Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Food Insider takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we feature Dylan Yelenich of Lost Forty Brewing.
Did you grow up in Little Rock?
I lived in North Little Rock but went to school in Little Rock, so I got a little bit of both worlds.
What was your first job in food and how old were you?
Man, my first job, I was 14. I started as soon as I could get a work permit. I was washing dishes and bussing tables at the Starlight Diner in Camp Robinson.
What are some of the different restaurants you’ve worked at through the years?
I’ve flipped cornbread at Cock of the Walk, ran the line at Ciao downtown, cut my serving teeth at Trio’s, tended bar at the Town Pump, was the jack of all trades at Satellite Café, Chenal Country Club, Buffalo Grill, B-Side, Andre’s Hillcrest, and Purple Cow….it’s a long list. Kind of a running joke.
Could you share one quick story with us from some of you early years?
This isn’t a restaurant story, but the Riverdale Movie Theatre was a pretty interesting job. My friends and I got jobs there before our senior year of high school. Our bosses were characters to say the least. One night, one of our bosses and his friends got together and staged a “backyard” wrestling match using the theater as their ring. A couple of my buddies filmed the whole thing. That was an epic summer.
When did you start working with the Yellow Rocket group and what was your first position?
It all began with a bartending gig at Big Orange West back in 2011. Opening up that place was a tremendous experience, and it taught me that I really enjoy working out restaurant logistics.
Could you go through some of your various responsibilities at Yellow Rocket?
First, I bartended and pioneered the beverage program for YRC at Big Orange West. I was lucky enough that the owners trusted me to run wild with my ideas: no “domestics” on draft but instead a huge craft and import beer selection, time consuming and fresh squeezed cocktails … all at a casual burger joint. Back then, I think that was the first restaurant to take on that sort of responsibility. Then Lee Edwards came on board and together we created the Local Lime bar program. Next up, was Big O Midtown where we designed the bar from a bartender’s perspective. The shelf height is literally as tall as the bottom of my palm. Training bartenders was also a huge part of my responsibility. My big thing has always been mis-en-place behind a bar. Just like in a kitchen, it makes you more efficient. Then came an idea for a brewery, and because of my extensive beer knowledge and a basic idea of how brewing works, I naturally gravitated into my position at Lost Forty Brewing.
The Local Lime margarita…what was the thought process on that drink and how did you and others arrive at the final version?
Man! I think our whole idea was to make the most delicious margarita we have ever tasted. It took so much tweaking. I think that Lee and I made a margarita every way possible. I know I blind tasted every Triple Sec available in the market. Texture was also a huge issue. To this day, I still haven’t had a better margarita.
I met you when you were behind the bar at Big Orange Midtown. Do you miss bartending?
I do. I miss the interaction between the guest and the bartender, and creating “dealer’s choice” cocktails. Name a spirit, and I’ll make a cocktail on the fly. One of my favorite things is to show somebody a beverage that they have never had and then to have them love it. I also really miss tasting new spirits.
What is your current position?
I am a brewer with Lost Forty. We have a small team and we are all required to wear many hats.
Was it a tough transition?
Absolutely! I had never done anything like this before. Brewing is tough work. But the transition paid off because I am enjoying my job more and more every day. I love the beverage industry, and it’s always been my dream to be on the production side of things.
Could you walk us through your typical day?
Each day is different and may involve building beer recipes, cleaning huge fermentation tanks, harvesting and managing our house yeast, keeping up on my education, packaging beer on our canning line, and of course, brewing the beer. It’s all tough work. Steel toed boots are a must. I definitely no longer need a gym membership.
What’s the toughest part about producing a massive amount of beer day-in and day-out?
Keeping our product consistent from batch to batch. There are so many factors that go into making sure each batch was as good as the last.
When you’re not working, how did you like to unwind?
I love spending time with my fiancée, Alexia. We like to work in the yard and cook at home. Getting out on my bicycle is also a must. Call me strange, but I also unwind by reading through my huge collection of beer, cocktail, and culinary books.
What is your dream vacation?
Belgium … to soak up their beer culture.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Nothing that crazy. Recently I did eat escargot for the first time. It was delicious. I’d like to try something weirder. Any ideas?
One thing most people don’t know about Dylan Yelenich is…
I know every word to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”