When San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions was forced to close its doors in mid-March at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, chef Stuart Brioza wasn’t sure how the award-winning new American restaurant would survive.
“I felt very overwhelmed trying to navigate through,” Brioza says. “I had a hard time looking at anything through the lens of opportunity or kindness.”
So when a small-batch apéritif company approached Brioza offering to partner on a State Bird Provisions apéritif flavor — including covering all the production costs, handling sales and distribution, and giving 100 percent of the proceeds to the restaurant — he was skeptical. Through mutual friends, though, he decided to speak with Haus anyway.
Now, the proof is in the pudding: The Sonoma, California-based craft apéritif company has so far given $170,000 to its nine partner restaurants in its Restaurant Project, a partnership with standout restaurants around the country on co-created apéritifs. Restaurants a part of the project other than State Bird Provisions include acclaimed New Orleans Creole and Caribbean restaurant Compère Lapin, favored Seattle Southern restaurant Junebaby, and famed restaurateur David Chang’s Momofuku group, all with their own unique, fresh flavors that represent the soul of their places.
“They have sent us checks already, which is kind of unbelievable,” Brioza says.
Chef Edouardo Jordan of Junebaby was also “a little suspicious at first” when Haus reached out, wondering, “Why would a small beverage company want to donate all of the profits to restaurants they’ve never been to?”
To help restaurants survive, according to co-founder Helena Price Hambrecht. “We can’t imagine a world in which so many of these restaurants we love don’t exist. It would totally change the fabric of the city, the economy of a city, the employment landscape. So Woody and I started thinking about ways we could help,” she says.
And thus The Restaurant Project was born. Wife-husband team Helena and Woody founded Haus last year with the goal of making alcohol more transparent, proudly displaying all the natural and often organic ingredients. Their apéritifs — low-ABV drinks made with natural fruits, herbs, and botanicals — are meant to be sipped over ice, mixed with soda or tonic, or stirred into cocktails. When the pandemic started, they reached out to some of their favorite restaurants and others they admired to team up. The Restaurant Project flavors are all chef-driven, developed over the phone with Woody mixing up all the ingredients — many grown on the Haus ranch — and sending samples out to chefs for feedback.
Brioza based State Bird Provisions’ apéritif on a soda they make in-house with rose petals and Meyer lemon, while Jordan made Junebaby’s with juniper, lychee, and orange to mimic his favorite drink, gin and juice. Compère Lapin’s mixes passionfruit, lemongrass, and warm spices. The bottles are currently available on Haus’s website through July 10, after which many will be available for sale through each restaurant.
“We wanted to help in a way that used the tools we had and would make the biggest impact. We have a warehouse, we have tanks, we have infrastructure, so how could we use those resources to help restaurants?” Helena says. “It’s been really rewarding to make a direct impact and know exactly where our money is going.”
Products are a common diversification for restaurants right now, as they react to a post-COVID world and branch out into other revenue streams beyond dine-in sales. State Bird Provisions is also selling snacks, while Jordan has a food line in Washington-area Whole Foods as well as his own clothing. Brioza thinks projects like these “will be a part of restauranting in this country now.” He’s flipped State Bird Provisions into Provisions by State Bird, a market with restaurant-made pantry items.
“For a bit there we were trying to figure out what is to-go food out of State Bird and how does this work? It’s challenging and we’ve learned a lot through this,” Brioza says. “I think we’ve got a good path moving forward. [The apéritif] is a way of giving a piece of the restaurant to someone to take home.”