Supporter Salute: The Mad Duck, Tapping Potential

We love the way this Fresno-area microbrewery coaxes flavor from beer and makes friends of strangers. But what really drives these “Ducks” is cultivation of human promise.

A lot makes Mad Duck Craft Brewing and the Edward O. Lund Foundation a great pairing.

Their drive to explore. Their focus on craft. Their convivial itch to bring people together over good food and drink.

Another talent binds supporter and cause: a gift for sensing potential and setting it in motion, whether a business idea, beer or budding artist.

Jacob Urive, Dustin Llanes and Alex Costa founded The Mad Duck “in a kind of Jerry McGuire moment”, and never looked back.

Jacob Urive, Dustin Llanes and Alex Costa founded The Mad Duck “in a kind of Jerry McGuire moment”, and never looked back.

“There is sort of a hand-holding marriage of ideas there,” says Alex Costa, one of the Fresno-based restaurant group’s founders. The Mad Duck has supported the Foundation from inception, hosting the Scotch, Brew & Art Affair fundraiser each October. A close friend of Ed Lund and member of the board, Costa says there’s a natural affinity between the Duck and Lund Scholars.

“They often talk about not fitting in or not feeling comfortable, or not having a chance or self-¬¬confidence,” he says. “We also see a ton of that in the restaurant industry.”

Like college, a first job is a rite of passage. For many area young people, working at one of the Mad Duck’s four local pubs is an initiation into the adult world of work and larger society.

Many are intimidated, especially by demanding or cranky guests, Costa says. His team makes it a mission to help these “fledglings” gain trust in themselves and others, a value-based strength that can serve them better than résumé bullet points.

“We’re trying to equip them so that when they do eventually outgrow us and move on into the world, they remember that there’s a lot of good and a lot of people who will provide it,” he says.

The confidence to actualize ideas forms the heart of the Mad Duck origin story.

In the mid-2000’s, Costa and friends Dustin Llanes and Jacob Urive had promising ideas for the restaurant where they worked but kept getting ignored. They were just in their mid-20s, which helps explain what happened next.

“In a kind of Jerry McGuire moment, we all quit,” Costa says.

They had no funding, staff or kitchen. But they had confidence in their idea for a family friendly place modeled on pubs in Boston and England, where Costa had studied in college.

They found a location at the busy corner of Herndon and Willow avenues in Clovis and, with some private funding and sweat equity, opened The Mad Duck Neighborhood Grill & Taphouse in 2010.

Photo of Mudbog art by Terrance Reimer

The original Mad Duck Taphouse & Neighborhood Grill opened in Clovis in 2010. Today, it’s affectionately known as “Baby Duck.”

The following year, Costa worked with engineer Mark Bagdasarian to learn how to brew beer, converting parts of his home to a makeshift lab. Two years and some ruined floorboards later, Mad Duck opened its Copper Pointe microbrewery with Bagdasarian as head brewer.

Another microbrewery followed in 2019 in northwest Fresno, and a new restaurant opened at Copper River Marketplace this April. Other “McGuire moments” include a food truck, brewer’s dinners, dog-friendly patios and a growing pile of restaurant and beer-making awards.

Today, Costa says he thinks of the Mad Duck as “a people, not a place.”

“A lot of people just needed an opportunity, a place where people would believe in them,” he says. “The Duck has proven that treating people well and working with them, not above them, produces some really remarkable results. The Lund Foundation absolutely embodies that.”

Both organizations also recognize the real value of a “well-rounded” liberal arts education.

Students with the drive to focus on philosophy, history or other arts and letters subjects should not be dismissed, he says. They should be prized.

“It’s always easy to sit there and say, ‘Hey, you can’t make a living painting’ but I’m like, ‘Hmm. Is that really the point?’” he says. “Or is the point that they understand color and beauty and history in a way that somebody who lacks that education never will? Therefore, they can bring more to their communication about how they feel and what they can add to the story that makes us human.”

Since opening, the Mad Duck has earned a growing pile of accolades for its beer, food, people and community focus.

This “human story” helps people in pluralistic societies bond and engage ideas with sincerity, or at least civility, he adds.  “It’s just vital to a healthy progress of––how I would want anyway––humanity to go forward.”

Like helping a new bartender see the good in a testy guest, sending arts and humanities students to study abroad has measureless ripple effects, Costa says.

“The Lund Foundation is the epitome of generosity and kindness,” he says. “If that affects people in a way that they are pulled to carry the torch forward, and it spreads out and spreads out and spreads out, that light is going to drown out a lot of darkness. I firmly believe it will.”

Costa says he thinks of the Mad Duck “as a people, not a place.” Clearly, a lot of people around Fresno do, too.

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Supporter Salute: The Mad Duck, Tapping Potential

by | Jun 9, 2024 | Supporter Stories, Uncategorized


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