After being laid off from his finance job during the 2007 recession, Ryan Soroka (’02) turned to his lifelong love — food.
He partnered with several friends to establish the 8th Wonder Brewery and the Eatsie Boys food truck and cafe in Houston.
“I remember that hanging out at the [SJS] cafeteria was always a good time. There was good food and lots of friends,” Soroka said. “That is what we tried to do with Eatsie Boys and 8th Wonder.”
After abandoning finance, Soroka attended University of Houston and earned his Masters in Hospitality Management from Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and an MBA with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship from Bauer College. There, Soroka came up with the idea of establishing a brewpub.
“I wrote up the business plan for 8th Wonder Brewery in 2009 as a report for one of my classes,” Soroka said, “but later I realized that the laws did not allow for a favorable brewpub model to be executed appropriately — in my humble opinion.”
Friend and partner Alex Vassilakidis approached Soroka with the idea of starting a Greek food truck.
“The food truck gave me the opportunity to get back that food aspect that I lost from the brewery, but we decided not to limit ourselves to one cuisine,” Soroka said. “Neither of us knew how to cook, so we decided to partner with our friend, Matt Marcus, who is a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef.”
In December 2010, the trio purchased a trailer and began catering private dinners and events. They sold hot foods like sandwiches at farmers’ markets before taking the food truck around town.
“We kept the trailer for about nine months, but we decided it was too hot during summer, so we bought a small school bus,” Soroka said. “We sold ice cream until January 2011 and decided to add hot food.”
Eatsie Boys gained recognition from Houston-area food critics. The attention began to attract potential investors for 8th Wonder.
“There was and is always something to overcome as a small business, especially when it comes to preserving your culture and initial dream,” Soroka said. “We just had to believe in ourselves. I also love the human element and the fact that we are making things and sharing them with other people.”
The three founders of Eatsie Boys partnered with brewmaster and University of Houston Professor Aaron Corsi to establish 8th Wonder Brewery. After realizing that a brewpub would not be economically viable, Soroka decided to concentrate on starting a brewery instead. Rather than selling food and beer as brewpubs do, breweries solely make and distribute beer.
“People found out about our idea for 8th Wonder, so we got several private investors and signed a lease in May 2011 in East Downtown Houston,” Soroka said. “We were picky about who we chose as investors because we wanted people who shared our interests and had a passion for the business.”
In 2012, Soroka and the rest of the Eatsie Boys established Eatsie Boys Cafe in Montrose.
“Having a brick-and-mortar building gave us the benefits of being grounded and stable, but we also had to hire staff where it used to just be the three of us,” Soroka said. “We had to become
more consistent as well with our food and lifestyle. We couldn’t not go to work just because it was raining.”
The cafe recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
“We try to bring an innovative twist on classic, casual comfort food,” Soroka said. “The whole brand is also a play on The Beastie Boys.”
Last February, 8th Wonder Brewery brewed its first batch of beer. It serves around 50 restaurants and bars in the Houston area.
“I think the success comes from hard work, passion, dedication, good fortune and education,” Soroka said. “SJS specifically taught me a good work ethic and how to invest in myself and my interests.”
Soroka has grand plans for the future, aiming to triple production at the brewery and develop a second location for Eatsie Boys.
“We love people,” Soroka said, “and we love what we do.”