Market Street Joins the Craft Brew Revolution

Brainchild of two Wilmington natives, Stitch House combines microbrewery and pub

In 2016, the Brewers Association—a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers—reported that, on average, Delawareans drink 11.1 gallons of craft beer annually, good for sixth in the nation. Additionally, since 2007, the BA has tracked the number of breweries operating in each state, with Delaware’s total jumping from just seven to more than 20 in that span.

Obviously, Delaware’s beer drinkers not only support the craft industry, but with each passing year, they’re thirsty for more.

Enter Stitch House Brewery, which will give Wilmington’s Market Street its own microbrewery. Expected to open early this month, Stitch House is the product of local entrepreneurs Dan Sheridan and Rob Snowberger. The Delaware natives will join forces with Head Brewer Andrew Rutherford, who worked for more than a decade at Yards Brewery in Philadelphia.

Sheridan has been around the Delaware dining scene for quite a while, having worked at La Fia on Market Street, after which he opened Locale BBQ Post as well as the Wilmington Pickling Company. Snowberger, meanwhile, is a former Navy SEAL who also attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The two grew up together in Wilmington and were raised by fathers who worked for the city.

The full-scale restaurant will seat upwards of 170, including 40-plus in the bar area and a back room for private dining.

“We’d talked about opening a place together for years, but Rob was the first one to see this site at 829 Market through his connections with the Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG),” says Sheridan. “When I first took a look at the building, I knew there would be a lot of work to do. Fitting out four floors to fit apartments and a huge brewpub and brewery was an enormous undertaking.” (Stitch House encompasses the first floor and part of the basement for storage, while BPG outfitted the upper two floors for apartments to lease.) 

Seating for 170-plus

That work would include months of renovations and construction on a building erected in 1909 that had served, at various times, as a coal house, ice house, tailor shop, and even a linen shop. Sheridan and Snowberger, after discovering the building’s past lives, decided on Stitch House, as a tribute to its history. The result is a full-scale restaurant that will seat upwards of 170, including more than 40 in the bar area and a back room for private dining.

“The guys at BPG told me they wanted to open up a microbrewery on Market Street, to specifically cater to all that was going on downtown, especially the huge Residences at Mid-Town Park project right outside our back door,” says Sheridan. “Once I understood the scope of that project, I went with it.”

According to Buccini/Pollin, the Residences at Mid-Town Park will feature 200 luxury studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with a 511-space parking garage below and 12,000 square feet of ground floor retail along Shipley Street. The parking garage is expected to open this month, and the first phase of the apartments is expected to be ready in June, with the remainder finishing up over the summer.

Once Sheridan and Snowberger embarked on their new culinary journey, they quickly began scouring the area for an experienced brewer looking for a new challenge. Fortunately, they were able to woo Rutherford, a 10-year veteran at Yards.

“I was in a rut and needed a change, so I began entertaining the idea of making a move and maybe recapturing a little creative freedom in the brewery,” says Rutherford. “The guys came to me with their plan for Stitch House and we just jelled. This is a good fit and I’m really excited to see what we can accomplish on Market Street.”

Sheridan and Snowberger are ecstatic to have been able to bring on Rutherford, who put in many 18- and 20-hour days leading up to the restaurant’s opening. “The guy is a machine,” says Sheridan. “He’s super talented and we are beyond excited to have him on our team.”

Rutherford says that to start, Stitch House will fill nine of its 12 taps with house brews, including a lager, pilsner, stout, IPA and pale ale, among others. The remaining three taps will be filled with local brews, and they will only offer draft beer, rather than any outside bottles or cans.

Adds Sheridan: “Our hope is to have all the taps filled with our own beers by late in the spring, and then begin offering crowlers (large cans) to customers, so they can take our beer with them.”

Head Brewer Andrew Rutherford previously brewed for 10 years at Yards Brewing Co.

Adding a Smoker

As for the menu, Sheridan, a chef by trade, will focus on catering to the downtown lunch crowd; several sandwiches, burgers and paninis will be featured, as well as skillet dishes like dips, nachos, and even scallops and the increasingly popular sautéed Brussels sprouts. While they’re forgoing a pizza oven (found at many brewpubs), Sheridan says an on-site smoker will contribute heavily to the menu.

