Interview with Kevin Finn, 2016 February 2

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  • Introduction
    Partial Transcript: "I grew up in South Jersey, Glassboro." "My father is the son of a coal miner from the Scranton, Wilkes-Barre area..." "I ended up getting a degree in manufacturing engineering, which of course, I never used."
    Synopsis: Finn discusses his childhood in Glassboro, New Jersey. He says that he went to college at Boston University and never figured out what he wanted to do with his life, but graduated with a degree in manufacturing engineering. He says that while he has never used his degree, the education to become an engineer can teach a person how to solve problems, a skill he uses regularly. He says that he always enjoyed restaurant work and that his interest in it went as far back as the 1970s when he worked in Glassboro's first Burger King.
    Keywords: Boston University; Glassboro, New Jersey; Newark, New Jersey; Saskatoon, Canada; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Working in restaurants and starting to home brew beer
    Partial Transcript: "I never considered myself a restaurateur... I liked it much more than the billboard business." "I don't know that I could ever sit at a desk or cubicle." "She decided I needed a hobby, so she bought me a home brewing kit..." "Eventually we put together a business plan and got somewhat serious about it..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about working in restaurants as a young man and says the he always enjoyed the feeling of working with what he describes as fun, young people. He also talks about how he started to home brew beer with Mark Edelson, one of his future business partners at Iron Hill. He says that they entered and won many home brewing contests together and eventually got the idea to start a brew pub.
    Keywords: contests; home brew clubs; home brewing; restaurant; work
  • Writing a business plan and finding a first location for Iron Hill
    Partial Transcript: "We got pretty serious about it, we were looking for locations." "What first planted the seed? How did you first start thinking about building a business?" "You hope for success but you plan for the worst."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about finding a location for the first Iron Hill location and writing a business plan for it. He says that they were able to research how to do such a thing online and at the University of Delaware library. He says that in their first year of business they made three million dollars, when they estimated they would only make two million dollars. He says that the extra million dollars came from the high quality of their food and that at the time most places in Newark appealed to undergraduate students, and not locals, university faculty, and graduate students.
    Keywords: brew pub; Brewer's Association; business plan; Iron Hill Brewery; money; Newark, Delaware; Restaurant Association; University of Delaware
  • Locating a restaurant in Newark, Delaware
    Partial Transcript: "You said the location sort of picked you because of the property owner?" "My architects weren't thrilled with the building's design from the exterior, but they did a great job inside..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about the pitfalls of having a restaurant in Newark, Delaware. Overall, he is happy with the location, which he says chose them. He says that they had looked in other locations in Newark, but got a chance to occupy a newly constructed building at a fair price, which they did. He laments the parking situation in Newark, and compares it to West Chester Pennsylvania, and praises both town's universities for having built parking garages and that he wishes the city of Newark had municipal parking garages like the city of West Chester.
    Keywords: brew pub; Iron Hill Brewery; micro brewery; Newark, Delaware; parking; renovation; restaurant; University of Delaware; West Chester University; West Chester, Pennsylvania
  • Early expansion of Iron Hill Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "Once we joined forces with Kevin, it became obvious that we were gonna open a brew pub." "We built that restaurant for $800,000, now it costs $4,000,000." "People were tired of suburbia... and these small urban centers were becoming really popular..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about the early expansion of Iron Hill Brewery's restaurants. He says that after hiring a general manager at their Newark location, they started to plan for a second one. After scouting one unsuitable site, they were able to secure a lease for a defunct Woolworth's in West Chester. He says that they opened in time for the town's restaurant festival and that they did so well they had to shut down for a few days afterward. He says that opening their second restaurant was one of the most trying things his business did, but that the West Chester location has been a "bear" and is in a larger and nicer building than their first location. He says that for several years their West Chester location was their biggest money maker.
    Keywords: brew pub; business; micro brewery; restaurant festival; West Chester, Pennsylvania; Woolworth's
  • Expanding Iron Hill Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "Media Pennsylvania was our next site, it is also the county seat of Delaware County, there used to be a Woolworth's there." "...If we didn't live in West Chester, I'd probably think about living in Media..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about opening a third Iron Hill Brewery location in Media, Pennsylvania. He says that it took several years to get there, but their Media location is now their top money maker. He goes on to talk about what makes Media and Delaware County favorable to his business. He says that if he did not live in West Chester, he might live in Media.
