After seven years of homebrewing, the Lewises decided to open the city's first brewpub on Main Street and so far, business has been very brisk.
Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
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As Chip and Summer Lewis were opening Iechyd Da Brewing Co., they heard the same questions a lot.
The first was, “Really? In Elkhart?”
The second was and is, “How do you say it?”
The latter is easy. It's “Yacky Da.” It's a Welsh saying that essentially means “cheers.”
The first is a larger question. It's surprising that Elkhart hasn't had a brewpub or brewing company. Mad Anthony's didn't brew here but people liked the food and beer.
But Chip Lewis, a homebrewer for the last seven years, started working on a brewpub for downtown Elkhart with his wife, Summer.
They renovated the building at 317 N. Main St. on the northern edge of the downtown corridor. They took their beers to festivals and events to build familiarity and a customer base.
And they opened June 1 with a small menu and about six beers on tap. They have eight taps for beer, two for soda and two for hand-pulled beer, which is less carbonated and served warmer.
They thought 75 percent of their sales would be the beer Chip crafts, taking 14 days to turn grain into something you can drink from a glass. The other 25 percent would be food.
They guessed wrong.
Forty-five percent of their sales are from food. “People are coming in for dinner, not just a pint,” Summer said. “We had to add to our kitchen staff almost immediately.”
They have a handful of pizzas, sandwiches and appetizers.
The pizzas have gotten better since the opening. The crust is thin and crisp. The toppings range from rosemary oil or pesto to pepperoni and red sauce. The 12-inch pizzas are $9.95. The Landimore Garlic with garlic oil, sundried tomato, artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, mozzarella and goat cheese is very nice.
Both kinds of beer cheese they make are delicious. I love the warm, soft pretzel available as an appetizer on weekends. (The molten beer cheese it comes with includes bacon grease, onion and garlic.)
The hot sandwiches are served with chips on a sub roll for around $7.95. They combine some of the same ingredients used on the pizza and then some. The Harbourmaster with roast beef, provolone and horseradish is a hearty sandwich with good flavor. I also like that on the menu on the wall, it says it's “roast beast,” a Dr. Seuss reference.
That line helps show the playfulness with which the Lewises approach their work.
Chip is more shy than Summer, but they're having a blast.
“We love it,” Summer said.
“We're working together,” he said, adding that it's fine to work 70 or 80 hours a week when they're doing that together.
They solve problems together too, including how to make the menu better.
They are issuing a challenge to their four kitchen employees to create new sandwiches. The resulting specials will compete for sales and the employees get a cut, Summer said.
The food is already as good as that at many brewpubs, including Bell's Eccentric Cafe. I like the menu already, but want more vegetables on the menu and they agree. I look forward to having a salad or roasted vegetable sandwich at Iechyd Da.
The brewing is going as Chip expected, though he could already use more room to brew. He's making 200-gallon batches of ale that aren't as intense as some craft brews. They're lower in alcohol, but full of flavor. They have some small batches planned, but aren't out to win the war on who can include the most hops in a beverage.
The ales range from blondes and fruit beers to heavier porters or IPAs. Some other local homebrewers have said they've never had a bad beer from Chip. He's simply a great brewer. I'm really like the Big Pit Porter and the Revolution American IPA.
He made a rare mistake in one of the first batches, but it turned out to be a quick favorite. When he made Maiden Voyage, a blonde ale, a few things went wrong. Customers loved it and are asking for it. He's not sure he can replicate it, though I predict he'll find a way.
The way the beer is sold is simple and wise. A pint is $4. A half-pint is $2. A 5-ounce taster is $1. You can easily order a pint and then a half-pint of something else, or just taste something else. You can also take a half-gallon home in a growler.
Aside from the alcoholic beers, ginger beer and root beer are available. Iechyd Da has been selling about two kegs, or 30 gallons, of root beer a week, Summer said. Imagine what it would be if the establishment wasn't only for those 21 and older.
Because of Indiana's liquor laws and the design of the building they took over, they opted not to make the brewpub something for children. But they've been plenty busy without that, even on weeknights.
Some customers have been unsure about not having waitresses. You order food or beverages from the bar and can sit there or in the well-lit dining room. People have liked that they can hang out and a server isn't trying to turn the table, Summer said.
Chip and Summer have been quick to make changes as needed. They added a second point-of-sale system to reduce the line at the bar. They're considering changing the hours from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday to later and stay open later because of traffic.
But they did some things right. They ordered 200 mugs for club members and have already created pent-up demand for next year because of how quickly they sold out. They're getting ready to order more growlers because the first batch of 500 is nearly gone. They created a good atmosphere and pretty good food to start and avoided other pitfalls.
I have no doubt the food will get more interesting. During our interview, Chip said with a boyish grin, “I have sausage pickling.” He wants to serve a plate of pickled foods. I can't wait to taste it.
Sure the name Iechyd Da is a little goofy. So are the model names of most of the recreational vehicles sent out of Elkhart County. Big whoop.
Elkhart has a brewery.
“Really? In Elkhart?” people ask.
“It's working,” Summer said.
Oh, yes it is. And it's very exciting.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at 574-296-5806, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Facebook at www.facebook.com/diningalaking.