Crafting a Chain
Mark Edelson, a homebrewer and one of the founders of Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, said the idea of building a chain was discussed by his partners before the first location opened. “We recognized it would be difficult for the three of us to make a living off of a single location,” Edelson said. “Our plan was to open a second place within two years of the first.”
When the first Iron Hill location in Newark, DE, opened in November 1996, it was a hit almost from the start and the partners began plans to open the second location.
“The second one is the hardest. It is really the only time in the life of the business when you will increase everything in the company by 100 percent. It can be very stressful,” Edelson said. The company has brewpubs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
The success of Iron Hill is rooted in great beer–the company has won more than 30 medals at the Great American Beer Festival–but with a ninth location about to open and a 10th in the negotiation stage, beer is just one part of the equation.
“A lot of people got in the brewpub business focusing on beer first and food was an afterthought,” Edelson said. “We took beer very seriously. We took the food very seriously. And we take the service very seriously.”
Brewers at some brewpub chains keep things fresh by competing internally with new quality beers. Edelson said a 15-year streak of GABF medals and internal programs help stoke the competition among the brewing team.
At McMenamins, brewers at different locations face off against each other for bragging rights several times a year. One contest determines which McMenamins beer is served at the Oregon Brewers Festival. Another internal competition selects the company’s Holiday Ale Festival brew for the Thompson Barley Cup.
With the continued growth of brewpub chains, you might be tempted to think of them as “McBreweries,” but the truth is that most of these companies have carved out well-earned reputations for brewing great beer. And anyone who travels on a regular basis will tell you that spotting a trusted name for good beer and cuisine is a welcome sight.