By Jan Mercker
When owner Tim Regan and brewer Dean Lake were looking for the perfect executive chef for Dog Money, the craft brewery and restaurant they opened in the former Vintage 50 space in Leesburg in 2016, their first choice was Regan’s former right-hand man, Joe Ganzer.
The 34-year-old Ganzer, a Philadelphia native who got his start in kitchens during his teen years in Saint Mary’s County, MD, jumped at the chance to get creative with high-quality, house-made bar food and innovative entrees. Ganzer and his sous chef Matt Moore are winning over old fans and bringing in new ones with weekly deviled egg and sandwich specials, beer-infused entrees and inspired touches like homemade pickles.
Ganzer sat down with Loudoun Now to talk about his commitment to made-from-scratch creativity in the kitchen.
Loudoun Now: Tell me about your background. How did you end up in Leesburg?
Joe Ganzer: Twenty years ago, I started off as a dishwasher at a place called Baja Coast in St Mary’s County. I’m originally from Philly, but my parents moved us down there when I was 13. … I had just turned 15 and they couldn’t keep me in the dish pit. I would get all the dishes done and run over to the line to the point where my boss eventually was like, “Are you not going to stay over here and wash dishes?” He also had a bed and breakfast right by Saint Mary’s College and I ended up cooking there.
LN: Where did you get your cooking skills? Did you have a natural inclination for it?
JG: I did have a natural inclination for it—even though my very first cooking incident resulted in me getting really bad burns on my hands making hot dogs when I was 8 or 9 years old. Despite that, I always wanted to cook.
LN: Did you get formal training or was it all on the job?
JG: I worked at a few different places and then in 2003 went to then culinary program at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. … After [cooking] for years, I was like I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
I was able to work at Saint Mary’s College as the catering chef right after college. Then a sous chef job opened up at a fine dining establishment [The Tides Restaurant in Lexington Park, MD]. They were very high end, and when I was brought in, it was a re-innovation of the place. We reinvented the entire menu and made it so it was more of an everyday location instead of a special occasion destination.
LN: What was your path like after that and what brought you to Loudoun?
JG: There was a bartender at the Tides who was my manager at a Lone Star Steakhouse where I was a line cook before going to school. He brought me on as his assistant kitchen manager. After about six months, they needed a general manager in the Waldorf location which is about an hour up the street, so they had me make the jump to general manager. It was new territory, but I was all about it.
But the decline in made-from-scratch menu items really put me off. We were hand-cutting our own steaks which is great, but there was a lot of prepared stuff. I needed to get back to made-from-scratch.
I ended up getting an interview to work at Gordon Biersch in Tysons Corner where [Dog Money owner] Tim [Regan] was moving into the general manager spot. I ended up becoming the assistant manager to him. I moved up to Virginia and loved it. I worked for him for three years and then a spot opened up for the company at Rock Bottom in Charlotte, NC, and I moved into the general manager position. I loved Charlotte, but one day I randomly asked Tim how he was doing and he was like, “Man I need an executive chef.” I started [at Dog Money] September 1, 2016.
LN: Tell me more about what you’re going for on the menu.
JG: Balance is everything. We’re a place where people aren’t going to feel is a special occasion place to eat. This is a place where people can get a great meal that’s made fresh. We make almost everything from scratch and it’s at an affordable price. We’re trying to make this a place where anybody can come in, open the menu and be like OK I’ve found something. A lot of people are surprised that there are so many options on the menu, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s that balance—I think we’ve found that here. Consistency is such a big thing for us. Matt, my sous chef, and I have been very hands-on with the training.
LN: It sounds like you give your sous chef a lot of creative flexibility.
JG: My sous chef, Matt Moore, has been here since before I was here—since June of 2016. The kind of stuff chefs strive for is being able to be creative and play around with new things. Matt has been great as far as the creative process. One soup that he came up with as a soup du jour, sweet onion bisque, is now on the menu full time.
LN: Are you thinking about food and beer pairings all the time?
JG: We use a lot of beer in our menu as it is. We look for the complimentary flavors and if we’re doing something spicy we’ll go for an IPA. For something with barbecue sauce, we use the red ale that’s got sweeter notes to it. I have a barbecue sauce recipe using the red ale. We use beer to marinate chicken and chicken wings. Our pulled pork is slow cooked in the red ale—we use it all over the place. One of thing things I think people don’t realize is we’re more than just a brewery. We have a made-from-scratch kitchen. We’re going to look to start sourcing locally for some items to get things even fresher than they already are, which I’m really excited about.
LN: What do you like to cook at home?
JG: It depends on the day. I really don’t show it much here, but I really like Asian-style cuisine. I love fresh ginger. I love soy sauce, making ponzu sauce. I kind of lean that way, but I like cheese a lot so sometimes I go the other way and go straight comfort food. When I cook at home, it’s kind of like what isn’t going to take all day—unless it’s in a crock pot. My fiancée, Kim, is a Pinterest fan, and she does a lot of baking too which I love because I can bake, but I don’t particularly like to. I don’t like following recipes.
LN: Do you have any tips for home cooks?
JG: What I always tell Kim is try some new things. If it says a teaspoon of salt, just grab a pinch of salt and throw it in. If you know flavors are complimentary—like sweet with pork—just try out different kinds of sweet things and experiment. Worst case scenario you have one meal that doesn’t work out quite how you want so you try to make it better next time. Don’t limit yourself to what a recipe says. Make it your own.