“There are two reasons why most people end up coming to Zurich, it’s a either a woman or a job, it my case it was a woman.”
Aaron Willits | Grain
It was a relationship that did not last, but it lead American chef Aaron Willits on an incredible journey that is now in its 15th year. During this time, a young man from Portland, Oregon created a catering empire, started a brewery and restaurant.It all started in 2004 when Josh Armstrong, one of the partners at Grain, and Aaron started their catering company, Passion Food. They both were working in hospitality at different places and both quickly came to the conclusion that they were both being paid very little for the amount of work they were doing. They also noticed there were no catering companies that spoke fluent English, that could engage with a growing number of expats in Zurich, so they decided to fill in the gap.
“It was very high-end, Michelin star level catering. We would go into people’s homes and do up to 10 course bespoke menus.”
It was at one of their catering events that they met the Director of the Riverside School in Zug, and he made them a proposal: His chef had broken a leg and he needed a replacement to fill in. So he asked Josh and Aaron to take over the kitchen to serve school lunch, and in return, he would give them the kitchen rent free, to use whenever they wanted.It was a deal too good to pass up, so just like that they got in doing school meals as well. It did not take long for the word to spread about how good their food was. By Spring 2006, the school catering side of the business had exploded.
“Within in 6 months up to that point we had grown over 800% and today we cover 8 international schools in Zurich, Zug and Basel with 40 employees.”
It was pure hard work and determination that got Aaron and his partners to this stage. They had created a well oil machine and with a steady stream of business, the day-to-day operations were becoming less appealing.
“We started to get a little bored with catering, and on the weekends we started messing around with home brewing.”
Josh and Aaron started to make beer that they could not find locally. They realized they had gotten the hang of it, when their 20-liter batches started disappearing before they could brew another one.
“We quickly moved to 30 liters and then 60 liters and rapidly to 100 liters!”
Bachweg | Grain | TookTook
All of this was done in the basement of their headquarters. What started out as pet project and storage for their catering, is now a full-fledged micro- brewery, which they named Bachweg, that currently has a brewing capacity of 500-1000 liters.Bachweg is now among the leading craft breweries in Zurich. In 1995 there were 33 registered breweries. Now there are over 1200. With this sudden rise of local beers the idea of Grain started to take shape.
They eventually found their space through some contacts at Felschlossen, the largest brewery in Switzerland. The idea was to create a family-friendly community environment, for folks to get together and explore beers.
In order to run the gastro pub, Aaron convinced Dave Court and Brian Dempsey to join the team. Dave gave Aaron his first job at Juanitos in Zug, and Brian and Aaron had worked together at Pickwicks pub in Zug back in 2004. They have all been friends ever since and are veterans of the Zurich hospitality trade.The food follows a typical gastro pub model, geared towards high quality comfort food. In Grain’s case it has a major focus towards North America, with European and Mediterranean influences. The central theme of the menu revolves around beer, where each dish has elements of beer or malt.They initially started with a refined menu, but quickly realised that it did not fit with in the ambience they wanted to create.
“From day one, I made it clear to service that I did not want the place to be stiff. I wanted it to feel like a place, where you can laugh out loud.”
So they toned it down, to make the menu a bit more rustic with adding things like their 20-hour slow cooked ribs.
“We wanted people to be relaxed, get dirty and just really be comfortable.”
Freshly ground 200g beef patty that has been perfectly combined with homemade smoked onion aioli, rocket salad, and Grain’s signature house BBQ sauce to cut and cleans the palate after an explosion of flavour.
Perfectly cooked and topped with freshly diced tomato, onion, capers and olives, Its combinations will place you smelling the sea breeze far from Zurich.
Not just for Neanderthals. this is guaranteed to fall right of the bone. Accompanied with tzatziki, cucumber, tomato and freshly homemade baked pita. It's is one of the most popular plates at the Grain.
20-hour smoked ribs in their signature homemade BBQ sauce. It had the right elements of southern smoke and just ropes in you in for more. With sides of cherry tomatoes, Cole slaw, and our triple cooked chips, it is a wholesome meal.
The gastro pub model is nothing new and cooking with beer has been done for centuries. It is the creative side at Grain, that is bringing something interesting to Zurich’s ever evolving dining culture.