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Get You A Brewer That Can Do Both

John Borror might have one of the coolest nerd jobs around. And that’s saying a lot. Nerds with training get to do the coolest stuff. But they don’t always get to do it with beer. Borror gets to check off both of these boxes as the lead scientist for Hoax Lab at Actual Brewing. I [...]
Jeni Ruisch

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John Borror might have one of the coolest nerd jobs around. And that’s saying a lot.

Nerds with training get to do the coolest stuff. But they don’t always get to do it with beer. Borror gets to check off both of these boxes as the lead scientist for Hoax Lab at Actual Brewing.

I arrive at the back door of their warehouse, filled with huge tanks and vats, tubes running along the ceiling. A true commercial production center. After meeting the grainery cat and getting a colorful and varied flight of beers, we meander into the tasting room, past arcade game cabinets and an office. The hallway opens up into a large room filled with small tanks and all the coolest bells and whistles you never got to use in your freshman biology class.

As he leads me on a tour through his mad scientist lair behind the brewery, we walk among beakers and microscopes and machines that look like they could inject life into Frankenstein’s monster. Glass coils and dials hang on machines like medals on a serviceman’s jacket. Large latex gloves hang into a clear, sealed bin, attached to one wall by their hems. A sealed environment one can reach inside, which is what this lab is all about. Getting your hands dirty, figuratively and literally, while maintaining a pristine culture.

Borror explains the role and mechanisms of each appliance as we tour the space. He has a BioChem degree from OSU. We discuss the simple and ancient little creature at the heart of the brewing industry: yeast. He waxes poetic about genetic analytics and selective breeding. Eventually, they hope to lend their lab services to home brewers to define the parameters of their beers, from Alcohol By Volume, to International Bitter Units. The Actual Brewers are a helpful bunch, and hope eventually to assist and troubleshoot over a frothy pint and a centrifuge and use all their powers for good instead of evil. I sip Fat Julian out of a graduated cylinder as he explains how a gas chromatograph detects characteristics of beer, and a giant vintage claw machine shakes test tubes. This is why we science.

The minutiae of Borror’s work is the result of a plethora of other fields converging and trading their technologies. But these windows into the lifecycles of microscopic organisms are the modern manual labor and disease they dealt with day to day didn’t seem so bad. So really, it’s just the details that have changed.

Actual Brewing started as a passion project in the garage of Fred Lee. He is the man behind the curtain, the owner-operator. He is a brewer straight out of central casting. A burly man with a burlier beard and untied work boots. The business he runs uses the ancient techniques of fermentation. He lets his nose guide him, along with his taste buds. In the grainery works a cat who earns her kibble as a mouser—a partnership that led to the domestication of felines. And in the laboratory works a scientist. A decidedly more modern co-worker for a brewer. Actual Brewing and Hoax Labs straddle these worlds of ancient and modern seamlessly. The cat, the beards, and the beer build the bridge from the past, and the gas chromatograph and electrophoresis machine usher the practice assuredly into the future.

Into the laboratory strolls Lee. He greets us and places his hands on a structure sitting placidly among the glass and metal of the laboratory. It is a giant crate-like structure that appears to be fashioned of cement. When I ask what we are standing over, Fred beams. It’s a Yorkshire Square. An open-topped stone tank. The original brewing method, used from 500-1100 AD.  This ancient technology is how the first beers were made. Wild yeast would billow in, and the process of fermentation would happen naturally. Just like making friends over beers.

Across the road in an adjacent industrial park sits another business, Lang Stone. At 160 years and running, Lang is the oldest stone business in America, possibly the oldest business in Ohio. Over some Actual brews, Lee had discussed stone tanks with Larry First, the owner of Lang. First happened to have a line on some huge sandstone slabs, mined from the Dayton area.

As one beer led to another, ideas followed. Soon, the stone slabs had made their way into Lee’s possession, among the burners and beakers, where he plans on putting them to work.

“We’re gonna make some beers in this and see why they stopped using these stone tanks. Apparently these are bad, and we’re gonna find out why.”

“And if it turns out well?”

“Then we’re gonna drink the shit out of it.”

Spoken like a true timeless craftsman.

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Community

Nancy’s Home Cooking ensures no one goes hungry on Thanksgiving

Aaron Wetli

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Rick Hahn is passionate; passionate about his restaurant, passionate about his community, and most especially passionate about the assistance he offers to those in need.

Serving hearty breakfasts and delicious lunches (get the chicken and noodles), Nancy’s Home Cooking has been a Clintonville staple since it was opened by Nancy Kammerling in 1968. In 1970, Kammerling sold the business to Cindy King who ran the restaurant for nearly 40 years before niece Shelia Hahn took the reins.

Flash forward three years and both King and Hahn, neither of whom would turn away a customer in need, had passed away, leaving the future of the restaurant in doubt. This is where Shelia’s husband Rick stepped in.

“I married into the King family but still didn’t know anything about cooking,” Rick said. “I learned from watching a lot of cooking shows on television. I just felt that I had to keep Nancy’s going and to continue Cindy and Shelia’s commitment to serving the community.”

