The Boys of Iron Hill
The secret to the brewery’s success is simple yet complicated—kind of like good beer.
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It’s 12:30 p.m. on a Monday and Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant on the Wilmington Riverfront is busy. Men and women in suits talk business over burgers and sandwiches. Children share a pizza under a mom’s watchful eye, and girlfriends catch up over iced tea and salads.
Tucked in a booth near the open kitchen, owners Kevin Davies, Kevin Finn and Mark Edelson sip beers while perusing the menu. For the average diner, that would take time. Menu categories range from soups and salads to sandwiches to egg rolls to entrées. Edelson, however, doesn’t hesitate. He wants the Thai popcorn chicken, golden nuggets in a zesty chili sauce. “It’s outstanding,” Edelson says. “That dish is great. I love it.”
Davies looks up with surprise. This is something he didn’t know. “Do you really?”
“It’s my favorite,” Edelson says. “It is so good, I’m singing the praises of it.”
Davies is more of a tuna tataki kind of guy. We order the two items for the table, and when the dishes arrive, their enthusiasm for both becomes evident. I hastily get a fork in before only the pea shoot-and-bean sprout salad is left on the popcorn chicken’s plate.
There’s something satisfying about seeing restaurant owners enjoy their establishment’s food with such gusto. But as the hour unfolds, it’s equally impressive to see how well the partners get along after nearly 15 years in business.
I first interviewed them together back in 1997, after they’d opened the flagship Newark location, and again in 2001, before the Riverfront’s opening. The partners still trade witticisms in an easy repartee, and they still listen to each other instead of stepping on each other’s words. When one offers an opinion about the business, the others seem in agreement. There’s no eye-rolling, no barbs, no contradictions.
Are they for real? If not, I’m not the only one who’s fooled. “I’ve had a lot of beers with each of them, and I’ve never heard them say a bad word about each other,” says Don Russell, who writes the Joe Sixpack column for the Philadelphia Daily News.
Iron Hill’s achievements in many ways are the sum of their parts. As Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, puts it: “They’re three really good, smart, complementary, talented people who attract hundreds of good, smart hospitality coworkers to help them build a great success story.”
Iron Hill is indeed a success story. There are eight locations in suburban Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. The ninth, scheduled to open in Chestnut Hill, Pa., before the year’s end, signifies Iron Hill’s official foray into beer-centric Philadelphia, which tolerates no slouches when it comes to suds. Russell has frequented all but one of the restaurants. “They do a lot of things right in my opinion,” he says.
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