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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But where, I ask, are the salmon spring rolls I remembered from Best of Delaware parties in the past? The trio breaks out into guffaws. “You set that up!” Edelson says to Finn. “I know you did.” Apparently, a customer has been waging a relentless Twitter campaign to get them reinstalled, and Iron Hill recently agreed. The Lejon pizza, put on hold when the company had trouble finding the right rock shrimp, is also scheduled to return.
You like customers. You really like them.
Listening to customer feedback is common at Iron Hill. Finn, in particular, is a numbers and stats guy who digs into surveys and statistics, which are important when it comes to new locations. The core customer is a college graduate between the ages of 25 and 54 in the upper income bracket. As for sites, “we’re very Main Street-based,” Finn says. “We like to be in small urban towns with a good upscale population and foot and car traffic.” The partners are looking forward to the day when the Riverfront residences are fully occupied.
Iron Hill restaurants are currently within a 100-mile radius of Wilmington, home to the headquarters of their company, C&D Brewing Co. Lancaster is the farthest away. Since Delaware last year boosted the number of brewpubs a single company could own from two to three, another Delaware location is possible.
The challenge is not finding the right site or the right financing, Finn says. It’s finding the right people. Iron Hill is picky, and training is intensive. Judging by the server who reeled off the qualities of each beer and suggested appetizers to share, it works. Those who do well move up the ranks, which is partly why Iron Hill keeps expanding, says Finn. He’s not joking.
Employees are hired with an eye on management. “Who’s going to run the next kitchen? Who’s going to run the next restaurant? The next brewery? What we do is complicated; you need to be good at business, good at marketing, good in the restaurant business,” Finn says.
Those questions have become even more important lately. During lunch, the partners frequently talk about “getting out of the way.” They learned the need for that early on in Newark when a manager took Edelson aside and told him the partners didn’t need to be on site so much; the managers wanted to do their jobs.
“We’re successful restaurateurs,” Edelson says. “Our interest now is building the company.” Since they aren’t the face of the brand, which often happens in the brewing industry, they’re in an ideal position to step back from daily operations and focus on the future, Russell says.
Franchising, however, is not part of that future. Nor, for now, is second concept. “We feel there are plenty of opportunities for Iron Hill still,” Finn says. And that’s something beer fanatics in the tri-state region can drink to.