On his watch, Hahn has implemented a Pay It Forward program that serves between 10 and 20 customers a day. In short, for $5, you can purchase a future meal for someone in need; the only caveat is that the buyer has to write a message on a post it note that is delivered with the lunch.

“People can write whatever they would like,” Rick explained. “Some messages are funny and some are inspirational. Some are even movie quotes or jokes. The important thing is that the notes brighten the day of the person who receives it.”

It should be noted that these Pay It Forward meals are not just a box with a turkey sandwich, potato chips and an apple. Those who receive the meal can choose from chicken and noodles; biscuits and gravy; a breakfast platter; Southwest chili; grilled cheese; and bean soup and cornbread. The menu is seasonal and changes for appropriate outdoor weather conditions.

At the suggestion of girlfriend Richelle, Hahn also offers personal hygiene kits to those who ask. These kits, which come in drawstring backpacks, aren’t cheap to assemble (about $10 each) and contain a 30 day supply of soap, toothpaste, wipes, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo and other assorted toiletries. Women’s kits also contain feminine hygiene products.

“As for the kits, no one is turned away. You don’t even have to eat here to get one,” said Rick.

The real Belle of the Ball, though, is Rick’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Last year Rick, with help from his staff, family and neighborhood volunteers (different shifts of 50 each), served over 500 dinners to the community. Canopies, tables, and different stations line High St., the attitude is festive, and again, no one is turned away.

“On Thanksgiving, we are probably in violation of a few zoning laws, but I don’t think anyone really cares. All of the other businesses are closed that day and we have High Street to ourselves,” Rick said while laughing.

And what a Thanksgiving dinner it is. Last year’s menu contained the regular Thanksgiving staples—turkey, ham, rolls, green beans and mashed potatoes as well as pizza, shrimp cocktail, brisket, ribs, and lobster. Not too shabby.

“Not everyone who comes to the meal is homeless or even necessarily in need. Some of the attendees are elderly, have no family, or have no other place to go. I’m happy to give them a place to go,” said Rick through a smile.

It is safe to say that Rick has honored the legacy of the King Family.

Nancy’s Home Cooking is located at 3133 N High St. If you would like to donate money towards the Pay it Forward meals or Thanksgiving Dinner, you can do so in person or use PayPal.Me/nancyshomecooking. You can also drop off new/unused toiletries at Nancy’s from 6 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and from 8 a.m.–2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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Total ClusterTruck: “Ghost kitchen” focuses on delivery-based dining

J.R. McMillan

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When Chris Baggott returns from a run to the ClusterTruck kitchen, he’s almost always late, and his fellow drivers don’t mind letting him know it. Tight delivery times aren’t just an expectation for the fledgling food service. It’s part of the brand, serving fresh fare to waiting patrons, often in less time than the average restaurant.

So what’s ClusterTruck’s trick to providing such a wide range of high-quality cuisine at a record pace? There’s no restaurant, and their slowest delivery driver, Chris Baggott, is also the CEO.

“I don’t go out as much as I used to, just to keep my hands in it. But when I get back minutes later than our more experienced drivers, they laugh at me,” Baggott confessed. “If you’ve been doing this for a year, you’re good at it. You know which corner or which door, a little shortcut here and there. Faster delivery is what makes our business work.”

Photos by Zane Osler

Quietly creeping into the local culinary scene between the flood of innovative eateries and a fleet of food trucks are so-called “ghost kitchens.” They’re restaurants without the restaurant, focusing exclusively on delivery without the hassle and overhead of running a retail establishment. Homegrown concepts like Food Fort Columbus and 1400 Food Lab help industry entrepreneurs prepare meals with all of the precision of their retail rivals. Kitchen United, which already operates locations in Pasadena and Chicago, is scheduled to open their latest facility in Grandview Yard this year as the next phase of an ambitious nationwide expansion. For those struggling to find and afford suitable space, it’s the culinary equivalent of co- working and part of an already $100 million food delivery industry.

But ClusterTruck remains the original, unapologetic disruptor. Operating out of an inconspicuous warehouse near downtown Columbus, it relies on its own dedicated delivery team instead of contract food couriers to serve their hungry customers.

“There’s a broken model in third-party food delivery, from delays that affect quality to low courier morale. If you look at Yelp, a lot of the negative reviews are really criticisms of the delivery process,” he explained. “When I first looked at this market, the restaurants weren’t happy, the customers weren’t happy, and the drivers weren’t happy. So we deconstructed it and built a system that serves all of its constituents.”

That approach may sound a little wonky for a phantom food truck operator. But Baggott didn’t work his way into the restaurant business busing tables. His former life as a software creator proved both profitable and liberating, with earlier endeavors snapped up by Salesforce and Oracle for handsome sums. Along the way, he got back to basics, exploring his growing passion for sustainable agriculture, going as far as starting his own grocery store, then founding three farm-to-table restaurants from scratch. Baggott is as much a chameleon as an iconoclast, as comfortable in a conference room as a chicken coop. Even with dirt under his fingernails, the gears of an engineer are always turning.

