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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats and Brew in Fresno and Clovis

Jun 28, 2018 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

Perfect Partner

July 2018
By Jordan Venema
Photos Courtesy of Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats and Brew

WHEN WE THINK of great pairs, a short list usually comes to mind: wine and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, Lennon and McCartney, Calvin and Hobbes, and of course, beer and brats. It seems like a natural pairing, but here in Fresno, the latter pair had yet to be brought together, or least given the introduction they deserved. But in 2015, two Fresno couples decided it was time to bring together the area’s thriving craft beer community and the underrepresented comfort food, and opened Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats and Brew.

Really, it was an easy decision, says Sarah Lisitsin, who with her husband Kevin partnered with Gary and Bethany Hsia.

“We wanted to jump on the craft beer bandwagon,” she says. “It’s still booming and growing and not going away anytime soon. So we asked, what kind of classic comfort food goes with beer that isn’t already covered?”

Tacos? Check. Burgers? Check. Pizza? Also check. But hot dogs? Gourmet hot dogs? That was unmarked territory. So yes, pairing brats and brews might have seemed a no brainer, but the impetus behind the couples’ leap into the restaurant business was a bit more nuanced. 

Veterinarians by trade, the Hsias had originally considered purchasing a franchise as an investment and to help support their additional work overseas.

“They had been going on this trip to Malawi to teach people how to better care for their livestock,” explains Sarah, adding that Gary’s parents had owned Jack in the Box franchises in the Bay Area. “He has memories of doing homework in the back room, watching his parents work.” 

So a franchise was familiar to Gary, says Sarah, “but they never really found one that felt was right, and my husband is the one with the big mouth who said, why don’t you talk to Sarah?” 

The couples got together to brainstorm, and Sarah admits, “I didn’t think anything would come of it,” except something absolutely did. 

This September, Rocket Dog celebrates the third anniversary of its flagship location in Fresno, having added a second location in Clovis and with plans to open a third at the Manchester Regal Theatre in Fresno.

With 18 taps at the Fresno location, and an average of 25 varieties of bottled beer, Rocket Dog makes sure there’s a beer to pair with every brat. “And the Clovis location we hit even harder with 24 taps,” Sarah adds. “We’re even thinking of adding additional ones, including a tap root beer.”

While the Fresno location has a slightly smaller selection on tap, they make up for it with a pet-friendly, misted patio. 

However many beers they serve at either location, Rocket Dog aims to keep it local, with about 99 percent of their beers sourced from California. And while Rocket Dog specializes in craft beers, they keep their prices about five to six bucks a pint with an additional $2 off during happy hour.

Not only is Rocket Dog a great place to grab an affordable brew, then, but it will also hopefully become a way to better support small batch brewers.

“We’re in talks with a few home brewers, and figuring out the logistics of what that would look like for them to be able to supply us,” says Sarah. “We’re trying to make sure everything is done right.” 

For the Hsias and Lisitsins, who had no prior experience opening a restaurant, making sure everything was done right was made possible with the help of other small businesses.

“This will sound sappy, but in the beginning everybody was so supportive,” says Sarah. “The guys from Mad Duck came in and helped us configure our kitchen, and we have been blessed across the spectrum by brewers and food vendors, and contractors to help us build, lawyers to help us get things in line. It’s a fun, almost surprising culture of small business owners in Fresno, and we want to be a part of that.” 

Their brats are also made locally.

“Right now we are sourcing from Fresno State, and everything is fresh and handmade by students. They’re literally made down the street,” says Sarah. Bread is sourced from the local Max’s Artisan Breads.

From hot links and all-beef hot dogs to sweet chicken, Italian and brat, Rocket Dog has your summer beers and brats covered. Oh, and vegans, they’ve got you covered, too. “Oh yeah, we also have our tofurkey soy dog,” says Sarah.  • 

Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats and Brew

88 E Shaw Ave., Fresno; (559) 283-8096

1365 N. Willow Ave. Ste. 160, Clovis

Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 11am-9pm

Friday – Saturday, 11am-10pm

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