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Bivouac Ciderworks Raises a Glass to Handcrafted Ciders

San Diego native Lara Worm swore she wouldn’t get into the hospitality business like family before her – so of course that’s exactly what ended up happening.

Once a high-powered federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., Worm now runs Bivouac Ciderworks in North Park.

 

With its in-house handcrafted ciders, Bivouac is a pioneer in the ever-growing handcrafted hard cider world, and its owner clearly a believer in the site’s motto “Embrace Your Adventure.”

“I went to law school and landed my dream job and spent six years in Washington working on violent crimes and homicides, absolutely the most amazing, incredible experience,” Worm said.

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After a 2013 boating accident left her with a broken back, Worm moved back to San Diego in 2014. She devoted herself to getting well, made a full recovery and became hooked on the life in the great outdoors, even hiking the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

Worm continued to work as an attorney, but in 2017 was wooed away — back to her roots in the food and beverage business — by a partner, who has since moved on.

“At first I said, ‘No thank you,’” Worm said. “Everything in my life was getting away from the food and beverage world.”

Travel Abroad Rekindled Interest in Hard Cider

But she started reconsidering, remember time she had spent in England and Australia over the years, where she had grown to understand and respect the storied history of ciders. She saw that the craft brewing market was ready for something besides beer.

Worm put her energy, time and restaurant background know-how into Bivouac — which means “a temporary camp without tents or cover, especially used by mountaineers,” Worm said — and hasn’t looked back.

“I am inspired by adventuring, rock climbing and outdoor activities,” Worm said. “Bivouac was the embodiment of the lifestyle that I love. I was creating it, I was immersed in it. I was committed to it and started raising money. My family became investors and once my family got involved, I knew if I was going to do this, I would also open a restaurant with the tap room.”

The woodsy, outdoorsy feel of Bivouac is intentional. The site is filled with ropes and twine, art and homages to rock climbing, hiking, camping and other outside adventures. There is even a swing at one of the tables inside.

The popular taproom and restaurant celebrated its fourth anniversary in January with a campout on Jan. 29 at its 30th Street digs. The 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. event included the unveiling of a new S’mores Cider, live music and merchandise giveaways.

Since its launch, the Bivouac brand has enjoyed a 50 percent year-over-year growth as it adapts to and evolves with the rapidly changing landscape of the craft beverage and hospitality industry.

 

During the month of January, Bivouac also re-launched its first release and core cider, San Diego Jam, and updated its accompanying menu of food offerings. San Diego Jam has been the most popular cider since the day the North Park tasting room opened, Worm said.

Knotty History of Drink Names

Bivouac drinks are typically named after different kinds of knots – the Albright, the Groundline, the Haywire.

The food at the taproom includes a cured meat-and-cheese plate, garlic fries, polenta tots, burgers, (including a meatless burger), squash and soyrizo tacos, and a chicken adobo rice bowl.

Surprisingly – or perhaps not – there is no sign of barbecue on the current menu. Barbecue has been in the Worm family’s genes – or at least their taste buds — for more than half a century.

Worm’s paternal grandfather Dale Worm landed in San Diego in 1948 during a stint in the U.S. Navy and never left.

After serving time as a cook on a naval submarine, she said her grandfather attended San Diego State, where he realized he wanted to keep cooking, opening The Old Roadside BBQ on Mission Gorge Road in the Grantville area in 1958.

Her father, Oscar, caught the hospitality bug as well, and opened Bekker’s Barbecue in 1978. Together, Oscar and his wife, Olga ran the business for more than 20 years, added catering to their title, and retired in 2001. Six years later, they opened a new venture, West Coast Barbecue and Catering, in 2007. By 2010, they returned to Bekker’s Catering and in 2012 sold West Coast Barbecue.

 

Oscar retired but Olga Worm has been the CEO of Bekker’s since 1980, and Lara Worm’s brother, Scott, is the company’s executive chef and corporate vice president.

For Lara Worm, striking out on her own and carving her own niche in the world of hospitality has been rewarding to be sure. The day it opened, Bivouac signed an agreement with Jeff Hanssen, co-founder and CEO at Scout Distribution.

Pandemic Brings Distribution Needs to Forefront

The taproom and restaurant part of Bivouac Ciderworks was hit hard during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, but it has also seen its market grow in the retail sales side of the business.

 

Covid-19 hit the business hard, closing its doors for weeks, two different times due to state and county mandates. The business was able to get some financial help from the government to help cover costs but she recalled those forced closures as “dark times.”

 

Worm said despite the different challenges of the pandemic, that she never stopped believing in the potential of the Bivouac brand or the people connected to it.

Worm said the company “pivoted like crazy” and she was delivering cider to customers in care packages, with Bivouac t-shirts and rolls of toilet paper. She started an adventure club for a time where customers would meet to do outdoor activities, then drink cider outside.

She also said Scout distribution played a major role, and that the packaging sales side of Bivouac grew 300 percent during the shutdown.

Several months after the pandemic played some havoc, in June 2020, Worm said she made one of her best hires in 24-year-old Jamie Southerland.

“Jamie came to work with me in the middle of Covid-19,” Worm said. “It was me and her and no customers. I remember saying to her, ‘What are we going to do?’ Those were some of the hardest times, but we made it through. I owe a lot of gratitude to her.”

Southerland, a native of Kansas City, is the company’s brand manager, in charge of marketing, social media, event planning and more.

“It’s really awesome seeing the company grow since I’ve been here,” she said. “It’s been such a major growth, and I like knowing I’ve had a hand in that.”

Worm is proud that various Bivouac ciders have found their way into select San Diego area restaurants and retailers.

 

Some of the places she said Bivouac ciders are available at include Whole Foods, Total Wine, Hotel Del Coronado, OB Noodle House, The Crack Shack, Juniper & Ivy, and Park & Rec. They are sold at the Hotel Del Coronado, the San Diego Zoo and at Lindbergh Field. The ciders are also available at retail outlets in Orange County, Los Angeles County and Arizona.

BIVOUAC CIDERWORKS

Founded: 2017

Co-founder and owner: Lara Worm

Address: 3986 30th St., North Park, San Diego

Growth: 50% (Y-O-Y)

Website: www.bivouaccider.com

Instagram: @bivouaccider

Notable: Ciders at the taproom are all named after different kinds of knots.

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