In the week leading up to my interview with Executive Chef Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub, I Googled his photo, researching for the story. A slew of images returned, and I was bemused. The Daniels online were many, each one different from the next. There was the farm-focused chef in a straw hat, the brooding executive clothed in black with a slick mohawk, the no-frills maestro instructing a young man how to cook. My personal favorite was a shaggy, Portland-bearded ginger hugging a glass of craft beer with his hands.
But to know the real Greg Daniels means to take a trip to Plaza Square Park in Orange, California, the stomping grounds of Haven Collective—a restaurant group comprised of Haven Gastropub and Provisions Market, establishments that sit on opposite ends of Downtown Orange. Time stands still in Orange, a historic township of quaint residences than a city. At its center, two major roads—Chapman Avenue and Glassell Street, named for the city’s founders—intersect at a roundabout.
For anyone having trouble envisioning this, you’ve probably already seen something just like it. It’s reminiscent of the scene in which Forrest Gump, seated on a wooden bench, offers a stranger some chocolate, and repackages that universal truth: you never know what you’re going to get.
Not even with all the Google images in the world.
In 2009, Daniels grabbed a chair and sat outside the doors of his soon-to-be gastropub for a smoke. He had a few notches on his belt working with Orange County chefs Pascal Olhats at Tradition by Pascal, and Andy Sutton at Napa Rose. He had yet to run his own kitchen.
The plan was to serve food and drinks until one in the morning, and close up shop an hour past. As Daniels sat outside at 9:30 p.m., the glow of his cigarette was the only sign of life on Glassell. The storefronts were shuttered, and the residential environs quiet and dark. There could have been tumbleweeds rolling down the street, he remembers thinking. Doubt was crouched at his door.
Despite the sleepy ambience of Downtown Orange, the Haven team stuck to the plan and rushed to open for the annual international street fair, a community tradition dating back to 1910. The event was expected to host a half a million people, and they had no intention of missing out on the town’s biggest block party. As luck would have it, their permit to make food was granted the day before, and Daniels was ready with five dishes inspired from experiences in previous kitchens.
Haven Gastropub opened on the first day of the 2009 International Street Fair. Within 15 minutes of unlatching the wooden door, every seat was filled and the bar was three deep.
Little has changed since. After seven years, the gastropub is set to do its busiest year in sales—10 percent of which is credited to one of those original five menu items, the Haven Burger. Lauded by Food & Wine in its 2013 cocktail guide, this signature burger has made Haven Gastropub a destination for foodies with its custom-made beef and pork fat patty topped with an earthy bleu cheese, roasted red bell peppers, pickled red onions, and arugula all clutched in a brioche bun.
Far from a one-hit wonder, Haven Collective planted roots in Orange with a deep appreciation for the community and its producers. The idea was to create a neighborhood spot where the town could meet on common ground and share in a local meal.
Before Daniels came on board, he was asked by his now-business partner Will Dee to consult on the menu. Daniels, after all, graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, worked in some of the highest rated Orange County kitchens, and was a seasoned bartender of 12 years. At the time, Daniels was managing a nightclub. He was as far from the kitchen as he had ever been—and completely miserable. He drafted two menus—one was easy to teach and churn out; the other was seasonally driven and required a chef in the kitchen.
After a short deliberation, Dee and his partners chose option two—and offered Daniels the job of executive chef.
Early on, Haven’s vision was to showcase the products of small, skilled producers. This meant that ingredients were fresh, the meat was humanely raised, products were locally sourced, and the selection of beers was unique. From the purveyors they partnered with to the cuisine and even the condiments (ketchup didn’t come from a bottle, and there was no ranch for dipping your flatbread no matter how much you flipped out on your server), all of it was to be selected and handled by a chef and team that cared.
We may understand this now as the new norm. But in 2009, their decision to elevate quintessential pub food and drinks, to buck big corporate sources from their establishment, rippled through this small city and influenced Orange County food culture as a whole.
Today, Haven Collective and Daniels continue to push that vision with organizations like Orange Home Grown, a local nonprofit that cultivates community, promotes sustainability and local farming. This summer, Daniels will join other local area chefs for the Farmer’s Market to Table Dinner, which will benefit an 8,000-square-foot educational farm donated to OHG by Chapman University.
“It pays off to love the community you’re in,” says Daniels, who credits Olhats for nurturing his charitable side.
A few years after the international street fair and the opening of Haven Gastropub, Daniels nervously sat outside an operating room at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. The year was 2012. There were 30 medical staff crowded inside, but he wasn’t allowed in the room while his wife gave birth to their first child. His only solace came from a nurse stationed nearby who gave him a play-by-play of what she could see through a small window.
Three months prior, Daniels and his wife learned their daughter would have Treacher Collins Syndrome, a rare disorder that can result in a number of developmental issues. Daniels resolved, “We are going to do whatever we can to make sure this baby has a happy life.”
As he rocked back and forth in the hospital chair “freaking out,” Daniels recalls hearing his daughter, Madeleine, cry for the first time. His excitement was cut short, as the medical team soon wheeled her tiny body past him into another room to perform an emergency operation. For the first 12 days of her life, they weren’t allowed to hold Madeleine, even when she received a tracheostomy. And, every day for the next three years, Daniels was forced to feed his daughter through a tube.
He was heartbroken. “I was going to do all her baby food,” Daniels says. “Instead, I had to pour this corn-syrup concoction into a bag and pump it into her stomach. She would throw it up almost every single time.”
Watching this, he became driven to see her eat and for her to one day share his own enthusiasm about food. When traditional therapies failed, he and his wife took their own approach—they encouraged her to taste everything.
When Madeleine was barely three years old, Daniels remembers how much she loved chicken liver mousse. While visiting Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, a server learned this about Madeleine, and brought over a jar from Bouchon. She devoured it. Eventually, the elated Daniels and his wife were able to see their daughter’s feeding tube removed altogether.
I catch a flash of the ink on Daniels’ arm. It reads, It takes two when it used to take one, a line from Ryan Adams’ “Two.” Daniels tells me it represents Madeleine; this is their song—the song he sang to her over and over again during her first month in the NICU. He confesses the lyrics mean more to him today than they did then. They’ve taken on a multitude of meanings.
This is what Daniels, his family, and Haven Collective built in Orange. It isn’t just a burger or a stellar selection of craft beers. It goes beyond locally sourced food or responsible farming. It’s something that can’t be defined by the stars on Yelp. It’s not any one thing—it’s more. It’s communal. It’s kinship.
It’s a haven—a place where two is preferred to one.
190 S Glassell St, Orange, CA 92866