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How Beer and Garlic Breath Built Gordon Biersch

Stocks in this article: COST T

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- The owners of Gordon Biersch pioneered mixed martial arts in the United States. The brand's restaurants are as at home in Waikiki and Taiwan as they are in San Francisco. Its name is as closely associated with garlic fries as with German- and Czech style beers.

It's been a strange, interesting quarter-century for Gordon Biersch and founding brewer Dan Gordon.

Back in 1987, after attending The Technical University of Munich and studying German beer brewing, Gordon teamed with restaurateur Dean Biersch and began laying the groundwork for brewpub in Palo Alto, Calif. Gordon felt the brewery should focus on German styles brewed under the Reinheitsgebot German purity laws that restricted ingredients to water, hops, barley and yeast.

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But beer was only part of the curriculum. While studying in Munich, Gordon had a professor who specialized in garlic and often asked him to translate his German to English when English-speaking professors came to visit. During one visit, that professor gave an American counterpart 10 different dishes featuring garlic, which gave Gordon the idea to douse fries with garlic as a late-night snack during final exams.

The combination of Gordon's beer and fries was a resounding success that resulted in dozens of Gordon Biersch locations across the country. In 1994, a Gordon Biersch location opened in the San Francisco Giants and 49ers' Candlestick Park and became a West Coast sports staple. Today, Gordon Biersch stands and their garlic fries are fixtures at the Giants' AT&T Park, the 49ers new Levi's Field, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the Chargers' Qualcomm Stadium and the Padres' Petco Park in San Diego, the Sharks' SAP Center in San Jose, the Kings' Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field in Phoenix.

All of that success came at a price, however. To fund the brewery's expansion Gordon and Biersch sold controlling interest in the operation to Las Vegas-based Stations Casino executive Lorenzo Fertitta for $11.2 million in 1995. Four years later, the Gordon Biersch restaurant chain was sold off and later merged into the CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries operation that also owns the Old Chicago and Rock Bottom brewpub chains.

Fertitta would go on to buy Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2001 and buy up competing mixed martial arts promotions to make UFC the largest mixed martial arts company in the world. Gordon Biersch, meanwhile, would continue to produce its line of German- and Czech-style beers, but would also create in-house beer for Costco and Trader Joe's.

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