Eric Ehler is back in the kitchen at Black Sands, the Lower Haight brewpub he helped open in 2015 and left in 2017, but neither he nor the restaurant is the same. Ehler returns from a year at Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s — and a brush with death — while local distribution brewery Fort Point took over Black Sands from its original owners in December, retaining the restaurant’s individual brand and staff like brewer Cole Emde.
With Ehler (an Eater Young Gun semifinalist), Fort Point also gets Black Sands’ original chef back. But Ehler won’t just run the show in the Lower Haight: He’s now executive chef of Fort Point’s San Francisco properties. Those are Fort Point’s Ferry Building outpost (where he’ll upgrade a menu of hot dogs with house made pickles and condiments) and, soon, a taproom at 742 Valencia Street that’s currently under construction.
More Fort Point restaurants and taprooms could be on the horizon as well. “We want to open really great restaurants that are known for being really great restaurants on their own,” says Fort Point CEO and co-founder Justin Catalana. Before Fort Point, he and brother Tyler Catalana founded Mill Valley Beerworks, a restaurant they now run through Fort Point.
In the difficult restaurant business, “If anything, being coupled with a brewery makes [a restaurant] a little more sustainable,” Catalana says.
With his new position, Ehler hopes to find sustainability for himself, too. On New Year’s Eve 2018, the then-29-year-old sous chef suffered cardiac arrest while working at Mister Jiu’s. His friends and colleagues rallied to support him, and Ehler has become an advocate for CPR training in kitchens.
“What happened last year was technically an anomaly,” says Ehler, citing his doctors. “But you can’t discredit the factors at play: The physicality of the job, the stress and demand. I think that, for me, it was negative stress, because I was striving to maintain the level of quality.... [and] that was detrimental to my health.”
Eventually, Ehler departed Mistur Jiu’s — just before the opening of upstairs Moongate Lounge, on which he had been working. But he didn’t want to stop cooking altogether. “I wanna keep having good stress,” he says.
At Black Sands and Fort Point, “we’re pushing to be better... but we’re making everyone better. We’re not focused on these accolades, we’re just focused on having a good business, and good work for our employees, and making good food.”
The new Black Sands menu is below, but don’t be deceived by the consistency of items like Black Sands’ smashed double cheeseburger, a hit since Ehler’s original menu. It’s popular for a reason, but it’s also “a crutch,” says Ehler.
“Our other offerings are just as detailed and good as the burger,” he says. Those include queso made with Fort Point’s Citra Park beer, lengua tacos, crispy rice salad, grilled pizza (inspired by a recent stint at PizzaHacker), and squid ink noodles with bottarga, chile flakes, and tomatoes (modeled on the food at Bhuna in Portland).
Black Sands’ beer program will change to keep pace with the new food, too: Fort Point director of brewing operations Mike Schnebeck, pilot brewer Felipe Bravo, and Black Sands co-founder Cole Emde (now a full-time Fort Point production manager) are collaborating on recipes for four new core beers: A hazy pale, a juicy IPA, a West Coast IPA, and a hoppy lager. Fort Point’s keg-only beers, its line of widely distributed cans, a few wines, and a small-but-mighty list of cocktails rounds out the drinks menu.