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SCV couple brews up success

Rob and Laina McFerren give back

Posted: September 9, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 9, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Rob and Laina McFerren serve Wolf Creek beer.

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The statistics for restaurant success aren’t very encouraging for many start up entrepreneurs.

However, Rob and Laina McFerren, owners of Wolf Creek Restaurant and Brewery, continue to beat the dismal odds.

It may be because they not only have worked in restaurants for most of their lives, but their love affair also started at a restaurant where they both worked. The fact Rob McFerren is a “rocket scientist” could also factor into their successful formula.

Wolf Creek Restaurant in Valencia celebrated its 15th anniversary this year.

It opened on April Fool’s Day 1997.

“We didn’t have a choice, we couldn’t afford to delay the opening even a day later,” said Rob. “We sunk everything we had in this.”

Rob McFerren

Rob McFerren grew up in Southern California in Mar Vista. He is a graduate of Venice High School and holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a masters degree in aerospace engineering.

“He really is a rocket scientist,” said Laina McFerren.

His first job was as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

“In those days you had to work your way up the ladder,” he said.

Rob McFerren said he moved up quickly. He moved up to become a waiter when The Cheesecake Factory bought the restaurant. He soon moved up in that organization, becoming a manager.

Laina McFerren

Laina McFerren was born in Oakdale, outside of Modesto and attended the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned a degree in communications.

“I thought I wanted to be a broadcaster,” she said.

She followed up a brief stint as broadcast journalist with a job as a researcher for the television show “China Beach.”

Laina McFerren also got a job working at The Cheesecake Factory in Marina del Rey. It’s there that she met Rob McFerren, who worked as a manager.

“It was really frowned on for a manager to date an employee,” said Rob McFerren.

Rob McFerren soon transferred to the Woodland Hills location of the chain.

Family

The couple, married 22 years, has two daughters, Mandee, a 2012 Valencia High School graduate and a freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Gillian, an eighth grader at Rio Norte Junior High School.

Craft brewing

Rob McFerren discovered his love for making beer when he received a home brewing kit one Christmas from Laina.

“I brewed up a five-gallon batch and that was basically the start of Wolf Creek — the brewing part of it,” he said.

The couple soon became serious about opening a restaurant and pairing it with a brewery.

“I had been home brewing for about a year and a half at that point,” he said. “The home brewing began taking over the house.”

Rob McFerren went to the Siebel Institute in Chicago to learn about brewing.

“It’s a well known brew school,” he said. “I went there to learn how to brew on a large scale.”

Rob McFerren said he is fascinated that only four ingredients, water, yeast, hops and barley malt can create “an infinite number of styles of beer.”

The biggest challenge in the craft industry right now said Rob McFerren is the availability of hops.

“Most hops are grown in Washington state,” he said. “Craft brewers tend to use a lot of hops in their beers and that combined with a couple of bad growing years resulted in a shortage of hops.”

Rob McFerren said there is an “art and a science” to crafting good beer.

“You’re almost like a chef,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to create new recipes and try them out on the guests. We’ve been lucky in that they’ve liked most of them.”

Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek, a restaurant and brewery, was born from Rob McFerren’s love of craft brewing.

“We had an opportunity to move to Colorado, which was the hub of the brew pub industry at the time,” Laina McFerren said.

The couple decided that they liked the SCV and wanted to stay.

“We love the SCV and wanted to raise our family here,” Rob McFerren said. “It’s a great place to live.”

The two decided they could do what they had planned in Colorado in the SCV. They found investors in their dream among family and friends.

“We got an SBA loan for the brewing equipment and soon there was no turning back,” said Rob McFerren.

The couple set a goal of making great beer in a restaurant setting of consistently great food and welcoming atmosphere.

“Our goal was to make it the neighborhood place where people could bring their families and have great food in a comfortable atmosphere,” Rob McFerren said.

Laina McFerren said there is no secret to their success.

“You have to love what you do,” she said. “The profit margins are so small in this business, there is little room for error. There are so many ways to lose money. But if you love it, it’s worthwhile.”

Laina McFerren said it’s important to learn as much as possible about any business before you jump in.

What’s next

The McFerrens opened a second Wolf Creek in Calabasas in 2010. They currently have leased space in the Mann Biomedical Park in Valencia to open a production brewery and tasting room.

The production brewery, which does not yet having an opening date, will allow Wolf Creek to expand its beer distribution.

Salt Creek Grille in Valencia is currently selling Wolf Creek beer.

“We’ve always wanted to get our beer our there,” Rob McFerren said.

Giving back

The McFerrens, residents of the SCV since 1992, can often be seen donating time and services to the community.

They are regulars at Taste of the Town, to benefit the Child & Family Center, and support the Boys & Girls Club of SCV and Circle of Hope as well as other nonprofits.

“I’ve always felt that we are part of the community, we’ve raised our children in this community and we’ve been very fortunate to be well supported by the community,” said Laina McFerren. “I feel it is our responsibility to give back. That’s something I want to teach our children. You support those who support you.”

Laina McFerren said part of what makes the SCV such a unique community is the culture of “giving back.”

“We’re happy to play our part in that,” she said.

“It’s what makes the SCV such a special place,” said Rob McFerren.

Laina McFerren, who just finished her stint as board chairwoman of the Child & Family Center Foundation board said supporting SCV’s nonprofits “builds a stronger community and it’s a win-win.”

Culinary Institute

The McFerrens are now looking to work with the Institute for Culinary Education at College of the Canyons.

“We just met and we’re going to be on the restaurant committee,” said Laina McFerren. “I think this will be a fabulous addition to our community.”

Not surprisingly Rob McFerren thinks beer courses might be a good fit at the Institute.

“I think it could be an exciting addition to the program,” he said. “Craft brewing is becoming very popular.”

For more information about Wolf Creek visit www.wolfcreekbrewingco.com.

mbuttelman@the-signal.com

661287-5590

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