Eating Out: W Brewing's family flavor, plus Taco Bell, Twinkies

FresnoFebruary 10, 2014 

There are family businesses and then there are businesses that are all about family. W Brewing of Clovis is the latter.

The brewery that makes 559 beer is run by Rhett Williams and his mom, Cheryl Gomes Williams — with a lot of help from other family members.

From a little blue warehouse on Tollhouse Road near Sunnyside Avenue, the Williams family makes beer with a decidedly Clovis flavor. They make the 559 CIA, short for Clovis Independence Ale. And there's the 559 RFA for raisin-farmer ale, a reference to Rhett's grandfather.

The brewery is the brainchild of 27-year-old Rhett, a 2004 Clovis West High grad. When he was 18, his mom worked for an exchange-student program and would take Rhett to Germany, leaving him with families while she worked.

"He would make friends with all the students and they'd say 'Let's go to the local pub,' " she says, noting that the drinking age in Germany is 16. "I'd come back and find him with the German brewmaster."

Fast forward a few years and Rhett is experimenting with brewing beer in his parents' kitchen and mom is fussing about his equipment blocking the cereal.

In 2009, Rhett officially started the company. It's been growing ever since, showing up on tap at restaurants and in bottles on store shelves.

You can find 559 beer at the Food 4 Less at Shepherd and Chestnut avenues and Costco stores in Fresno and Clovis. It's on tap at some local restaurants, including Westwoods BBQ & Spice Co., Trelio, Eureka Burger and the newly opened House of JuJu on Pollasky Avenue in Clovis.

Their business is still small. Rhett delivers everything from his F-150 pickup.

There are little reflections of the Williams family everywhere in this company. The raisin-farmer ale is a homage to Rhett's grandfather and Cheryl's dad — Alvin P. Gomes, a Caruthers raisin farmer who died in October.

In the days before his grandfather died, Rhett would visit daily, bringing him a maple bar and chatting about the brewery. He remembers his grandpa saying: "You're going to go broke buying doughnuts every day. Better get to work."

The forklift Rhett uses at the warehouse was his inheritance from his grandfather.

The bulldozer image on the 559 CIA bottle stems from the nickname "Dozer" his brother Ryan Williams gave him after he knocked over all of Ryan's toys as a kid. Ryan, who lives in Palo Alto, designed the labels for the bottles.

Their dad, Randy Williams, is involved in the business behind the scenes, too, quietly offering dad-like advice.

And mom is everywhere, hitting the pavement to market the brewery and scouring the Valley for out-of-season figs in January for the 559 Old Fig Stout.

"She knows what she's doing," Rhett says of his mom.

She does all of it on top of her job helping special education and other students in Clovis Unified classrooms.

Mother and son are a team. The respect they have for each other is palpable, and at times they seem more like friends than parent and child.

Chef Justin Shannon and his colleagues sought out W Brewing when they opened Westwoods, which carries only California beers on tap.

"They're really cool people," Shannon said. "They're really gracious. They're like normal people."

Westwoods carries 559 Fig Garden Stout, and Pismo's Coastal Grill, where Shannon is also chef, will soon carry a 559 beer, too.

Right now the family is focusing on building the brand through fundraisers and with Thursday night events open to the public. The casual events happen in the brewery, which is tucked away in a row of warehouses. Visitors can taste and buy the beer and mingle next to the tanks it's made in. A friend of Rhett's plays jazz. There's been a food truck there the past few times.

The next events are from 5-7 p.m. this Thursday and Feb. 27. You can keep track of upcoming events on their website at drinkthisbrew.com.

After stumbling upon a Nashville agent while vacationing at the coast, the family hosted Dean Sams, who plays the keyboard for country band Lonestar, at a recent brewery event. They expect to host more national musicians in the months to come. The Thursday night events keep growing.

"I've outgrown the pantry," Rhett says.

Taco Bell

Social media was abuzz when the Taco Bell at McKinley and Blackstone avenues was torn down. It was rebuilt and reopened last week, much to the relief of city college students and late-night munchies seekers.

It looks quite a bit a different than your typical Taco Bell. It's one of the company's newer designs, with a square, understated look. It has lots of plugs and is in the process of getting wifi.

Twinkies & Big Lots

Cheap Twinkies are back. When Hostess went bankrupt in late 2012 and shut down Twinkie-making operations, the company closed about 600 Hostess Thrift Outlets selling discount Twinkies and other Hostess snacks.

Now, you can buy those discounted Twinkies again.

Big Lots announced it is the official home of Hostess thrift outlet now. That means customers can find Twinkies, CupCakes, Zingers, Fruit Pies and other Hostess snacks at up to 40% off at Big Lots stores.

The assortment varies by store and by week. The snacks typically are within two weeks of their expiration date — which is longer than what the outlet stores offered, according to Big Lots.

Fresno food app

Here's an app you may end up using to order your food some day.

MenuFire is a mobile application being developed by Fresno State students that helps restaurants that don't have the ability to create their own online ordering systems. It allows hungry customers to locate nearby restaurants, order their food and pay for it via the app.

Fresno State student Renan de Lima, a junior business finance major from Tulare, pitched this idea at California State University, Monterey Bay's Startup Weekend last month and it was chosen as one of 10 finalists for development.

He and junior Matt Peranick, an entrepreneurship major from Fresno, worked with a team of six students to create a working prototype in 54 hours during the event.

The app is not available to the public yet. The team plans to apply for funding to get the idea going and is looking for restaurants to test the app. Interested restaurateurs can call the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at (559) 294-2045.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6431, bclough@fresnobee.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter. Read her blog on fresnobeehive.com.

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