At age 17, Jorge Guzman entered the restaurant world — as a busboy — and he immediately felt at home. His career includes stints at Redstone American Grill, Corner Table and Solera. Now, 18 years after busing that first table, this accomplished chef finds himself at the helm of Surly's new $30 million, crowd-luring complex.
Q: What is the theme of your menu at Surly?
A: It's about food that tastes good with beer, which means we have a really wide spectrum to fill, and we can really play around with all kinds of stuff. We tend to gravitate toward Southern and Hispanic flavors because we like those bolder flavors, and they go better with beer.
Q: Did other brewpubs influence your approach?
A: We did a little traveling. Euclid Hall [in Denver] had really good food, but a lot of the other brewpubs, they don't. And there's no excuse, because you can do it. Take the time. It's going to be hard. But this is work, it's not supposed to be easy. We want to challenge ourselves. I get really bored if I'm not challenged, and this is a huge challenge.
Q: Starting out, what did you absolutely have to feature on the menu?
A: Barbecue, that's the one thing. Before I took this job, I was looking to opening my own barbecue restaurant.
Q: Your next project is a smaller and obviously beer-focused restaurant on the building's second floor. Can you share a few details?
A: That's the one that I'm really anticipating. Right now Brian [Hauke, Guzman's chef de cuisine] and I are trying to figure out how people are going to want to dine up there. We want to bring those pessimists in, and be like, you can do this, it's OK, it doesn't have to be wine. Because you can change the flavor of beer to taste like wine. There's going to be a lot of opportunity for us to show people that their fear of beer and food shouldn't really be a fear. We want to show what the possibilities are.
Q: It sounds like you're having a blast. True?
A: I just love working. I feel really at ease at work. My wife would probably hate that and say, "Why don't you feel that at home?" But I just love being around all of the people, getting to know everyone and what they do, and who they are. And I love learning about beer.
Q: You've been open nearly two months now. What's the biggest surprise you've faced?
A: I don't have one, at least not yet. I'm sure I will. Probably when the beer garden opens, and 800 people show up on a Saturday. The building's total capacity is 1,900, and if we ever fill up, that'll be like, "Holy cripe." But right now, no surprises. We've planned really well, we deliberately took a step back and thought through everything.
Q: What's your take on smartphone-wielding diners and their constant picture-taking?
A: People are sharing what we're doing, and that's great, it's humbling. And I think Twitter is fun. It took a long time for me to make friends in Minnesota, but it only took me two weeks on Twitter to make a friend. I've now met more people through Twitter than I have after living here for 10 years. That's cool.
Surly Brewing Co.
Where 520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.
Info: 763-999-4040, www.surlybrewing.com.