Sean Derfield plans to open his latest venture, Der Biergarten, at 2332 K St. in midtown Sacramento in late August, but he's still reliving the year it took to get his project through the city's design review process.
Der Biergarten will be a German beer garden, an outdoor venue where customers can come for sausages, potato cakes, sauerkraut and, of course, German and Belgian imports or a local beer brewed in the German style.
Derfield identified a vacant lot next to the Golden Bear, and he shared his vision for a beer garden with the man who would be his landlord, Thomas Roth. Derfield wanted to do something he'd seen in a number of cities around the world, including one 75 miles west of here.
"We were in San Francisco, and they have a project called the Proxy Project down there," he told me, "and basically, that project was using cargo containers for a German beer garden, so what they do is they have a restaurant serving beer and food from these cargo units. So we said, 'You know, that would probably work in Sacramento.' " Thom Roth bought into the idea of cargo containers that could be removed in five years or so, if he wanted to develop a more permanent project on the lot. Derfield said he also received a warm reception in preliminary meetings with the city's design review team in October, but after he hired an architect and contractor and submitted renderings in January, the tone changed completely.
"They did not like it at all," said Derfield, who owns the River City Saloon in Old Sacramento. "They said, 'We cannot put cargo containers in the middle of Sacramento.' "
Attempts to reach city urban design manager Greg Taylor were not successful. City planners made suggestions that Derfield at first interpreted as optional.
"When we'd take it back," Derfield said, "they'd say, 'No, we really don't like that. We suggest you change it and come back and see us again.' So, after three times, we gave in to their wishes. If they had just told us the first time, 'We're not going to approve you unless you change this,' but they didn't."
A stucco-like exterior will make it hard to recognize the structures as cargo containers, and patrons won't be able to people-watch on the street. It's not the funky, artsy feel that Derfield had envisioned, but he'll be glad to open.
Right idea, right time
Last Saturday, Thaddeus Barsotti stood outside the farmhouse where he was born with 175 people who had paid $190 to hear his story, tour his land outside Esparto and dine on a gourmet dinner atop a grassy knoll out back.
For the second year in a row, chef and artist Jim Denevan chose Capay Organic as the site for one of 87 Outstanding in the Field feasts he will host across the nation. Tickets sold out in three days for this event, though diners had no idea of what Grange chef Oliver Ridgeway would prepare. It included Capay's heirloom tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella, torn basil and olive oil; Wholeness Farms "4" cucumber salad with Brentwood corn falafel and tahini lemon dressing; and smoked Passamore Ranch trout.
Denevan shared a little-known piece of trivia with me. Although his first dinner was at Mariquita Farm outside Watsonville, it wasn't the first dinner he attempted. He tried to sell tickets for a meal at Eatwell Farm in Dixon.
"Only 12 people reserved," Denevan recalled, "and I thought, 'Well, 12 is just not enough people.' I wanted to get that picture of the long, beautiful table, everyone enjoying themselves. I thought that visual of the table would inspire people."
Denevan told diners Saturday that he nearly went bust on Outstanding in the Field before the cultural tide shifted around 2006, when Michael Pollan published "The Omnivore's Dilemma."
And people got the "buy local, buy seasonal" messages that Capay Organic founders Kathy Barsotti and Martin Barnes and other conscious consumers had delivered for decades.
This story has been edited to correct Thomas Roth's name.