How a small Kennett craft brewery survived the pandemic and thrives today – Daily Local

KENNETT SQUARE – The staff and owners of the Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen at Kennett Square are grateful for the support of the community that has sustained them during the pandemic – and they are excited to continue to make this central location a fun and welcoming place to old friends and new ones.

“It’s easier to be in a company where you have to smile all the time when you work in a place where you want to smile,” says general manager Ryan Wilson. He and his “right-hand” manager, Bridget Cain, both smile as they describe the camaraderie between staff and guests that creates a welcoming and relaxed vibe and also makes it a great place to work.

Back, stronger than ever

In their active recovery from the COVID shutdowns, Wilson and Cain and their team have been very intentional in focusing on what they do best and how they serve the community. “You have to focus on your role — what you do to keep people coming back,” Wilson says. As the place in town that stays open later and offers both a “world famous beer bible” and an extensive menu of seasonal craft cocktails, they knew they were a popular bar and the place of the last drink.

So when dining restrictions were finally fully lifted in May 2021, Wilson and Cain got into gear, executing their renewed vision for Grain KSQ. Their number one goal, Cain says, was to build trust as they worked to keep guests safe.

Demonstrating their own confidence in this dynamic new management team, co-owners Jim O’Donoghue and Lee Mikles gave Wilson and Cain the freedom to use their creativity in crafting new food and drink menus. Part of this process has been to redesign these menus in a way that celebrates how Grain’s offerings are both distinct from and complementary to those of the city’s other great restaurants. “The smaller, more focused menu allows us to showcase the food and allows those great menu items to shine,” says Wilson. From small plates to salads, sandwiches and heartier plates, there is something for everyone.

Wilson wanted the menu to feature what’s unique to Kennett Square, including the fresh local mushrooms he buys at Mushroom Cap, a stone’s throw away. Grain’s mushroom soup, for example, topped with mushroom crisps (also from The Mushroom Cap), is still on the menu, and KSQ burgers feature Beef’s Custom Grain Blend (or Impossible burger) and topping combinations. and Grain’s signature “OMG” sauce. “We want to pay homage to the town’s history and the things that make Grain a classic place, and add some fun new twists,” says Wilson.

Fun, fresh and seasonal cocktails

Cain smiles as he describes his work with bartender Joe Ordway to create a cocktail menu. She loves the magic that happens when she reinvents classic dishes with a local twist using fresh, seasonal ingredients. “It’s exciting to see people enjoying the drinks we’ve created,” she says.

Grain’s manager, Bridget Cain, loves the camaraderie between staff and guests which creates a welcoming and relaxed vibe and also makes Grain a great place to work. (DYLAN FRANCIS – MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Grain’s cocktail menu always includes a delicious selection of their signature crushes, and while some guests miss the Strawberry Lime Crush when strawberry season is over, the Blackberry Lemon Crush has become a new favorite during the winter months. A warming Maple Old Fashioned features Manatawny Still Works Maple Whiskey. The Unicorn, named for the Unicorn Tavern that once served travelers and locals on State Street where its namesake block now stands, brings together two classic cocktails – the Boston Cocktail and the Manhattan – and features the apricot brandy and bourbon from the United States. The JimLee, named after O’Donoghue and Mikles, is a delicious lemony version of the classic tendril.

With 21 taps downstairs and three more currently in use upstairs on the 410 @ Grain rooftop, Grain’s extensive beer list is another draw for guests. “We try to make sure that fifty percent of our beers are brewed within a hundred mile radius,” Wilson says. Grain’s ‘Beer Bible’ reads like a who’s who of brewing in the region and proudly showcases new, smaller breweries like Stolen Sun in Exton alongside more established local breweries like Victory, Dogfish and Yards.

Customers can expect new spring menus to come in April. “Some things might go away, but other favorites will be back,” Wilson promises.

Cheers

At the heart of Grain is about cultivating a sense of belonging and belonging. O’Donoghue and Mikles knew it can be hard to see a longtime and beloved restaurant like Half Moon go, and they wanted to honor that legacy. They spent time meeting Half Moon staff, listening to their suggestions and ideas. In a city with such a rich history as that of Kennett Square, any new business adds another chapter to the ongoing story.

Grain’s walls contain stories of first dates, special celebrations, and more. Architectural features such as the Kennett Candy Kitchen’s iconic wooden bar and original tiled floors connect today’s diners – enjoying the warm ambience and fresh seasonal menus – to its rich past. The Residents Wall illustrated by Juan Charles is a fun visual to remind everyone that the focus is on community and people who call Grain home.

Ask anyone who’s been there a while, say, about the Spiderman behind the bar. And new stories are being told all the time. This kind of banter around the bar, reminiscent of Cheers or an Irish pub, also invites new customers to join in. “We’ve seen people who have just moved into the area become regulars,” Cain says. She smiles. “They come as strangers and leave as friends.”

Cain, who worked at Grain in Newark, explains how the character of each Grain location reflects the place and its people. In Kennett Square, that small-town vibe includes people who come from other communities like Avondale and even West Chester. “We know the regulars by name,” she says. One of them even has his name on a bar chair.

“Staff from other restaurants congregate here as well,” says Wilson. “Everyone supports everyone. This kind of after-hours industry gathering also reflects a deeper and more important truth about small-town business. “If one of us is okay, it’s good for all of us,” Cain said.

Cultivate the community

Since the early days of 2017, when Mikles and O’Donoghue spent time walking down State Street, introducing themselves to other business owners and handing out invitations to Grain’s soft opening, they have prioritized talking, listening and building relationships with the people here. That’s why, says Wilson, they’ve been so successful in creating a great community place in a community that they themselves aren’t.

Mikles sits on the Kennett Collaborative Board of Directors and is a key member of the nonprofit’s Marketing Committee, where his creative ideas and passion for bringing people to town fueled the company’s recent rebrand. ‘organization. “We are grateful for Lee’s marketing expertise, creative energy and investment in Kennett Square,” said Bo Wright, executive director of Kennett Collaborative. “His leadership in the business community has helped elevate the city and instill this shared vision to make Kennett Square a great place to live, work and play. This is not just one business, but everyone working together to make it happen.

Mikles and O’Donoghue continued to expand the Grain brand and concept with more locations. The Grain KSQ is one of six future Grain locations, including the original restaurant in Newark, Delaware, Grain H20 on the water in Bear, Delaware, and another opening this spring at Wilmington’s Trolley Square. A commitment to offering well-prepared food and drink in a casual, friendly venue is the common denominator of all of these places.

Pleasure at the rendezvous

Dynamic programming is another key part of the Grain experience, and live music is also back on Grain’s menu every Friday and Saturday from 8-11 p.m. With “happy hours” from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, brunches on Saturdays and Sundays and bingo on Wednesdays, there is always something to enjoy.

And, of course, the famous rooftop bar, 410 @ Grain, which sits 410 feet above sea level, more or less, offers a year-round outdoor experience and views of Kennett. Square. “We’re constantly trying new and fun things,” says Wilson.

A thank you note

More than anything, Wilson and Cain want to say “thank you”. Along with Mikles and O’Donoghue and all the staff, they are deeply grateful for the community support over the past two years.

“It was very difficult, but we had a ton of support from people,” Wilson says. They are grateful to everyone who ordered takeout during the shutdown and during the very difficult holiday season in 2020, and they appreciated people’s understanding and continued support throughout the period when customers who wanted drinks also had to order meals.

It’s that kind of loyal community support, Wilson and Cain say, that has driven them through and eager to continue serving both old and new friends.

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