“I don’t necessarily want to do barbecue, because I leave that to Locale BBQ, but I do want to offer a lot of good smoked meats that will be seasoned and prepared to specifically pair with our beers,” he says. “The skillet dishes are designed for sharing and will fall into the comfort food category because we want to establish a laidback vibe here.”

The interior features murals and beer menu boards designed by Against the Grain Arts, of Wilmington, a logo designed by Snowberger’s sister, Molly, and design work by Stokes Architecture, of Philadelphia. Many of the high-top bar tables and booths were crafted by the Challenge Program, a Wilmington-based organization that offers at-risk teens the opportunity to learn life skills like carpentry and construction.

Many of the tables and booths were crafted by the Challenge Program.

Stitch House will be open seven days a week and possibly for brunch on the weekends. Sheridan says they will offer some sort of discounted parking validation at the Parking at Mid-Town garage, as well as some other Colonial Parking garages in the city. They are also looking into the possibility of offering valet service on weekends.


Five More Bold New Year Predictions for Delaware’s Food Scene

Among them: tipping’s tipping point, home cooking, scrapple as the new bacon

The locavores have won.

Look at the top five trends in the 2016 Culinary Forecast from the National Restaurant Association (a.k.a. The Friendly NRA), and you’ll see a pattern: locally sourced meats and seafood; locally grown produce; hyper-local sourcing; natural ingredients/minimally processed food.

So yes, expect to eat, drink and breathe local next year. Also expect more smoked meats in your life, more food trucks, more healthy kids’ meals and artisanal pickles. They all made the national list and they’re among the hottest stories in Delaware this year.

But what are the unexpected trends that we’ll see in the food business this year? It’s our job to find out.

Once again, we hit the streets, the phones and the bars to talk with chefs, restaurateurs, industry professionals, city planners, servers, suppliers, home cooks and bartenders (confession: mostly bartenders) about what they expect to see in 2016—and then we made five Bold Predictions for the coming months. (Check the status of last year’s Bold Predictions below. We fared marginally better than a Magic 8-Ball might have done, wildly exceeding our expectations.)

Trend: the end of tipping

Yes, tipping has hit its tipping point. Sure, restaurants on the wacky West Coast have been experimenting with service-included pricing for the past couple of years, but people really sat up and noticed when famed restaurateur Danny Meyer announced last year that all 11 restaurants in the Union City Hospitality Group in New York City would eliminate tipping.

The Delaware Restaurant Association plans to make gratuities a major topic during its annual meeting in February.

“We’ve had calls, and we know that local business owners are curious about whether a tip-free or mandatory service charge model is something that could work in their restaurants,” says Karen Stauffer, DRA director of marketing. “So far, no restaurants in Delaware have switched to no tipping, but we do know of several in Philadelphia that have made the change.”

Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Hospitality Group, says changes in tipping policy are driven by a number of factors: spreading compensation fairly among restaurant staff; creating a more professional, stable work environment, and dealing with changes that higher minimum wage laws will create in some parts of the country. What remains to be seen is how customers react. Will they experience acute sticker shock when they see much higher menu prices, even if tipping isn’t expected?

“It’s a really complex issue,” Teixido says. “And it would really change the composition of our industry.”

Bold Prediction #1: At least one fine dining restaurant in Delaware will eliminate tipping in 2016—most likely one at the beach.

Trend: home cooking for sale

In San Francisco, where digital start-up tycoons are eager to develop the Uber for everything, new apps connect home cooks with people too busy to cook at home, presumably because they’re at work developing apps, and they’re hungry.

Peer-to-peer food sales are already happening in Delaware, though we’re using a somewhat lower-tech solution: Facebook. Last Thanksgiving, I knew people online offering homemade gravy, soups and pies for sale to friends right before the holiday. Some were trained chefs, but others were home cooks renowned for their skill in the kitchen.

But would their dishes sell on an app if it were available?

“I wouldn’t mind considering it,” says Amy Watson Bish, pie maker extraordinaire. Actual comment on her Facebook page: “Can I still order a pie for next Saturday? You can say no. I’ll cry softly.”

She hadn’t heard of apps like FoodieShares before, but she’s clearly considered the concept enough to know that Delaware has no “cottage food laws” that allow home-based food producers to sell to the public. How does FoodieShares get around that?

