A little under four years ago, Damian Dajcz walked into Crooked Run Brewing looking to buy some beer – not for himself, per se, but a restaurant he was soon to open.
It was pouring outside, the kind of weather that keeps most patrons at home, but this would wind up being a blessing in disguise. With few others around, he found a captive audience in his bartender: Crooked Run co-founder Jake Endres.
These sorts of pitches weren’t unusual to Endres. In fact, people often asked about procuring his beer for their establishments. Usually, however, they weren’t particularly serious. And even if they were, Crooked Run didn’t really have the capacity to provide them with beer. At the time, it was still operating as nano brewery, producing beer on a small three-barrel system, then serving the vast majority of it in a cozy 600-square-foot Leesburg tasting room.
But Dajcz’s concept for authentic, street-style Mexican tacos immediately resonated with Endres. Back in high school, he used to frequent a similarly minded, hole-in-the-wall taqueria near the Leesburg ski shop where he worked.
“I always thought that concept was really, really good,” Endres shares, “so when Damian described it to me, I was like, ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I know that’s going to be a hit.”
Not too long after, Crooked Run began sending beer to Dajcz’s Señor Ramon Taqueria. In fact, the taco shop was only account to whom the small brewery would send beer. And Endres was right: The restaurant was a hit.
Almost a year later, Crooked Run was planning to open a new production facility and larger tasting room 12 miles away in Sterling, and it was Endres and his partner Lee Rogan’s turn to approach Dajcz. They asked the Argentina-born chef if he would consider permanently stationing a food truck outside the brewery. Dajcz countered with a slightly different idea: Was there a way to build a Señor Ramon Taqueria within Crooked Run?
“We were like, ‘We think so. Let us check to make sure there’s a way that works legally,’” Endres recalls. “It ended up being a little complex, but we did it.”
And so it came to be that Crooked Run’s Sterling location – a partnership between one of area’s best brewery’s and one of its best taquerias – became a gem of the greater DC beer scene.
Since opening in the summer of 2017, the brewery-cum-taqueria is rarely less than half-full. Some come for the beer – a decidedly au courant blend of hazy IPAs, fruited sours ales, and adjunct stouts, along with a sprinkle of traditional and traditional-adjacent styles, like hefeweizen and New Zealand-style pilsner. Some come for the tacos, tortas, and beloved corn nuggets. Most come for both.
“Even if our beer sucked, we’d still do really well,” Endres quips. “But the combination of good beer and good food really makes us stand out.”
Now, two years after first joining forces, Crooked Run and Dajcz are back at again, looking to further cement 22455 Davis Drive as a culinary destination with the opening of Daybreak Biscuit Company, a Southern chicken-and-biscuits joint with a West Coast influence.
Daybreak fills a tall, roomy, 7,000-square-feet warehouse space next to Crooked Run. It’s not alone, either. The former flight school property is also home to another new concept: Nectar, a cocktail bar specializing in cold-pressed juices and mimosas.
Though their design may evoke shipping containers, Daybreak and Nectar represent a bold and outside-the-box expansion for Crooked Run at a time when most breweries are content to merely rely on a rotating cast of food trucks. Last September, Endres wrote that “complacency kills businesses” in a blog post on the craft beer bubble, and now Crooked Run has taken a big swing to back up that philosophy.
The restaurants also mark the first proper partnership between Crooked Run and Dajcz. (Señor Ramon Taqueria technically subleases its space within the brewery.)
“We always wanted to work together – that was just the arrangement we devised before we got a little more comfortable with each other,” Endres explains.
The Crooked Run co-founder – who also manages the brewery’s production and oversees sales – says the inspiration for Daybreak and Nectar came from time spent in the field.
“Part of my job is to go out and about – meet people, drink beer, talk to consumers,” says Endres. “I try to keep my finger on the pulse of what people are looking for. I feel like the concepts I wanted to do for this space were severely missing from this area. I hadn’t seen anyone do something like Nectar period.”
Endres says the concepts initially sounded “a little esoteric” to Rogan and Dajcz, but they made more sense in the context of restaurant industry trends and the Northern Virginia landscape.
“I really love working with both my partners, and I think they really trust my ideas,” he continues. “Damian wasn’t super familiar with the chicken, biscuits, and gravy concept, but he’s very good at putting together synergistic ideas that make sense – he got it in two seconds.”
