Calusa Brewing and Chef Steve Phelps Are Teaming Up, and We're Stoked

The former White Buffalo Saloon will soon be home to PigFish, Phelps' new restaurant, and Calusa Brewing's new taproom.

By Lauren Jackson September 8, 2023

A signature sandwich from PigFish.

A signature sandwich from PigFish.

An exciting collaboration is brewing in south Sarasota.

You may have noticed the Calusa Brewing sign go up at the old White Buffalo Saloon space, and you might have heard stories about Steve Phelps of Indigenous opening a new sandwich shop called PigFish somewhere in town. Turns out, the owners of both ventures are partnering to create an immersive taproom experience that will include Calusa's excellent craft beer and Phelps' inspired food.

Phelps met Calusa owners Geordie Rauch, Vic Falck and Jason Thompson through his Towles Court restaurant, Indigenous.

“We were one of the first restaurants to pour their beer when they put Focus IPA into distribution, and our relationship has grown over the years," says Phelps. (Calusa's beloved IPA is now called Zote.) "Their beer has always been a best seller for us, and it’s also my favorite beer,” he adds.

Calusa's Zote IPA is distributed throughout the Sarasota-Manatee area.

Calusa's Zote IPA is distributed throughout the Sarasota-Manatee area.

Thompson, Calusa's brewer, says the new venture is a product of the mutual respect between the brewery and Phelps. He says that when Calusa acquired the old White Buffalo space, "we quickly realized that we were probably not equipped to run the kitchen without a huge effort. We knew Steve was conceptualizing the sandwich shop idea that would become PigFish, and here we are.”

Calusa opened its original taproom and brewing facility in 2016. Rauch and Falck met while growing up on Longboat Key and remained friends while serving in the Navy. They met Thompson through a mutual friend in San Diego, where they were based at the time.

“Geordie and I were at a friend’s wedding when he started talking about opening a brewery," says Thompson. "I was like, ‘No way. If you need a brewer, let me know.’ A week and a half later I got a phone call and a week after that I came down. It took off from there. That was September 2013."

New tanks at the Calusa taproom.

New tanks at the Calusa taproom.

The team toiled in their garage to get the product just right while they waited for the first facility to open. Shortly after opening, Calusa beers went into distribution. The beers are currently served at between 100 and 120 restaurants in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

“We had our ear to the ground for a bigger and better location and tried to think of what else we could offer," says Falck. "As we’ve grown and matured, the food side has come into our decision making. We wanted to figure out how to bring that into the operation but, having never run a restaurant, it’s a daunting task."

Enter Steve Phelps and PigFish co-owner Anand Pallegar.

“Steve and I met in Towles Court,” says Pallegar, who also owns AtLarge, a technology and marketing company that used to be located near Indigenous. “We clicked over our shared values. He was always at Indigenous, and I was always across the street at AtLarge. Out of those first conversations, we recognized our shared vision to do something in this community that would also help transform it.”

PigFish will be located inside Calusa Brewing's new taproom.

PigFish will be located inside Calusa Brewing's new taproom.

Thus, PigFish was born.

“Our aspirations are bigger than just opening a fish sandwich place," says Pallegar. "It’s about impacting the community, bringing education into it, fostering a sense of quality and a way of creating an environment that transforms people’s understanding of the food. Hearing about the discipline and care that Calusa puts into its brewing was one-to-one with our vision for PigFish and what it could be."

Phelps has been tinkering with fish sandwiches for nearly as long as Indigenous has been open. In the slow summer months, he established “sandwich night” on Wednesday nights, when diners could order a sandwich and a beer for a discounted price.

But flavor is only one component of what sets Phelps’ sandwiches apart. The acclaimed chef has been instrumental in shaping the community’s broader understanding of sustainable seafood, and he will continue to offer responsibly sourced products at PigFish.

“We’re coming out of the box with about 90 percent of our fish being raised in aquaculture environments," says Phelps. "We like to educate our diners, and we know the product is good—and good for the world."

Hush puppies at PigFish.

Hush puppies at PigFish.

“The vision that we have is taking the opportunity to change people’s understanding of food, how to source it, prepare it and ultimately deliver it," says Pallegar. "People need to start to ask smarter questions from an environmental, health and sustainability standpoint. That’s what we want to be known for—setting a standard for people. Ultimately, I think the world needs to understand where they’re getting their food from in a better way."

The Calusa team is on board with Phelps’ and Pallegar’s vision.

"Our lives revolve around the water," says Rauch. "Steve’s all about the sustainability of the oceans. It melds perfectly—not only as a brand but in terms of overall quality. We look at our beers as an elevated product, and Steve’s food is obviously elevated. It’s a really great match all around."

PigFish and Calusa Brewing will open in mid-fall.

PigFish and Calusa Brewing will open in mid-fall.

The new space is slated to open in mid-fall, with hopes of an October opening. The new taproom will be open seven days a week, and the original Calusa building will now only be operational for brewing purposes. PigFish, however, will maintain a five-day schedule to start and will be open 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. During the days and hours when PigFish is not open, Calusa will maintain its partnerships with area food trucks, like Mouthole BBQ.

“The food trucks have been a big part of our culture," says Falck. "Those partnerships are awesome, and we know our guests love them."

As far as what guests can expect from Phelps and PigFish, Phelps' signature cobia hotdog will be a staple on the menu, as will be the concept’s namesake PigFish sandwich, made with kanpachi (yellowtail), crispy pork belly, a green tomato relish and a bacon tartar sauce.

If you’re not a fish lover, PigFish will also feature a vegetarian-friendly wild mushroom grilled cheese. And for meat lovers, the hero burger, made with two thin beef patties, grilled salami, smoked provolone, vegetables and truffled tartar sauce, is sure to satisfy.

“I mean, truffled tartar sauce and salami—that alone you can eat all day long,” says Phelps.

Still, it's ultimately all about the seafood.

“We want to make a great fish sandwich and know where the fish came from," says Phelps. "That concept started this whole company. I’m fortunate to have an incubator at Indigenous to do that. Because of that, this is going to be the best sandwich you’ve ever had.”

Calusa Brewing and PigFish will be located at 5377 McIntosh Road, Sarasota. For more information about Calusa Brewing, click here. For more information about PigFish, click here.

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