    Keywords: Chester County; Delaware County; Eckerd Drug; Media, Pennsylvania; West Chester, Pennsylvania; Woolworth's
  • Opening a restaurant on the Wilmington riverfront
    Partial Transcript: "Were you opening brew houses [brewing operations] in each new location?" "We never considered not having a brewery for the most part..." "There's still, if you look out back here the cranes..." "There was no one here, there was a baseball stadium and that was it." "It's our only two level restaurant..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about opening a location in Wilmington on the riverfront. He says that at the time, it was a daunting prospect as they were one of the first businesses to move in during the revitalization process. He recalls that there were some days in the winter when no one showed up. He also remarks that the Wilmington location is the only two story Iron Hill Brewery.
    Keywords: brew house; brewery; riverfront; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Further expansion and demographic targets
    Partial Transcript: "Our next store [was] way outside of our model...in North Wales, Pennsylvania." "Most of our guests are college educated, mostly over twenty five up to fifty five..." "Business people, young people come in for happy hour... we do a lot of families..." "We've decide that dining is where we put our major focus."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about the demographics of his pubs. He remarks that being near a Trader Joe's grocery store seems to be very good for business. He says that his primary demographic is people who are college educated, between the ages of twenty five and fifty five, who live within five to seven miles of the restaurant. He says that while beer is important to his business, their main focus is actually dining and says that the culture shock when they have tried to operate like a bar is too much for his staff to handle.
    Keywords: demographics; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Media, Pennsylvania; North Wales, Pennsylvania; Trader Joe's; West Chester, Pennsylvania
  • Iron hill's brewing, food, and business practices
    Partial Transcript: "I think, you know, in the early years of the craft... you couldn't get many of the styles of beer we are brewing twenty years ago..." "We've always brewed beer that people wanted to drink..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about Iron Hill's practices. He says that they have not been innovative in as much as creating new types of beers, but that they're the only people who do exactly what they do and they are the best at it and their version of similar but slightly different is what Finn believes is the secret to their success.
    Keywords: brewing beer; craft beer; demographics; drinking beer; innovation
  • Brewing beer that people want to drink and changing tastes in beer
    Partial Transcript: "When we opened in 1996 the craft beer industry was evening out..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about changing tastes in beer over the past twenty years. He talks about the boom in popularity of very hoppy IPA style beers, and how he thinks the tide is starting to turn against them as less hoppy IPAs are becoming popular. He says that he does not know what the next major trend will be, but that he wants his breweries to focus on small batches of beer and to be more innovative.
    Keywords: American wheat beer; brew pub; brewing; dry Irish stout; hops; India Pale Ale; IPA;Iron Hill; lager;Newark, Delaware; Oktoberfest; pumpkin beer; Session IPA
  • Origin of the Iron Hill name
    Partial Transcript: "We called it, I think C and D brewing company inc..." "We didn't really have a trade name." "That was our legal name, we were waiting for a site before we came up with a trade name." "We can call Iron Hill anything or put that anywhere..." "Our mark right now is the bird with the hops and barley in the wings of it..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about coming up with the Iron Hill name and incorporating as a company. He says that they went through many different brand names after incorporating and that the "Iron Hill" name came from a map book that Finn had. They discovered the name's connection to regional history and thought it sounded cool. He says that his wife came up with the logo to match the Arts and Crafts architecture and decoration of Iron Hill Brewery.
    Keywords: Arts and Crafts movement; business; c corporation; Chesapeake and Delaware Brewing Company; Iron Hill Brewery; limited liability corporation; partnership; s corporation; taxation; trademark
  • Marketing, advertising and further expansion Iron Hill Brewery
    Partial Transcript: "Word of mouth advertising is the number one driver." "We built a loyalty program..." "We've had a lot of success there (Lancaster, PA)" "It was the first brewery to open in ten years in New Jersey..."
    Synopsis: Finn describes advertising and marketing for Iron Hill. He says that word of mouth remains the best form of advertisement in the restaurant business. He briefly describes Iron Hill's loyalty program and how popular it is at their location in Maple Shade, New Jersey. He also lists several more Iron Hill locations in the order they were opened. He also describes the circumstances leading to their opening.
