If you live in Sacramento, you probably know of Carina Lampkin. She made headlines during the controversial closing (and later reopening) of Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery. You may have also seen her on the Food Network shows Kitchen Inferno and Cutthroat Kitchen.
Lampkin recently accepted a new position as the vice president of restaurant operations at Oak Park Brewing Company. We sat down with Lampkin to see what motivated her to make the move. (At the time of this interview, she declined to comment specifically on Blackbird Kitchen, which she co-owns, due to legal constraints.)
Most readers know you because of Blackbird. You’re taking on something totally new in a very hot area of town. Tell us about what you will be doing as VP of restaurant operations for Oak Park Brewing?
My primary objective is to creatively direct the company. This means I spend much of my time developing and coaching the talent on our team and connecting outside talent to assist us. Specifically, I will oversee staffing logistics for the restaurant and taproom portion of the brewery. Food by nature can be emotional, and I want to give my team emotional inspiration to help them succeed. Then, as we grow, I would like to help coach my protégés and ensure they’re preparing each recipe as if I was doing it myself.
Sounds like a big undertaking, but you really seem excited. What are your plans for Oak Park Brewing?
My plans are to go big or go home! I’m working on driving our wholesale distribution in the Bay Area this year and expanding to Southern California by early 2018. Once we’re saturated in California, we can ideally do contract brewing in other markets. I also plan to bring attention to our beer through more national television appearances. I just finished filming a new show called Man vs. Master on the FYI channel. My hope is the visibility from the TV shows will highlight that we have something really special with our beer.
Bringing Sacramento into the TV spotlight, we can get on board with that. Will there be any new programs or initiatives at Oak Park Brewing?
Art is a core value of my work, and I’ll be lending my philosophies to the Oak Park brand. Art is an entangled part of society. It used to be recognized as a part of business, like accounting or human resources.
Since I’ve started at OPB, we created a resident-in-artist position headed by Lauren Wolf, who was hiding under a pile of invoices in our office. I noticed her talent right away and shifted the majority of her work. She’s now painting, designing, working on events and enriching our brand. You can see this now in our online posts, the Art of Beer paintings and pieces for First Friday.
We have also started bringing music into the brewery on Wednesday nights. There’s an upcoming release of an IPA called Race to the Bottom — a local band we’re partnering with. My goal is that together, the beer, music and menu we’re creating become something greater than the sum of its parts.
You have studied under Michelin star chefs and worked in many high-profile kitchens. How will you, a person trained as a chef, prepare for this shift into operations?
The past six years of doing business in Sacramento has really prepared me for this job. Training as a chef gave me a beautiful craft. Owning a business gave me a strong education. I’m also bringing in great counsel to help. I’m working with a friend and Top Chef alumna Jamie Lauren to help elevate our menu to one of a true gastropub. We are going to play with new combinations of meats and salts. During the summer, I’m going to move a wood-fired grill and oyster bar onto the patio. Bringing the kitchen outside will help form a connection between the food and the guests.
What attracted you to this particular position at this brewery?
The Oak Park brand is sexy and loaded with potential. I have always loved the taste of the beer. We add a clarifying enzyme to the beer, which makes it feel lighter in your stomach. I never feel bloated when drinking it, so I’m able to enjoy more of it. Ultimately, I’m really drawn toward taking on a larger role in the craft beer scene in Sacramento.
I was also attracted to the brand itself, which is in line with my personal style. We are a little dark and a little steampunk-esque. Between the beer and the creativity, it wasn’t a hard decision.