Attention to detail can be everything. Brian Deignan, co-owner of the Funk Zone’s new Validation Ale with his wife, Briana, lamented the sad state of bathrooms at too many breweries. “We built twice as many as the city asked,” Brian proudly states. “It’s like a museum in there.”
Those palatial bathrooms are just one data point to show that this couple took their tech background and rethought the ways of beer and restaurants. The two met while at GoTo Meeting; Brian most recently worked at AppFolio, while Briana has been working at Zoom since before it was a verb, as she put it. That put them in a perfect position financially to go for their dream, but it also gave them a unique perspective. Briana says, “Coming into an industry with no experience, we got to question the status quo.”
That questioning began with the concept behind the beers they make — each beer in a category such as light/hoppy/not hoppy/dark is either validated or vying. If a vying recipe knocks off a validated one by selling more pints, the latter beer is off the list. “We are putting the power back into the customer’s hands,” Briana points out. “Humans love competing, and it gamifies the experience.”
Of course, that means the tasty Imperial Lager you had one visit might be gone the next. The Deignans — along with their head brewer, Ryan Hensley, who does bring years of industry experience from places like Figueroa Mountain, Pizza Port, and Rough Draft — are ready for that, too. “We want to be a place for the education and exploration of beers,” Briana says. “If someone came in and asked for a Blue Moon, we would ask them, ‘What do you like about Blue Moon?’ and then go from there.” Brian says the general categories also help, asserting they sold out of a Belgian blonde in a surprisingly quick two days because people were drawn to it in the “light” category. “Most people haven’t had the opportunity to experiment,” he points out. “We want to make the place safe for even the Coors drinkers.”
The Deignans also wanted to be sure the grub was as good as the brews and again innovated on that end. They knew Matt Marsit and Kaity Dean, as they were frequent visitors to Brass Bear, where the couple worked at the time. “They approached us, and it was the perfect match,” Brian recalls. “Essentially, they are set up as an entrepreneurial business inside our entrepreneurial business.” Just like the beer menu, the food menu will change frequently based on the sales data. Also arranged into clever sections — Fingers, Hands, Bowls, and Specials — it currently ranges from burgers to lobster rolls to salmon salad.
Brian admits he has high hopes for Validation’s food with Marsit as head chef and Dean running kitchen operations, for he says, pointing to his neighbor across Anacapa Street, “We want to be good enough to compete for the overflow from places like The Lark.” Ultimately, Brian says, “I know it’s a cliché, but we want to be someplace for everybody. We’ve got the ‘singles bar’ window looking out into the Funk Zone, we have the wall of screens for the sports fan, we have the gender-neutral bathrooms to show we’re a place of inclusivity, and we’ve got the best water in the world.” Figuring they had to build a great RO filtration system for the water they were brewing with, the Deignans also ran the system to a tap in the restaurant. Briana says, “It’s important to remain hydrated while drinking beer.” And if that seems motherly, there’s also this — Validation opened July 14, and Briana gave birth to the couple’s second daughter on July 27. So they see it as a family business, too, as you can bring kids to a restaurant and not to a tech office. “Eventually, they will be our bouncers,” Brian jokes. “Our 3-year-old could be one now.”