At the start of 2020, Joe Ruiz felt like his life was in a place of relative comfort, stability, and freedom. He had worked for three decades as a consultant for the restaurant, logistics, and aerospace industries. His kids were growing up and getting ready for college. And then a pandemic hit and suddenly companies started drastically downsizing their consultants.
So what did he do? He decided to follow his lifelong passion and open a brewery.
Ruiz met with good friends Jay Jarvis, a construction-hardened church builder who had been his friend since high school in Lake Havasu, and Tim Burke, a managerial go-getter, over lunch in December 2020. At the meeting, he pitched his friends on the idea of opening up a brewery together, taking years worth of passion for the restaurant industry and beer to the next level. The answer was a resounding “f*ck yes.”
Over the next few months, Joe traveled the country, visiting prospective colleges and going on tours with his daughter. In that time, he visited over a hundred breweries, interviewing dozens of brewers and brewery managers. While his daughter was evaluating schools, he was evaluating what works and what doesn’t work in the brewing industry.
Upon his return, it was time to revisit the business plan. They needed a larger brew system to accommodate the crowds they anticipated. They needed to serve good food – elevated pub food like pork belly bites, bison burgers, and NY-style pizza – which also meant acquiring a pizza oven. Most importantly, all the beer needed to be drinkable and appeal to people with a wide variety of palates.
Joe had been brewing beer on and off since his college days in Colorado in the mid-’80s, so this world wasn’t new to him. But three decades later, he was able to see more clearly that he didn’t want to just open up a brewery. He wanted to open up breweries.
It was ambitious, but they were uniquely situated in a way that most freshman brewery owners don’t get to be. Their business plan was sound, Joe had decades worth of experience helping to make businesses profitable, Jay had a history of constructing buildings from the ground up, and Tim was a young buck who could take the operational reins after years of working in consumer electronics operations. Between him, Jay, and Tim, they needed four more investors – and they got them in a week.
The decision to use the name Lone Wolf Brewing Co. was multifold. Not only had Joe been called a lone wolf a lot in his career, but the name called out the very nature of what they wanted to bring back to the community. “The Den” would be a place for people to let loose, howl at the moon, and know they had their community and their pack around them.
Next came finding a location.
By the time all was said and done, they looked at over 50 properties: Ontario. Inland Empire. Newport Beach. Huntington Beach. San Juan Capistrano. Pomona. And finally, they settled in on the “Land of Gracious Living”, Yorba Linda in northeastern Orange County. A huge industrial space, high ceilings, lots of parking, and busy intersections. The guys knew this was it; Lone Wolf Brewing signed their lease in September 2021. Then, led by Jay, the team started construction immediately.
The Lone Wolf team had to work from the ground up to transform the space into a destination. They wanted every piece of the rustic-industrial brewery to encourage conversation; the brewhouse would be viewable from the dining room, every table would be handmade, and they envisioned a hand-poured epoxy and concrete bar top. Then, they added expansive glass garage doors to capture the surrounding hills and views.
Even the tanks themselves come with a story: Joe and Jay drove them down from Northern California in the bed of Jay’s trailer and, along the way, played a prank at a brewery pretending they were there to deliver tanks. They let that brewery sweat and panic for just a few minutes until they couldn’t keep it together any longer. This is just one of what Joe, Jay, and Tim hope will be many more adventures in their quest to keep costs down and bring their own individual flair to the brewery.
While the process of building out the brewery took longer than expected, the extra 6 months have paid off for building up hype in Yorba Linda. More than 2500 people have popped their heads in over the last few months to see the location and talk to the team in anticipation of their grand opening.
The flagship location, known as “The Den,” is all about bringing the community back inside. The goal is to create a place for families, where people can walk in and feel like they’re home. Joe spoke about childhood evenings in Brooklyn where going out was a social occasion. Parents would gather together and hang out, and the kids would be free to run around and play in a safe environment. That’s why “The Den” is focusing on being a place for all members of the community, with beer and wine for adults, games for kids, and a dog-friendly 1700 square foot patio. In fact, the majority of tables at Lone Wolf are designed to be communal so patrons can spend time together with friends, or meet strangers who could become friends.
Joe emphasized that beertenders won’t just be behind the counter – they’ll be sitting down with strangers, learning their stories and integrating themselves into the community. From Jenga and cornhole, to drunken Shakespearan Theatre and live music, Lone Wolf is already leaning into their role as a community hub. In addition, Lone Wolf wants to pay tribute to the larger veteran community and is planning to do a fundraiser to benefit veterans with their 13-beer pack (with proceeds from the 13th beer going to a Veterans organization).
But even with the ambitious plans, Joe knows it can’t happen overnight.
“We’re doing all our own construction to save on costs,” he said. “And when we do distribution, we gotta do it right – finding a second location with a huge system so we don’t get sucked dry. Even the reasoning behind garage doors was proactive – if something happens with COVID, we can stay open.”
On a recent trip to Lone Wolf, we had a profound sense that Joe’s business savvy, Jay’s construction skills, and Tim’s operational instincts were going to lead them to success. That’s why they are already looking at opportunities to open multiple locations around the United States in the upcoming years. While we were interviewing, two strangers came up to look through the windows toward the end of our visit. Joe took the time to have them try some beer and give them a tour. Even more evidence of the neighborhood’s excitement about the opening.
Lone Wolf soft opens this Sunday, October 16th. We can’t think of a better handmade bartop to sidle up to and enjoy food and drink, and get a glimpse of the community the team is looking to build.