With third location, bugs are mostly Ironed out

ron Hill Brewery & Restaurant just opened its third location – this one in downtown Media – and co-owner Kevin Davies is wary. “We don’t know if it’s going to be a big success or not,” he said. “No one knows until you’re up and running for a few months. ”

I think he’s just being modest.

Davies and his partners, Kevin Finn and brewer Mark Edelson, have fashioned a growing, popular restaurant chain that is the envy of his industry. The menu always gets great reviews, the beer has won more than its share of awards and every time I visit, it’s SRO.

The 200-seat Media brewpub (slightly smaller than the West Chester spot), features more than $1 million in renovations to a former drugstore, including a handsome mahogany-and-metal bar.

How do they do it?

Davies sat down for dinner and ales recently, while I scribbled a sixpack of his ideas. (Full disclosure: Davies’ brother, Paul, is an occasional rightfielder for the DN softball team and a fellow People Paper writer.)

1. Run your place like a restaurant that happens to have a brewery on the premises.

This doesn’t mean ignore the suds. Indeed, as long as it keeps pouring its Pig Iron Porter, Iron Hill will never have to apologize for the quality of its beer.

Instead, it means you should ask yourself: If the beer suddenly disappeared, what would you be left with?

In Iron Hill’s case, it’s an attractive dining room with a cheerful, efficient staff and a tasty, affordable menu. In other words, a place you’d visit even if there wasn’t good beer on tap.

2. Treat your employees well.

“Beer is such a great thing for camaraderie and friendship,” Davies said. “So we encourage our employees to enjoy a glass at the end of their shift. “

A simple thing, like taking a group of workers to the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, goes a long way toward building employee morale, he said.

3. Cater to kids.

As much as I detest the tots biting my ankles at the bar, it does make sense to be friendly to the little ones if you’re running a suburban restaurant. Most of Iron Hill’s patrons, after all, are moms and dads.

“We train our staff to bend over backwards for kids,” Davies said. “And we price our children’s entrees inexpensively. “

And how about pint-size beers for the kiddies? Davies said he’d get back to me on that one.

4. Show off your beers with good food.

“My experience was in matching wine with food, so it only made sense to do the same with beer,” Davies said.

He and his first chef spent nine months designing their first menu – from the choice of entrees to the typeface.

They ruled out French food and tried to stay away from Italian. Much of the cuisine is Southwestern, with a healthy nod toward New Orleans.

The result is attractive tables laden with grilled fish and wood-oven pizzas, cassoulets and hearty sandwiches – and pints of amber lagers and dark porters. A meal has the full, guilt-free feel of a workingman’s lunch.

Which completely belies the next lesson:

5. Cater to women.

“A lot of people look at us sideways on this,” Davies said, because beer is such a guy thing. But once men get the big hookup, 85 percent of nightly dining decisions are made by the woman.

“Women want something more than a masculine experience,” Davies said. “You know, hanging out at the bar and eating fried food. “

She might like beer, but she’s probably more interested in a good-quality meal.

The way Davies sees it, when a woman takes her man to a brewpub, it’s a no-lose proposition: She gets a nice night out, plus she pleases her man because he gets to drink beer at a brewery.

He wins, meanwhile, because he gives her the reins. Plus (did we mention?) he gets to drink beer at a brewery.

6. Know your demographic.

Most brewpub customers are 25 to 55 years old, according to Davies. And they’re college-educated.

But here’s the key for Iron Hill: 80 percent of its patrons come from within a 7-mile radius.

So, rather than hope it can convince potential customers to make a long trip, Iron Hill pays close attention to location, location, location.

Its first two pubs are in college towns (Newark, Del., and West Chester), but not because of the ample supply of beer-swilling students (though the schools do provide workers). Instead, Iron Hill was attracted by the town culture – the ivy atmosphere on campus and the casual environment in a well-heeled downtown.

Media is not a college town, but as a county seat, the atmosphere is much the same.

Where will Iron Hill look next?

These are just guesses, but Doylestown and Haddonfield, N.J., would be naturals. And, Davies said, don’t rule out Philly.

About that location: Iron Hill seems to have a thing for catchy intersections. In West Chester, the brewpub is located at the subversive corner of Gay and High streets. In Media, it’s tempting the U.S. Constitution at the corner of Church and State.

Beer radar

Joe Sixpack’s free lunch at McGillin’s Olde Ale House on June 30 was a hobbling success. The event kicked off American Beer Month (yes, it’s still going on, so drink American!) and attracted a score of out-of-town brewers.

Yours truly showed up limping in a softball-induced leg cast. I managed to greet more than 100 guests before collapsing into publican Chris Mullin’s excellent Irish stew.

Good spirits flowed at the remainder of the weekend’s beer-month events, including the Great American Blind Taste Test at the Irish Pub. In a contest between American-made brews and imports, the Yankees won 4-1:

Samuel Adams Boston Lager spanked Heineken with 74 percent of the vote.

Yards Brawler nipped Boddington’s (53 percent).

Stoudt American Pale Ale scared off John Courage (79 percent).

Samuel Adams Cream Stout creamed Guinness Extra Stout (80 percent).

Only Germany’s Paulaner Hefe-weizen excelled among the imports, defeating Penn Hefe-Weizen (66 percent).

Road trip

By the time you read this, only a few tickets will remain for O’Neal’s (611 S. 3rd St., below South) bus ride to Yankee Stadium on Monday. The bus, which leaves at 3 p.m., will be stocked with food, beer (Brooklyn Brewing) and a john. The $65 ticket (see the bartender) pays for everything, including a ticket to watch the Phils take on the Yanks.

Joe Sixpack, by staff writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Celis White.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *