, we had to cast our net a little wider. We went through like, five different realtors. They would get so, like, 'Okay, we're not going to find anything for you.' But we didn't give up.
I think it's really important to find just the right location for your place. So we decided on this one, it's in a shopping strip and we really didn't want to be in a shopping strip, but at the same time, we'd been looking for two eyars. It's an older building, it's very utilitarian. It used to be Half Price Books a long time ago, and I used to come in here when I was in junior high or high school, so it had a little more meaning to it than a regular old shopping center. And being on Guadalupe, it's accessible. There's a lot of different kinds of businesses around us.
We wanted to be not too close to other beer places. But there's a time when you want a beer and maybe the first place is too packed, what's another place you can go in close proximity? So you don't want to be too far off the beaten path. So there's Draught House around us. Flying Saucer. We're not too far away from downtown, but we have parking. We don't want to have our guests park at meters. Everybody can find a spot. We have so much around us.
Has Yelp and other forms of social media helped or hurt you over the past year?
Lindsay Anthon: We looked at Yelp a lot in the very beginning, and you kind of settle in on Yelp and as far as the star rating, that doesn't really change after a while. But every once in a while, I know my mom, who works in the kitchen, she checks Yelp. Because it does give some decent feedback. Because there's definitely times as a bartender, you can ask a table how was everything, but sometimes you really don't know until they leave that something wasn't quite right. And I understand people not wanting to be confrontational, maybe. So it has its place, definitely. I try not to look at it too much any more, because from an administrative back-end point of view, I can tell by our demographic and by our regulars, they'll give it to us straight. That's who I really rely on a lot.
With Facebook, most of our bartenders are on Facebook and we're on there multiple times, daily. It's much more interactive.
So what's coming up for Hopfields in the next year? New beers? Menu changes?
Lindsay Anthon: We're definitely going to have some menu changes. For the back space, we're going to wait service. So you have the option of sitting at the bar and getting the normal Hopfields experience where you talk to the bartender, but we're also going ot have the space in the back where you can kick back, sit at the table, not get up unless you want to. The expansion, for us, is huge. We're doubling our space and that's just going ot be a huge undertaking. I'm hoping that not a whole lot more will change.
The expansion should be completed very soon. We're putting in the final design touches and we've already started interviewing. And we might be open on Mondays in the New Year. I'm not sure exactly when we'll start that.
What have your big beer sellers been this year?
Bay Anthon: It really depends on what the day of the week is and what the crowd is. There are so many different crowds that like beer, even though they're segmented, they're really coming together over the concept of craft beer. It's also segmented around people I call 'yokels,' people just crazy about local beer no matter what. It's cool, it's got its own branding. Austin Beer Works has really cultivated that crowd. They've done a great job at making a beer that isn't palate-offensive, doesn't slap you in the face, but it's not Budweiser and it's not Miller Lite. It's almost like what Shiner did fifteen years ago. But they're doing it again with cooler branding and the connection with local. I'd say that's one of our best selling, what I call that really non-offensive, mid-range, not a Bud Light, something craft beer drinkers really go after. So that's like a Thirsty Goat, Peacemaker, Live Oak Hefeweizen. No matter what, they're going to be the really big sellers.
What are some of the more unusual beers on tap?
Bay Anthon: There's what I like to call 'Bringing in crazy-ass shit.' Things that most people would be like, 'What is that?' They have to try it once. Novelty beers. The Dogfish 120, it's like the fraternity beer beer because it's the most beer you can have in one beer! The most alcohol! Seriously, you put that on and people come out of the woodwork for that 18 percent beer, it's like, 'Is that all you're here for?' We've actually had our rowdiest crowds when we serve what's considered to be the highest-end, most expensive beer.
And you're like, 'Woah, you don't even drink craft beer, at all! You guys are just here because you heard there was crazy beer!' We had 120 and I told my staff, I don't know if we're going to carry this again. Because it's a bunch of baseball cap-wearing guys, and I'm not judging, but they're not used to drinking that kind of beer. I think that was the only time I ever had to unplug a toilet. You can't predict it until you put it out there.
I think we've really hit our groove where the beer crowd likes us. I don't have the fears I had at first of, 'Oh, what if we offend people who think it's too nice of a place.' At this point, I think people really get what we did.
Were you worried that there wasn't enough craft education around town?
Bay Anthon: I was more worried about yokels going, 'What is this?' We don't even have picnic tables. If you don't have picnic tables and dirt on the ground, you lose that crowd, they won't even get it. So I was worried about that because, let's face it, drinking beer and being outdoors go hand-in-hand. They're perfect. I was worried about the Draught House crowd, would I get them in here? And my wife was like, 'You don't understand, we're growing the demographic.' And she's right. Because people do actually come in here. That's exactly what happened.
That was one of the debates my wife and I had over and over, and it's turned out being the personality of the place. And it's really hit the crowd we're looking for. We did the demographic of 'us.'
And bars like Hopfields have really helped grow the interest in craft beer.
Bay Anthon: Yeah, I think so. There are so many bars opening up, 'Sixty local taps! All local!' I get it, and I know why it works, but for me, it was about curating local and at the same time, there's lots of great beers. Look local first, but if you can't find it better locally, go somewhere else. So that's my thought process the whole time. Good thing there's a lot of good local beer. About half our wall is usually local.
What's been the biggest challenge over the last year?
Lindsay Anthon: Maybe this is the obvious answer, but the work-life balance, for sure. Because it's a family thing, it's very time consuming and we're always here. Even when we're closed, we're here. We have a five year old son and he's spent the last year here, almost two now because we've had the space since March 2011. It's getting to that point where right now we're in the sweet spot where our son is old enough, he knows he can't dump toys in the middle of the floor, but he's very comfortable here. But he's been here since it was covered in sawdust. So it's kind of like his second home. It feels that way. Sometimes people give him funny looks because he's running around with a little bar towel in his back pocket. He's five! And he'll talk to you about beer, and it's even funnier. My husband beams, he's so proud. It's such a big part of his life. It's such a big part of all of our lives. It might look like from the outside, 'What are these people doing with their kid? He should be at school!' But he's home-schooled, so he gets his lessons here, too. Everything is here. As much as we love it, it's a labor of love, there's days when I'm like, 'I wish I had a nine to five.' But at the same time, if I come in at 9:30, it's okay. Nobody's going to yell at me. I can come in at ten.
· All One Year In Coverage on Eater Austin [-EATX-]
· Hopfields [Official]