    Keywords: advertising; Armstrong; billboard; branding; customer service; Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Maple Shade, New Jersey; Philadelphia Pennsylvania; Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; Voorhees, New Jersey
  • Constructing Iron Hill Brewery locations
    Partial Transcript: "We're spending more money up front to design, to engineer the system so that it will last longer." "Two of the last restaurants have been built using union labor..." "The footprint has gotten bigger..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about what goes into picking and building locations for Iron Hill Brewery. He explains why costs have gone up and says that in addition to real estate costing more, they now put more effort into the initial construction of a site to avoid issues in the future. Finn talks about Iron Hill's role in urban renewal of the areas that they have expanded into and says that participating in that process was not deliberate, but that those towns offered good opportunities for a community oriented business like theirs.
    Keywords: construction; cost; design; expense; labor; urban renewal
  • The economics of running Iron Hill
    Partial Transcript: "I think a lot of young people are moving toward urban areas..." "Employees, we're at about 1100 today..." "I think we'll do close to 60 million dollars in revenue..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about the changing economy as well as the economics of running Iron Hill. He discusses plans to have private equity firm manage Iron Hill Brewery after he and his fellow co-founders leave the restaurant industry. He says that he is most interested in any plan that will allow Iron Hill to continue to grow at the same rate it is currently growing.
    Keywords: deindustrialization; employee stock option plan; employees; employment; ESOP; Great Recession; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; private equity firms; revenue; service economy
  • Differences in doing business in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey
    Partial Transcript: "Every state is different... it makes it a challenge when you're operating with different states..." There's 10,000-12,000 liquor licenses in the state...its on a per capita basis." "We pay five taxes on alcohol...so buying alcohol in Pennsylvania is very expensive."
    Synopsis: Finn describes the challenges of getting liquor licenses in the states that Iron Hill operates in. He says that New Jersey is the most expensive state to obtain a license, followed by Pennsylvania. Delaware is the cheapest.He says that Pennsylvania's system is the most difficult to deal with because anything other than his own beer must be bought from the state of Pennsylvania and picked up at the nearest state run liquor store. He says that they do not deliver or offer very good discounts. He briefly talks about his ambitions for expanding Iron Hill to the rest of the Mid-Atlantic/ Northeast region, potentially as far north as Boston, Massachusetts.
    Keywords: Delaware; exspansion; liquor licenses; Mid-Atlantic; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Restaurant Association; regulations; self distribution
  • Passion and innovation in business
    Partial Transcript: "First, find something that you're passionate about and good at, and you'll be successful..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about the importance of having passion for what you do, whatever it is that you do. He thinks that if a person is good at something, and they love what they are doing, they will be successful. He also discusses innovation and says that his business partners are more centered around innovation and that he wants to take their ideas and other people's ideas and make them work for Iron Hill. He briefly talks about the connections they made when they reached out to the private equity firm, especially about marketing and branding and how he hopes to use those ideas in the future.
    Keywords: business; innovation; marketing; passion; success
  • Business culture at Iron Hill
    Partial Transcript: "A brand is what people think of your business..." "It's more cultural than everything... as a culture do you look for that?" "you have to get good at finding and developing people and have a track record of doing it "
    Synopsis: Finn talks about the importance of business culture at Iron Hill and career development for employees. He talks about how it feels it's necessary for a business to have a program of finding and developing talent and that it is a responsibility that Iron Hill takes seriously. He says that that policy draws talent toward Iron Hill.
    Keywords: branding; business culture; development; marketing
  • The future of craft brewing
    Partial Transcript: "There's some people that say there's gonna be 10,000 breweries... I think it's a bubble" "..they get to a certain point and they stop changing..."
    Synopsis: Finn talks about the future of craft brewing. He says that he believes it is possible for there to eventually be 10,000 breweries in the United States just like there are 10,000 wineries, but that this number will come after a few cycles of boom and bust. He thinks that his business will survive due to their size and longevity, but that middle sized and under capitalized beer makers might suffer while large regional beer makers and very small beer makers might not suffer as much or at all.
    Keywords: beer; capitalization; craft brewing; economic bubble; restaurant; sustainability