Chef Daniel Leal feels like he was always meant to be in the kitchen. In many ways, he grew up there.
The son of immigrants from Monterrey, Mexico, Leal’s father’s first job in the U.S. was working in one of the Original Kolache Shoppe outposts. He remembers first learning to make ham and eggs so he could feed himself breakfast in the mornings while his parents worked. And on weekends, his father would take him to run an “errand” on the East End, which typically translated to eating barbacoa and carnitas — a traditional weekend breakfast in the Latin community — before heading to work at one of the Shipleys his parents owned.
“I was involved with Shipley’s since I was a child. It was my first job. I grew up there,” says Leal, remembering his duty of bagging doughnut holes.
Naturally, breakfast became Leal’s favorite food, and now he’s bringing that expertise for morning meals to Local Group Brewing, newly branded as Gristworkz, in a major way. Chef Leal, who previously worked at the now-closed Night Shift bar in East End, has taken over the Hardy Yards brewpub menu, notably launching this week a hearty breakfast menu that’s worth buckling up — or unbuckling your belt — for.
In addition to a chicken wrap and a classic smoked jalapeno sausage kolache — an ode to Leal’s upbringing and the city’s obsession with klobasnek — Leal will feature two breakfast sandwiches that in the words of a spokesperson, “make the Egg McMuffins at McDonald’s look like diet food.”
An homage to the local Latin community, Leal’s first sandwich takes inspiration from the rajas con queso, a dish consisting of poblano chile, queso, and Mexican squash. Leal cooks up omelet-style egg whites with caramelized onions, green onions, and shallots; and tops it with smoked gouda, Mexican squash, and watercress before loading it on an English muffin made by local wholesale bakery Cake & Bacon.
Leal says the second sandwich, tentatively (and coyly) titled the “Danny Dropper,” has Asian influences, featuring an omelet-style egg with green onions and shallots; layers of white and yellow American cheeses; roasted pickled jalapenos; caramelized onions; and a garlic chili crisp smear. (Check the brewery’s promo video below, in which Leal quite literally drops his pants to enjoy the sandwich.)
The brewery and restaurant will also continue offering barbacoa and carnitas by the half pound with tortillas on Saturdays and Sundays only, another nod to Leal’s upbringing and Houston culture. Coffee company Blue Tile Coffee will also host a pop-up at the Gristworkz during breakfast, with cold brew coffee, cinnamon and honey Cubano lattes made with beans from local roaster Amaya Roasting Co., and myriad other offerings.
Leal says Gristworkz’s new menu works to cater to the neighborhood and community it serves. “There are people who are always there before we are, and you have to pay respects to them. That’s also your first customer,” says Leal, adding that already it feels like Gristworkz is filling a hole by offering breakfast and coffee in Hardy Yards, which he says has lacked early morning options and a coffee shop for surrounding businesses and neighbors.
“We want to be able to accommodate anyone any time from breakfast, lunch to dinner,” including students and employees at the nearby University of Houston-Downtown, Leal says. “Anyone in the neighborhood, we want to be that place.”
The 7,500-square-foot brewery, which originally launched in early 2020 at 1504 Chapman Street as the Local Group Brewing, has undergone some rebranding over the past several months. Distincture Hospitality purchased the brewery in May 2022, allowing management and Leal as head chef to reshape and rebrand, though some Local Group traditions, like Korean barbecue steak nights and specials on burgers and pizza will continue.
Catch breakfast at Gristworkz from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Lunch is served starting at 11 a.m. and dinner at 4 p.m.