Two Stones moves uptownDec 29, 2020 04:47PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
After nine years in a humble strip shopping center on Newark’s eastern edge, Two Stones Pub has moved three miles, to Christiana Road, just off Interstate 95, close enough for regulars and now boosted by clientele from two adjacent hotels.
The building is larger, with everything new. But don’t worry about your old favorites: char-grilled burgers (the restaurant’s most popular dish) and a curated selection of craft beers are still there.
“Everyone’s happy, We’re very busy, with a steady flow of traffic,” owner Michael Stiglitz said in an interview in February, a month after the new location opened. Then the coronavirus hit, and Gov. John Carney in mid-March ordered restaurants and many other businesses to close.
In a follow-up call in June, Stiglitz was as upbeat about the future as he was at the opening. “The restaurant industry is so resilient, and its people are as resilient,” he said, noting he has 230 people in all his businesses who depend on him. “We will do whatever we have to do to get back on top.”
During the state of emergency, he chose not to offer takeout and delivery, and he also decided to skip the first phase of reopening on June 1, since it limited capacity to 30 percent.
He used the shutdown to develop a reopening plan, and deep-clean and update other Two Stones Pubs. The Newark location got work on its patio, but inside is pristine. “Every time I walk in, I’m hit by that that smell of new paint, carpeting and the FRP walls,” he said. “It’s unnerving, like suspended animation.”
More of almost everything
The old site in Chesmar Plaza was “a neighborhood hideaway with just a few windows and mostly high-tops,” he said. The Christiana Road location, in contrast, is filled with windows. The W shape of the bar allows for more natural conversations. Higher ceilings mean TV sets are less overbearing. A 30-seat back room has been upgraded to a 42-seat side room, with lots of glass. A patio seats about 40. Of course, all those attributes await the end of the state of emergency to allow their full use.
The new building is 6,400 square feet, with 5,000 square feet for the restaurant (up from 3,500 in Chesmar) and the remaining space for corporate offices and storage.
There are two important reductions in the expansion.
The number of taps is down from 24 to 20. “More taps doesn’t mean better beer,” Stiglitz explained, noting less-popular brands might grow stale with low turnover. The 20 taps still give enough room to showcase 10 varieties from the 2SP Brewing Co., which he also owns, and other 10 craft brews.
The top beer at all six pubs (Hockessin, Middletown, Newark and North Wilmington, plus Kennett Square and Jennersville in Pennsylvania) is 2SP’s Up & Out Hazy IPA, which Ben Muse, Two Stones’ operating partner and craft beer coordinator, described as “low bitterness, very juicy, very fruit-forward yet still balanced.” He looks forward to the return of 2SP’s Voluptuous Fuzz, a hit at last summer’s debut. It’s brewed with peach and apricot puree and finished with sheep sorrel.
Similarly, the number of canned varieties is down to about 25, Muse said.
Chef-driven menus, plus great tomatoes and corn
The six pubs sport significant variations in what Stiglitz called their chef-driven menus. “Chef-driven means that there is no menu written by somebody at corporate,” he explained. “We allow the chefs to drive their own menus.” Sure, popular items are common to all the pubs, but about half the menu is developed by the executive chef and sous chef at each restaurant. Every quarter, they gather for tastings to consider potential additions.
Popular dishes spread across the group. “They’re particularly receptive to vegetarian and vegan dishes,” which are tough for meat-eating chefs who have difficulty thinking beyond butter or cheese to finish a dish. The result is far beyond crudites. “We put a lot of time and effort into it.”
They also put time and effort into sourcing. “We try to be as local as possible,” Stiglitz said, so a lot of produce in season comes from the University of Delaware farm in Newark and from Kennett mushroom dealers all year. Their regional supplier is Sysco Eastern Maryland, which pulls from as far away as Virginia – close enough that crops can be on plates just a few days after harvest, faster than produce grown in Mexico and California, which lack the “same nuance and the same flavor.”
He is particularly particular about tomatoes and corn, since “Delaware and New Jersey are known worldwide for them. You have to be picky.”
Stiglitz was born in Boston, grew up in Laurel Springs, New Jersey, and now lives in Hockessin. Inspired by his family in the catering business, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1999 and moved to Delaware in 2003 to serve as executive sous chef for Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant when it opened on the Wilmington Riverfront. After stints with other restaurants, he opened the first Two Stones Pub in Chesmar Plaza, in what used to be A Piece of Ireland, available after its owners decided to focus their attention on Sheridan’s Irish Pub in Smyrna.
“Craft beer had taken over as the hot trend,” he recalled. “And we served craft beer only. No mass-market brands.” More pubs quickly followed: North Wilmington in 2012, Kennett Square in 2013, Hockessin and Jennersville in 2016 and Middletown in 2019. In 2015, he opened the 2SP Brewing Co. in Aston, Pa. The Chesmar location closed with a New Year’s Eve party, and the Christiana Road location opened 10 days later.
‘Highly recommended by our hotel’
The move to Christiana Road was spurred by Paul Isken, who owns the adjacent Holiday and Comfort inns. “I want your brand,” Isken told Stiglitz, after being connected by Joe Latina, Stiglitz’s longtime real estate expert at Patterson-Woods Commercial Properties.
Early reviews on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp show the new location is drawing travelers. “Highly recommended by our hotel,” a Massachusetts couple wrote on TripAdvisor, where the restaurant is ranked No. 5 out of 275 Newark restaurants. “We were not disappointed!”
Any foreseeable future growth for Two Stones Pub would be in Pennsylvania, Stiglitz said, because he does not want to cannibalize revenue from existing Delaware locations – unless he considers downstate. That said, the Aston brewery doesn’t have space to expand into a restaurant, and “South Jersey is always on our radar,” he added, noting he has looked at multiple Jersey sites off U.S. 322.
The Aston brewery makes six all-weather beers, Muse said, and has 16 more spots for seasonal and experimental offerings. America’s 8,000 artisanal breweries compete intensely for attention, with the latest trend being what he called “the Instagram culture: fruited sour beers that look great in pictures.”
Two Stones Pub and 2SP Brewing have similar but differing names, because Stiglitz felt that Two Stones Pub “sounds like a local restaurant group” with 2SP has a broader appeal as a brand for craft beer. And that’s working: although 2SP is primarily regional, it’s sold as far away as Japan.