In an interview with KCET, Channel 28 in Los Angeles, FoodieShares CEO George Mathew addressed that head on: “It’s a question that comes up sometimes. It’s confusing because we are new.” Translated, that’s start-up-tycoon-speak for “If we start making enough money, we’ll figure it out.”

Bold Prediction #2: Increased interest in home cooks entering the sharing economy leads Delaware legislators to loosen cottage food regulations, or they get no pie.

Trend: scrapple is the new bacon

Long considered the country cousin among more refined breakfast meats, scrapple is having its moment in the sun. You’ll see it in starring roles in brunch menus all around town—scrapple hashes, scrapple Benedicts, scrapple mac-n-cheese. You’ll drink it in scrapple beers and make a Bloody Mary out of scrapple-infused vodka. And the Apple-Scrapple English Muffin made it all the way to the finals of the Thomas’ Hometown Breakfast Battle before losing to something covered in sausage gravy from Illinois. That scrapple success comes thanks to Ryan Cunningham, chef at Abbott’s on Broad Creek in Laurel, creator of the aforementioned muffin and global ambassador of scrapple.

Why does Cunningham love it? “That soft mushy center and the crisp outside, the pork flavor, the sage. We use scrapple a lot in the restaurant,” he says.

And more chefs are doing it themselves. Bill Hoffman at The House of William and Merry in Hockessin and Hari Cameron at a(MUSE.) in Rehoboth Beach both make scrapple in house. Cunningham occasionally makes duck scrapple at Abbott’s, and others are not just experimenting, they’re upgrading.

“People are cutting higher-end pieces of the pig in there, so it doesn’t have that offal kind of taste,” Cunningham says.

Perhaps that’s what it will take to bring scrapple mainstream—if it’s not there already.
Bold prediction #3: The biggest scrapplephobic in your life will dare to try some in 2016.

Trend: more wineries, more breweries…and more distilleries

Craft spirits and locally-produced spirits continue to top the NRA’s list of alcohol-based dining trends, but Delaware has only entered the distilling game in the past few years.

When the Painted Stave wanted to open the state’s first stand-alone distillery in Smyrna in 2012, its founders had to get state laws changed in order to do so. But now that that work is done and the Painted Stave has infused some local flavor into the cocktail menus, the question remains: when does Northern Delaware get its own gin?

The beach has already gotten in on the action. Beach Time Distilling in Lewes and the Delaware Distilling Company in Rehoboth Beach have both gone through the doors that Painted Stave opened, and there are constant whispers—rumors, wishful thinkings—of another opening up further north.

Bold Prediction #4: Either a distillery opens in the Wilmington-Newark corridor, or some enterprising restaurant tries it on its own.

Trend: Market Street—dining destination

“We could build more glass, shiny towers, but that is not what is going to change this city. It is the coffee shops and the bike lanes; it is those kinds of things that get people here on nights and weekends.” – Chris Buccini, quoted in The News Journal, Oct. 28, 2015.

Exciting eats are coming to Market Street. By the time this sees print, Bryan and Andrea Sikoras’ Merchant Bar should be open across the street from La Fia. The guys… behind Chelsea and Ernest & Scott Tavern are planning a new barbecue spot/microbrewery called 3 Doors Brewing. What was once a dining/nightlife destination might become one again, as new residents move onto Market Street with dollars to spend.

Bold Prediction #5: Restaurants open and restaurants close all the time. Look for a net gain of five places on or near Market Street in 2016…

Scorecard for Last Year’s Predictions:

1. You will eat fish offal some­time in the next year.
OK, you probably didn’t. But local, sustainable fish continue to be popular.
2. A local chain will become a tenant in the new Fashion Center complex at the Christiana Mall.
Didn’t happen, though the Fashion Center isn’t done yet.
3. “Vintage Atlantic” will become a category on at least one prominent local wine list.
Galer Estates wines are now on the wine list at Sovana Bistro in East Marlborough. And the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region just published its first official map. Slower than expected, but all steps in the right direction.
4. A food truck park will open this year—with at least five new trucks that don’t yet exist.
Wilmington City Council voted in November to allow food trucks to operate on city streets.
5. La Fia taco.
Nailed it.