As a part of their series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, Phil La Duke from Authority Magazine, sat down with Iron Hill's Co-founder, Mark Edelson. Phil writes:
Since co-founding Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in 1996, Mark Edelson transformed a personal home brewing hobby into an influential, award-winning career. He has been instrumental in securing 70 prestigious beer awards over the course of 23 years for the Wilmington, DE-based brewery and restaurant group. Edelson strives to ensure the continual integrity of the craft beer brewed throughout the company and maintains the reputation level of unsurpassed brewing creativity for the restaurant group. As part of his role, Edelson oversees all brewery operations including budgets and logistics of the group’s new and existing locations. He manages the existing team of regional and local brewers and supervises the annual beer calendar which encompasses an ever-changing variety of seasonal styles. Additionally, his role is critical to ensuring each restaurant adheres to the same standards in order to fulfill Iron Hill’s commitment and dedication to producing the freshest, highest quality craft beer on-site and enable diners with the most delicious, perfectly-brewed end result possible. With passion and expansive knowledge of brewing well beyond his home-brew kit, Edelson has guided Iron Hill to the top, earning awards at the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival (GABF), two highly coveted honors within the craft beer industry. Beyond obtaining numerous medals, Edelson was appointed a judge at the GABF and World Beer Cup and for a decade served as a member of the Board of Directors and Treasurer of the Brewers Association, whose goal is to promote and protect the U.S. craft brewing community’s interests. With a degree in chemical engineering from University of Pennsylvania, Edelson further honed his craft while attending the highly regarded Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy in Chicago. When he is not brewing up award-winning beer, Edelson enjoys time dedicated to his children’s activities, including coaching soccer.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in New Jersey and went to the University of Pennsylvania for undergrad. There I studied engineering and I started my career as a chemical engineer, which gave me a strong science background. From there I moved to Wilmington, DE.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
My business partner, Kevin and I, were home-brewing as a hobby, both of us working in jobs we didn’t love but we loved our hobby. For me my “ah ha” moment was when I was at a Penn alumni event Wilmington at a beer tasting and local brewer Jeff Ware of Dock Street Brewing attended the tasting and did a presentation of blueprints of a project he was doing of a brewpub in Philadelphia. The idea of a brewery and restaurant concept was fascinating to me and we decided to move into that direction.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
This could go on for hours. I think one of the things is that we went out and started to get involved and meet people in the industry — we went to the Great American Beer Festival and we went to small brewer conferences (national and local) and were very inspired by them. A lot of the brewers were willing to share all kinds of information (as this was pre-internet) which forced us to go research, not google, at the University of Delaware library, looking up things like article research on microfilm. To get those contacts and learn from people who were already doing this and giving our information really helped push us in the right direction and really helped guide us.