Our CEO, President and Co-founder Kevin Finn recently threw on his chef’s apron to spend the night working in our Ardmore kitchen. But, this wasn’t the first time that Finn took on culinary pursuits for Iron Hill. And, it won’t be his last.
We tap “Chief” below to reveal what sort of dishes he was cooking up—literally—on a recent Thursday night, how his roles have changed through the years at Iron Hill, and if he’ll be cooking again—very soon.
IHB Blog: You recently accepted Ardmore Head Chef Tim Andrews’ challenge to go behind the line and cook for a night in our kitchen. Can you share your experiences?
Kevin Finn: I’m not sure Tim “challenged” me to cook; he is smarter than that! I was really just an extra set of hands and had two great guys, Terrance and Justin, who showed me the ropes. It was a lot of fun just seeing what they do.
There was no way I was going to keep up with them on a busy Thursday night, but I tried to be helpful and they were very gracious. I made fish and chips, French fries, sweet potato fries and onion rings and helped plate the burgers. It was fun making fish and chips; you have to get the batter just right and drop it in the fryer just right so it does not stick.
This wasn’t your first time cooking on the line—correct? When we first opened Newark, what sort of work responsibilities did you have?
When we opened in Newark, my initial thought was we would be mildly successful, I’d make beer a few times a week and then go on to do something else. Of course, we were wildly successful, particularly on the culinary side, doing twice the food sales that we had anticipated in our first year. But I really can’t take any credit for that. My business partner, Kevin Davies, designed the menu along with our chef Dan Bethard. They both continue to do that to this day.
Once we opened, I quickly became a restaurant manager (and left the brewing to my second business partner, Mark Edelson, and my brother Brian). I spent the first year or so as a manager along with other duties (mostly marketing but also site selection, accounting and finance). Like any new business owner, we all spent a lot more than 40 hours a week in our new jobs. But I never really spent much time in the kitchen those first couple of years. It wasn’t until after we opened our third store in Media (in 2000) that I offered to work in the kitchen—mostly for fun and to show the kitchen employees I respected them for what they did. I did this off and on for a couple years, but it had been a long while.
And, of them all, which role did you enjoy the most?
Over the years, I have tried to spend one day a week in the restaurant. It used to be that I would actually function as a manager on the floor. But to be honest, I probably was not the best. The joke when I worked was that everyone should “batten down the hatches” because I usually gravitated to the host stand and I had a reputation for seating the dining room too fast and overloading (weeding) the kitchen. They eventually barred me from controlling the seating of the restaurants and now I usually talk to guests and help bus tables. I have no problems getting my hands dirty and I really enjoy working with the staff and I think they appreciate it.
So circling back, I’m not nearly as comfortable in the kitchen and when I mentioned to chef Tim about my past experiences in the kitchen, he asked me to do it in Ardmore. So I accepted, not really thinking it was a big deal. Of course, about a dozen managers from around the company came out to cheer me on!
How does being able to fill in at any role of our company make you a stronger restaurant owner?
Wow, there’s no way I could fill in every role—there are many talented people at Iron Hill and they do a great job. I think what is valuable is understanding what they do and what are some of the challenges both short term and long term. You often think of restaurant people turning over, but that often is not the case, particularly in the kitchen. Terrance started in our Media restaurant almost six years ago and Justin has been with us five years this fall. I was extremely impressed by their knowledge and skills and most importantly by how much they care about our products.
How has the food menu evolved at Iron Hill since we opened our first restaurant?
We change the menu twice a year to accommodate changes in seasonal ingredients, but we have made two major changes over the years. Prior to opening our fourth restaurant in Wilmington, all of the menus were slightly different. We decided with the opening in Wilmington that it made sense to have just one menu. The biggest challenge was consistency of our products and it made sense to go to one menu so we could have better control of all our products.
The second big change was when we expanded our menu from about 50 items to the current 80 or more items. We wanted to offer a better breadth of items for our guests.
Can we expect to catch you on the line again soon?
Yes, I plan on working in Ardmore for the next couple Thursdays, and many of the general managers from other stores are requesting that I work in their kitchens as well. I hope to really learn the station in Ardmore and then maybe stop in for a shift in the other restaurants. It should be fun!
With 11 locations in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, there’s an Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant near you. We specialize in handcrafted beers and fresh, from-scratch New American cuisine. Monthly releases vary by location, so scout out our beers on tap and visit us soon.
Content provided by Dish Works author Amy Strauss.