“We wanted to create a place where we would want to hang out.”
And that place is Haven Gastropub, one of the most popular dining destinations in Orange County since the day it opened in 2009. At the helm in the kitchen is Executive Chef & Partner, Greg Daniels, who is responsible for the acclaimed menu that presents an innovative take on American and European comfort foods. In fact, his recipe for the restaurant’s best-selling Haven Burger was featured in Food & Wine Magazine’s Cocktail Book and voted “Best Burger” by CBS Los Angeles. The gastropub, which Daniels owns with Partner Wil Dee, was named “Best Gastropub” by Draft Magazine.
In Southern California, Daniels is known for creating dishes that push the boundaries of what is commonly known as pub food, but it has been a long journey from where it all began – in a fast food joint where he worked at the age of 15. It was there that Daniels’ interest in cooking was sparked – it was where he fell in love with the camaraderie of a restaurant environment. In his 20s, Daniels paid the bills by working as a bartender at several Orange County restaurants and lounges, but he set his sights on the back of the house.
Daniels decided to follow his passion into the kitchen when he enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu program at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, where he graduated in 2005. Daniels went on to work as a line cook at for two noted Orange County Chefs – Chef Pascal, who owned the now-closed Pascal in Newport Beach, and Executive Chef Andrew Sutton of Napa Rose in Anaheim.
Daniels’ culinary training also went beyond the kitchen walls. He traveled extensively to sample the cuisine at world-class restaurants such as the Fat Duck in Bray, England, Per Se in New York City, and Incanto in San Francisco. He also had an appetite for reading, which, in turn, further fueled his creativity in the kitchen.
Over the course of four years, Daniels built up enough inspiration and knowledge to fuel the opening of Haven Gastropub with Partner Wil Dee, a craft beer connoisseur, whose path he had crossed at various restaurants and bars in Orange County. Together, they have not only turned Haven Gastropub into one of the leading restaurants in Orange County, but in 2013, the two opened Provisions Market, a bottle shop, tasting room and specialty market in Old Towne Orange, less than a mile from Haven Gastropub.
Daniels’ charitable work is notable. He and business partner Wil Dee have donated time and resources to many organizations, including Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program; Share Our Selves, an Orange County-based nonprofit that feeds hundreds of families daily and provides many other needed services for them; and Mercy Fund International and the American Red Cross, which both assist those who have been devastated. Daniels was recently appointed to the Board for The Ecology Center’s Community Table program, which highlights and educates those in Orange County on the importance of protecting our natural resources through sustainable sourcing and organic farming. Above all else, the nonprofit most near and dear to his heart is the March of Dimes. His family’s connection to the March of Dimes has been strong since his daughter, Madeleine, was born with several complications in 2011, and he has been fully committed to furthering their mission ever since.
Daniels is a firm believer that giving back to the community you serve only enables your business to thrive – and this seems to be the recipe for success here.
To have a concept described as an “adult candy store” is a testament to Wil Dee’s expertise in the craft beer arena. As Managing Partner and Beverage Director of Provisions Market and Haven Gastropub in Old Towne Orange, Dee not only sets the bar, but also continues to raise it when it comes to orchestrating a unparalleled craft beer list. In fact, he has been given the title of “Best Beer List” in Orange County for the past two years, and it is this emphasis on and attention to craft beer that has made Dee a local leader in the craft beer movement.
Born and raised in Orange County, Dee began his career in the service industry in the late 1990s, when the craft beer community had not come into existence. His experience begins at a nightclub in Anaheim and then takes him to a few restaurants in downtown Fullerton. For a period of 12 years, Dee worked as a Manager, Bartender, Bar Manager, and General Manager at various establishments in Orange County. Even though some of the locations he worked at carried a sizable draught selection, there wasn’t much beer on tap that was local and he sought out hard-to-find imports that gave him a little taste of the quality that we’ve come to expect from craft beer today.
Dee’s knowledge of craft beer, worldly wines and unique spirits comes from many unique experiences, including a two-month trip through Europe to become familiar with the great beers of Germany and Belgium, in addition to an exploration journey through the craft beverage scenes across the US. He also earned a hard-to-come-by invitation from Sierra Nevada to participate in Beer Camp 109 to be involved in the brewing process firsthand, which was just one of the many adventures that have shaped his approach and dedication to craft.
It’s that very dedication that fueled the opening of Haven Gastropub, which Partner Greg Daniels, a local chef who Dee worked with in different capacities over the course of four years. With Dee’s emphasis on a craft beverage program and Daniels’ menu to complement it, the two brought one of the first true gastropub experiences to Orange County. Four years later, the two opened the region’s most diverse and extensive bottle shop and tasting room, Provisions Market, which follows Dee’s strict guideline and system to ensure the very best selection of craft beer on tap, and in bottles or cans.
In addition to building successful businesses, Dee’s work includes assisting the less fortunate in times of need – he, along with Partner Chef Greg Daniels, has raised almost $30,000 to assist the victims of the most recent Tsunami in Japan and those affected by Hurricane Sandy. In addition, Haven Collective has contributed to end childhood hunger across the nation through Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program, and also locally, through Share Our Selves, an Orange County-based nonprofit that feeds hundreds of families daily and provides many other needed services for them.
Dee’s beverage programs have earned him numerous accolades, including the title of “Best Gastropub” by industry authority, Draft Magazine; “Best Beer List” by locally driven awards program, the GFAs; “Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator’s for multiple years running; “Best Cocktail” for his Pisco Sour by the Orange County Register, the area’s largest circulating daily newspaper; and numerous other nods, which serve to inspire him to reach even greater heights.
With a brewery of his own in the works, Dee will continue to lead and shape the craft beer movement in Orange County and beyond.