By Martin Johnson
Zagat Stories makes coverage of Black subjects a priority year round, along with people and subjects underrepresented in media generally. In recognition of Black History Month 2021, all Zagat Stories in February will focus exclusively on interviews with Black chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders, brewers, bakers, and others in and around hospitality.
In the past decade, New York City has gone from a craft beer backwater with only three breweries in the five boroughs, to a beer-brewing epicenter with more than three dozen. Only one of these new breweries is helmed by an African-American and located in a predominantly Black community. In two years, Christopher Gandsy has built DaleView Biscuits and Beer into a Nostrand Avenue hotspot, featuring gluten-free biscuit sandwiches (inspired by his wife’s gluten allergies) and craft beer brewed in his two-barrel system.
My grandmother was a big inspiration for me. She had a garden in the back. There were always fresh vegetables like collard greens and okra, even though I only liked the fried okra. Anything she put her hands on, she could make a meal out of it. She passed that enthusiasm and skill on—pretty much all of her kids can cook. My family in general is full of culinary inspiration. There are some things my grandmother does better than my mom. And some things my mom does better than my grandmother, but I would never say what.
I’m a classically trained bass player. But I decided when I graduated college that music wasn’t going to be my way of making a living. I get very nervous when it comes time to audition. Instead, I went to work in retail clothing. I was working in an American Eagle in Atlanta, and they were opening their first flagship store in New York. It was about 16 years ago. I was at a general manager’s conference, and I saw the director for the zone, and he said, “Do you want to move to New York and help us open the store?” Hell yes!
I never planned on opening any type of food establishment or brewery ever in my life. I always thought you have to be a crazy person to do that. It all happened organically. It started off with me doing popups in the house. My wife left for an educational conference, I believe in either Iceland or the Netherlands. It was like, you know what, I don’t feel like going anywhere this weekend, with me and the kids. I’m gonna do a Facebook event and invite people over. But this time, instead of giving away free food like we always do, you have to pay for this food. People came, and they were hanging out in the living room talking just like we were having a normal get-together.
About nine years ago, I got a homebrew kit—a Mr. Beer—as a gift. Prior to that I really wasn’t a beer drinker. I was drinking Bourbon or whiskey. I was starting to read about beer online. l am a hobbyist—I try anything. I’ll pick up a hobby and start doing it.
That Mr. Beer kit came with ingredients for an IPA. It tasted all right, so I purchased a couple of more kits for different styles. After the third or fourth time, I thought to myself, “Making beer can’t be this easy.”
I started researching. Then I went to the homebrew shop, and I ended up buying a bag of grain. Since I started making beer at the time, I started tasting and drinking more beer, different beer. I really started gravitating towards porters, especially Baltic porters, and dark Belgians. I was really digging those. And then also saisons, and for some reason cream ales were my thing too. I started brewing things I liked to brew—the funkier the better. And I started brewing brown ales. Anything that wasn’t really mainstream were the beers that I really was enjoying, and really drinking, and really buying. And that’s how I started brewing it myself.
Everybody enjoyed the food at the popup, so I did it again. The second time I did it, I had brewed beer to go with it. That’s how it became biscuits and beer. I brewed a brown ale and did the biscuits. I didn’t sell the beer. If you came, you could drink as much beer as you wanted.
This was in 2017. There were pictures of the popups on Facebook, and the people behind a series of Foodie Fridays at Ellis Island popups called me. I ended up doing a Friday, then another Friday, and next thing, I’m doing it for the whole summer, even into the fall.
Then I decided I’m gonna find a place to open. And here we are. I was also blessed to have somebody to invest, and that helped me get this off the ground. I was still working at The Gap at the time. We opened September 2018. It took a lot longer than I expected.
We started growing fast—people hadn’t heard of a gluten-free biscuit place, and even better, some didn’t realize it was gluten-free food. Then the following February, we finally got our farm brewery license. That’s when we started making beers.
There weren’t many hurdles before I did my first popup. I figured out the right flour to use for the biscuits. I kept playing with it, and as time went from me doing popups in my house and doing in Foodie Fridays at Ellis Island, I was able to adjust the recipe accordingly. I went through probably seven or eight different brands of gluten-free flour before I found the right one, which tastes as close to a gluten biscuit as you possibly can.
The menu we created was from some of the things I was already doing. I knew I wanted a fried chicken biscuit. And then the Haven biscuit—hot chicken and bacon—and the Shelton biscuit—hot chicken, bacon, avocado, and blue cheese dressing. Those are my kids’ names, and those are the things they want on their biscuits. At the popups, people suggested more biscuits. I decided what I liked, what I didn’t like, and we built the menu from there.
The pandemic was a big challenge, a big big challenge. We had to pivot to takeout only, and to delivery, which I didn’t want to do. Some of our biscuits are best eaten right away. I was worried they would lose some of the texture if they were delivered. But the situation forced us to expand our menu to do chicken and biscuits and even chicken and waffles.
We added an adjacent storefront as part of our expansion. It’s going to be a New York State-geared beer shop. There are so many great beers in New York State that we don’t know and we don’t really see here. I’m also going to start canning a bit more of my beer, mostly for grab and go.
We did one collaboration brew with Fifth Hammer. I know Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett from the NYC Brewer’s Guild. Mary’s from Georgia, and Chris is from the Southern Hemisphere, so we decided to make a beer that reflected where we were from—a sour that used fruits found in those regions.
We haven’t looked to do other collaborations because we’re focused on getting our beers up and running. We want to be known for our own beers rather than just those we collaborate with other brewers on. We’re trying to make beers palatable to the community. I want to brew beer that can help bridge the gap between the neighborhood and craft beer community.