Zach Strief never got that last game: the one when he would know going in that it marked the end of his football career, the one when he could look up from the gridiron one final time in gratitude to the Who Dat Nation, cheering for him.
But Strief counts himself lucky to have something not everyone in the game gets.
“I played for one team for 12 years. I had a chance to spend my whole career here, and New Orleans just became ingrained in me. That’s why it’s home, and that’s why I’m going to spend the rest of my life here,” said Strief, who is 34 and just became a dad.
“It was the relationships I built with people in New Orleans that kept me playing and kept me here," he said.
Now, instead of building those New Orleans relationships in black and gold, he’s cultivating them around amber lagers, hazy pale ales and deep dark stouts.
Strief is the managing partner for Port Orleans Brewing Co. He opened the craft brewery in Uptown New Orleans last year with five partners, all friends (including his father-in-law).
Now that he has stepped away from football, he is stepping into a bigger role at Port Orleans.
But first, he’ll be raising a glass to Saints fans with a retirement party Saturday at the brewery, which is free and open to the public. He sees it as a chance to convene with the people who supported him through his career with the Saints, from his arrival as an unheralded draft pick in 2006 to his emergence as the redoubtable guardian of Drew Brees.
He’s hired Rebirth Brass Band to play, and the brewery will debut a special retirement party beer, a double IPA dubbed Glory Haze, which drinks smooth but packs a wallop.
The brewery’s in-house eatery, the Stokehold, is on board for the event. Its chefs will serve a special menu of dishes drawn from Strief’s own family cookbook, a spiral-bound collection of home-spun flavors going back to his school days (I’m keeping an eye out for Gladys' Cincinnati chili lasagna, the "walking tacos," and the rye party puffs).
It’s a safe bet you’ll see plenty of fans wearing Strief’s No. 64 jersey at the party, though around the brewery itself there’s no football memorabilia in sight. That’s intentional.
“I don’t want people to think that me being part of this brewery is a gimmick, that it’s all about me as football player because it’s not,” he said. “This is not just something where I put my name on it. This is my career now.”
Strief is the most hands-on member of the ownership group. He doesn’t brew the beer; brew master Brian Allen oversees that. But he's there for the gamut of tasks it takes to run a brewery and develop the business. He consults on day-to-day decisions and, especially since hanging up his cleats, he’s become a public ambassador for the homegrown brand.
The lineman's towering stature makes him hard to miss, but it’s also his standing in the community that recommends him for that assignment.
On the field, his No. 1 job was protecting No. 9, repulsing pass rushers trying to sack Brees. Off the field, he became a gregarious, generous contributor to the New Orleans social and charitable circuit. (On April 23, he joins a roster of star New Orleans chefs for Chefs’ Charity for Children, a benefit for St. Michael’s Special School).
Strief knows he could have found easier post-football prospects than building a new company in a competitive market, and he entertained plenty of offers. But he saw something in the New Orleans beer business that appealed to his appreciation for his adopted home.
“What a cool way to be involved in the life of the city,” Strief said. “Think about festivals, crawfish boils, fishing, all these things New Orleans loves to do, beer fits right in. It seems like such a natural way to connect with New Orleans and be part of what people love.”
Of course, football is also something New Orleans loves, and beer has been known to go with that, too. So while Saturday’s event is officially Strief's retirement party, it might also serve as a toast to this Saint's next play.
Port Orleans Brewing Co., 4124 Tchoupitoulas St.
Saturday (April 21), noon to 5 p.m.
Rebirth Brass Band performs; Stokehold eatery prepares special dishes based on Strief’s family cookbook; debut of Glory Haze beer; free admission, all ages
Crawfish season is finally rolling for real, and so the food conversation turns to the endless variations on seasoning, timing, technique, pro…
It's not hard to find a drink in New Orleans. But getting a beer straight from the source at one of the local breweries now proliferating here…
A new brewery builds a reputation one beer at a time. At the latest brewery to emerge in New Orleans, you might want to drink two as you consi…
Mei Wong was not pleased to learn her five sons were determined to be restaurateurs, though eventually that decision would bring the kind of j…