Hops Kitchen’s vibrant menus bring a fresh beat to the culinary scene
When Chef Michael Pustai opened Hops Kitchen at Basic City Beer Co in 2017, it was the first business he’d ever launched. With open air kitchens and no employees, he was propelled by a vision and a love of beautifully crafted, internationally-inspired cuisine. Word of his flavorful menus spread quickly, and today you can find his food not only at their in-house restaurant at Basic City, but also at Skipping Rock Brewery in Staunton, Pro Re Nata Farm Brewery in Crozet, and as delivery to Blue Toad Brewery in Waynesboro.
Hops Kitchen’s momentum extends beyond the region’s rising star microbreweries. From the rock and roll of Bonnaroo Music Festival, to Country Thunder and LOCKN’ Festival, Hops Kitchen is traveling to the places that, until he arrived with his fresh food and flavor, he had always described as “a dream to even just attend.”
Locally Grounded, Internationally Flavored
At Hops Kitchen, the menu reflects both a lifetime of travel and a love of family. Mike’s culinary career began in junior high before following an ever adventurous path through Central America, Southern Florida, New Mexico, and Southeast Asia, where he met and married his wife. From summers as a head chef on islands in Ohio, to winters as front-of-house staff in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Mike sampled every aspect of restaurant operations, carrying with him to each location the hope of one day opening his own restaurant.
The pull to the Shenandoah Valley came initially from family. His mother lived here, and her awareness of the burgeoning brewery scene enticed Mike to visit the regional breweries. He shared his vision with the founder of Basic City Beer Co, and quickly hog roasts turned to food trucks, followed by an enclosed and year-round establishment. As other breweries noticed his menu and flavor, they approached him for partnerships and expansions. With Basic City as the flagship, a new central kitchen is helping Hops Kitchen expand into new locations, catering opportunities, and festival excursions.
Throughout it all, family and passion continue to power his business. When Hops Kitchen launched at Basic City, it began with only Mike and his wife as workers. Today, he’s grown to 17 employees and counting. His two brothers and father join him for cooking and serving at festivals, and Mike’s mother helps drive the creativity and vision of the business. His children, 12 and 8 years old, are growing up with a love of both the music and the food that fuels Hops Kitchen.
Adaptation + Partnership = Secrets to Success
When sharing his tips for a growing small business, Mike says “Don’t try to force a concept or niche. Let it evolve on its own.” Reflecting back on the growth and expansion of the Hops Kitchen, Mike says “Today’s menu would never have worked on Day 1.”
For Mike, menu planning is a deep part of the craft of great food, and it’s a craft informed by collaboration. At Basic City Beer Co, many of their dishes incorporate specific beers from the brewery, including their brewery-crafted nachos featuring pulled pork, bacon jam, and beer cheese, voted the Best Nachos in Virginia by the Food Network. Mike’s extensive traveling means he draws from a wide variety of culinary inspirations, enabling themed pop-ups, fusion catering, and unexpected festival fare, all customized to the event or location he’s cooking. His dishes taste simultaneously unlike anything else in the region and perfectly suited to their locations.
His style of partnership extends beyond menu planning, to supporting employees and growing community. Mike dreams of investing in high school students who choose to work in Hops Kitchen, giving them the same training and opportunities that helped him found his own restaurant. He also shares his best marketing advice: “Be involved with the City. They are your best promoters.” From promotions to awards, local networks have helped drive much of Hops Kitchen’s outreach successes.
“We don’t spend a lot on marketing,” says Mike. “But we do vibrant menus and we are a part of community events. And, most of all, we love what we do.”
To Learn More about Hops Kitchen check out their website at Hops-Kitchen.com or visit their Basic City Beer Co location at 1010 E. Main Street, Waynesboro, Virginia. To learn more about the entrepreneurs that are growing Waynesboro’s local economy, check back for future profiles at GrowWaynesboro.com