Daybreak is opening with about 50% of its planned menu. Endres says it intends to add ceviche, salads, and “a lot of stuff using burrata and avocado.” (The last addition reflects an understanding of the brunch crowd, though ceviche indicates a desire to offer more than the official meal of Sundays.)
Currently empty, a station in a corner near the entrance will host a third mini-concept, Groove Stand, a shaved mango bar with savory toppings. It’s an idea that Dajcz nicked from South Florida, where he spends a fair amount of time, often en route to his wife’s native Antigua. Likewise, some of the décor – specifically, a wall covered in faux hedge and various boutique mirrors – draws inspiration from his visits to Miami.
On the whole, though, Rogan – who has seven years of experience in carpentry – and Dajcz sought to give the space a rustic industrial look.
“It allows you to have a place that looks cool but without spending a ton of money,” says Endres, who moved back in with family to save money for the expansion. “It’s almost like an outdoor beer garden but inside.”
While Endres ceded most of the buildout to his partners, he was intimately involved in developing Nectar, including its four current juice blends, all of which have numerous fruit and vegetable components.
With a flavor reminiscent of lemonade, Green is composed of green apples, kale, celery, cucumbers, lemons, and ginger. Blaze, meanwhile, is constructed from passion fruit, pineapple, red apple, and lime. These juices come on their own for $6 or can be melded with champagne for a reasonable $8.
“They make just about the best mimosas I’ve ever had – at a good price point, too,” says Endres. “We don’t want to gouge people. I’ve been to so many brunch places where I look at my bill at the end and I’ve paid 60 bucks for not all that much stuff. I want this to be affordable, because we are in warehouse space and the rent is low.”
Nectar’s initial five cocktail were developed in concert with Service Bar’s Glendon Hartley, though Endres says he hopes bartenders will “do their thing” with juices and drinks in the future. (Wreck of the Zephyr – a vibrantly red blend of pisco, sparkling wine, lemon juice, strawberry syrup, and Szechuan peppercorn served on the tocks in an oversized glass – might be one of the most refreshing beverages I’ve ever had.)
Nectar’s liquor license also allows Endres to bring in beer from other breweries. The co-founder plans to host occasional tap takeovers with out-of-market friends, in addition to offering “cool Continental European beers” regularly. (He tapped Brasserie Dubuisson’s Surfine saison this weekend.)
“My goal is to bring in interesting beers that people don’t normally encounter – something like ChurchKey, but in our area,” he explains. “But Nectar’s focus is definitely not beer; the beer is a compliment to everything thing else.”
In line with its casual food hall vibe, both Daybreak and Nectar will operate with counter service and open seating. With a double door joining the spaces, patrons will be allowed to take food and drink between the two.
“Really, this is a 300-seat restaurant,” Endres says of the combined spaces. “At the very least, this space was necessary for overflow from the tasting room, but we wanted to make it something its own right.”
At 1,400-square-feet, Crooked Run’s tasting room has always felt a little snug, but that was a product less of personal preference than a zoning regulation dictating that the room not exceed 20% of the brewery’s total square footage.
“Although [the tasting room] is a little undersized, I am extremely grateful that those are the regulations because I didn’t realized how much room we’d need in the back for brewing,” Endres explains. “Once we get into cans and once we started growing beyond the point we thought we’d be at, we needed every last bit of that.”
For now, Daybreak will offer its full menu from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and then an abridged menu in the evening. Nectar is open from 9:00 a.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. These hours should change as the restaurants are able to recruit more staff.
Endres also hopes to put the spaces “really over-the-top sound system” to use with live concerts – perhaps even ticketed events – in the near future. On the quieter end of the spectrum, you can expect a pop-up espresso bar on Saturdays.
“It only real makes sense for us to have it during our peak hours,” Endres explains. “It’s great synergy to have a pop-up because we don’t want to put the effort into the training and expensive equipment.”
For the Crooked Run co-founder, it often comes back to two things: synergy and growth.
“We haven’t paid ourselves very much for six years, but that’s what you do when you’re in growth stage,” he tells me later. “As long as there’s potential to expand and keep growing things, you can make more money in the future.”
With beer and food as tasty as they’re providing, that future should come soon for Crooked Run and Dajcz.