New Oak Park Brewing opens, draws crowds, then scrambles to find new chef

Oak Park Brewing opened to the public as a brewery and full-service restaurant.
Oak Park Brewing opened to the public as a brewery and full-service restaurant. Bee staff

Oak Park Brewing has opened to plenty of fanfare. The beer was flowing, the meat smoking and the building was absolutely hopping.

The owners estimate that upwards of 1,200 people attended the preview opening Saturday. It was a huge coup for the brewery and for the Oak Park neighborhood, which has been undergoing a high-profile renewal in recent years.

Those first two preview days were followed by several days of staff training as the brewery and restaurant prepared to launch its regular hours Thursday. That got delayed to Friday. While there was plenty to celebrate, there was also some discord bubbling to the surface.

The head chef, Christopher Davis-Murai, the day before the official opening abruptly announced he was bailing out. That left the folks at Oak Park Brewing to deal with more than their share of new-business adjustments mere hours before customers were going to start showing up.

“Our head chef decided to pursue other things. So we bid him farewell,” said Tom Karvonen, who co-owns the brewery and restaurant with Dave Estis.

Oak Park Brewing has been months in the making, and the opening was delayed several times, so Davis-Murai’s departure may not be as sudden as it appears.

Karvonen said they promptly promoted sous chef Eric Marais to head chef, and things went off without a hitch.

While most new breweries have focused solely on brewing beer, opting to streamline the operation and invite food trucks to show up and offer grub independently, Oak Park Brewing is going for the full-service restaurant experience. And they don’t want the food to be run-of-the-mill pub food.

Much of the food will be cooked with the beers brewed on site. The mustard will be made in-house with a porter. The sausage is made with the pale ale. The kitchen is open to the dining and drinking area.

“We’re a brewery first. We’re a production brewery with an on-site restaurant,” Karvonen said. “But we do want the food to be something special. It’s beer-centric food ... that’s been designed to pair with the beer and enhance that experience.”

Oak Park Brewing is at 3514 Broadway in a renovated warehouse with a large patio. Its hours are more extensive than most new breweries: Tuesday to Thursday 4-10 p.m.; Friday 4-11 p.m,, Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

I will have more on the opening in my next “Beer Run” column on Friday.

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

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