“Let’s say the customer is five minutes away from the kitchen, and I have 30 minutes to get the order there. Our software manages our drivers, so we may not start making your food immediately,” Baggott noted. “Our driver may be able to make another delivery before your order is ready. We’ll start making your order when the driver is five minutes away. That way, you get your order on time, and fresh from the kitchen.”

Comfort food is evolving by definition. From hearty carbs to sophisticated salads, “comfort” is now more a measure of how food makes you feel, not an arbitrary attribute that’s the same for everyone. Meeting that ever-expanding expectation is also an edge for such hyper- efficient eateries.

“Ghost kitchens can iterate and innovate. We recently launched a gyro in Indianapolis. We also launched a protein bowl with hummus we make in house,” Baggott recalled. “That’s when we realized we already have pita, tahini, and chickpeas—we should make a falafel. Now, we’re testing recipes to launch a falafel.”

Not all revelations are as obvious or unemotional. The Columbus customer base continues to grow, as are operations in Denver, Kansas City, and the original location in Indianapolis. But ClusterTruck locations in Cleveland and Minneapolis were temporarily suspended. Some menu items have also gone away when they didn’t make the cut, including their take on Johnny Marzetti.

“Dropping Johnny Marzetti was heartbreaking for me because we already had all of the ingredients. I loved it, but it just didn’t sell. But a big advantage we have over a brick-and-mortar restaurant is access to data. A traditional restaurant may launch a new menu item and sell 500 the first day,” he explained. “But they can’t see who orders it again, or worse, who ordered it and never came back. All of those transactions are anonymous. We see everything, order rates and reorder rates. We don’t just know what sells, we know how it impacts overall customer experience.”

ClusterTruck launched a tofu kimchi burrito that initially sold very well, but then seemed to taper off. They dropped it, but once they dug into the data, they discovered existing customers returned, but customers whose first order was the ill-fated burrito didn’t. Their online menu has since become more adaptive, featuring items with higher rates of reorder for new customers, something typical restaurants just can’t do, and an insight they probably would have missed.

“One of the challenges with Cleveland and Minneapolis was building the brand. We were great at building kitchens and software, but frankly, we weren’t great at marketing because what we do is so different,” he noted. “We haven’t abandoned those cities, we’re just refining our marketing before we reopen. It’s one of the advantages third-party food delivery services like Grubhub and DoorDash have. They’re just adding a new service to an existing restaurant. We have to introduce a whole new brand.”

The funny thing about brands is that they aren’t how you view your company, it’s how others view you. And that’s also an inherent challenge for restaurants minus retail, even as the market for prepared foods booms. Catering is key for most ghost kitchens, and ClusterTruck tapped into it early, making group orders easier for folks with restrictive and selective diets, even offering access through the popular office collaboration platform Slack. Now about a third of sales come from group orders. But every new business needs a little luck and a leap of faith. Fast, free delivery still came down to customers meeting couriers at the curb, a hunch that paid off.

“That’s our entire business model, and the one thing we couldn’t know for certain before we launched if customers would be willing to do. It’s why our drivers get four to six, even eight deliveries an hour, instead of just one or two,” Baggott explained. “We’ve had more than a million deliveries and I can count on one hand the number of complaints we’ve had about having to meet the driver. When it comes to quality, every efficiency matters. It’s why customers are as much a part of our success as our staff and our software. They come to us, online and outside, and that’s what makes ClusterTruck work.”

For menus and ordering, visit clustertruck.com.

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News

Dear I-670 drivers, your lives may never be the same

614now Staff

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Notice anything different on your I-670 and/or I-270 commute lately? Could be the nine 600-square-foot, 110,000-pound digital signs towering over the freeway.

These signs display information about the first ever Ohio SmartLane.

The I-670 "SmartLane" is the left shoulder that will be open when traffic slows to a crawl. It begins just east of I-71 in downtown Columbus and extends to I-270 on the East Side.

https://twitter.com/ODOT_Columbus/status/1187093122188079104

The SmartLane will be closed most of the time, indicated by a red X. But when traffic dips below 50 mph, The Dispatch reports traffic monitors will send signals to the overhead signs to open the SmartLane. When open, the speed limit is 45 mph.

“It might sound counter-intuitive, but studies have shown traveling at slower speeds actually keeps traffic moving better because it avoids the 'stop and go' conditions which can cause more accidents," said ODOT Director Jerry Wray. "Ultimately, we believe the combination of the extra travel lane and the reduced speed limits will allow for a more reliable commute for travelers along that route."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca-LdUrsmnc#action=share

ODOT has installed more than 30 traffic cameras to monitor the lane for any obstructions, reports The Dispatch. The right shoulder of I-670 will be free for disabled vehicles to use.

The $61 million project is officially complete. Visit ODOT.com for more information on the project and the new traffic patterns.

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