The staff and owners of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen are thankful for the community’s support through the pandemic—and they’re excited to continue to welcome old friends and new.
“It’s easier being in a business where you have to smile all the time when you work in a place where you feel like smiling,” says General Manager Ryan Wilson. He and his “right hand” Manager Bridget Cain both smile as they describe the camaraderie among staff and guests that creates a welcoming, relaxed vibe and also makes it a great place to work.
Coming Back—Stronger Than Ever
In their active recovery from COVID closures, Wilson and Cain and their team have been very intentional about focusing on what they do best and how they serve the community. “You have to hone in on what your role is—what you do that people come back for,” Wilson says. As the place in town that stays open later and has both a “world famous beer Bible” and an extensive menu of seasonal craft cocktails, they knew they were a popular bar and the nightcap spot.
So, when dine-in restrictions were finally fully lifted in May 2021, Wilson and Cain hit the ground running, implementing their refreshed vision for Grain KSQ. Their number-one goal, Cain says, was to instill trust as they worked to keep guests safe.
Demonstrating their own trust in this dynamic new management team, co-owners Jim O’Donoghue and Lee Mikles gave Wilson and Cain the freedom to use their creativity in crafting new food and drink menus. Part of this process involved rethinking these menus in a way that celebrates how Grain’s offerings are both distinctive from, and complementary to, those of the other great restaurants in town. “The smaller, more focused menu enables us to put our best foot forward with food and allows these great menu items to shine,” Wilson says. From small plates to salads, sandwiches, and more substantial plates, there’s something for everyone.
Wilson wanted the menu to showcase what’s unique to Kennett Square, including fresh local mushrooms he sources from The Mushroom Cap, two doors down. Grain’s mushroom soup, for example, topped with mushroom crisps (also from The Mushroom Cap), is always on the menu, and KSQ Burgers feature the custom Grain blend of beef (or Impossible burger) and made-to-order combinations of toppings and Grain’s signature “OMG” sauce. “We want to pay homage to the history of the town and the things that make Grain a classic place, and add fun, new twists,” Wilson says.
Fun, Fresh, and Seasonal Cocktails
Cain smiles as she describes working with bartender Joe Ordway to create a cocktail menu. She loves the magic that happens when reimagining classic favorites with a local twist using fresh seasonal ingredients. “It’s exciting to see people enjoying the drinks we’ve created,” she says.
Grain’s cocktail menu always includes a delectable selection of their signature crushes, and while some guests miss the Strawberry Lime Crush when strawberry season is over, the Blackberry Lemon Crush has become a new favorite over the winter months. A warming Maple Old Fashioned stars Manatawny Still Works’ Maple Whiskey. The Unicorn, named in honor of the Unicorn Tavern that once served travelers and locals across State Street where its namesake block now stands, brings together two classic cocktails—the Boston Cocktail and the Manhattan—and stars apricot brandy and Stateside Bourbon. The JimLee, named after O’Donoghue and Mikles, is a delicious citrusy take on the classic gimlet.
With 21 taps downstairs and another three currently in use upstairs at the rooftop 410@Grain, Grain’s extensive beer list is another draw for guests. “We try to make sure that fifty percent of our beers are brewed within a hundred-mile radius,” Wilson says. Grain’s “Beer Bible” reads like a who’s who of brewing in the area and proudly features newer, smaller breweries like Stolen Sun, in Exton, alongside more established local breweries like Victory, Dogfish, and Yards.
Guests can look forward to new spring menus coming in April. “Some things might go away, but other favorites will be back,” Wilson promises.
At its heart, Grain is about cultivating a sense of place and belonging. O’Donoghue and Mikles knew that it can be hard to see a longtime and well-loved restaurant like Half Moon go, and they wanted to honor that legacy. They spent time meeting with Half Moon staff, listening to their suggestions and ideas. In a town with a history as rich as Kennett Square’s, any new business adds another chapter to the ongoing story.
The walls of Grain hold stories of first dates, special celebrations, and more. Architectural features like the iconic wooden bar and original tile flooring from the Kennett Candy Kitchen connect today’s guests—enjoying the warm vibe and fresh seasonal menus—to its rich past. The wall of locals illustrated by Juan Charles is a fun visual reminding everyone that the focus is on the community and the people who make themselves at home at Grain.
Ask anyone who’s been around awhile, for example, about the Spiderman behind the bar. And new stories are being told all the time. This kind of banter around the bar, reminiscent of Cheers or an Irish pub, invites new guests to be part of it, too. “We’ve seen people who have just moved to the area become regulars,” Cain says. She smiles. “They come in as strangers and leave as friends.”
Cain, who has worked at Grain in Newark, talks about how the character of each Grain location reflects the place and its people. In Kennett Square, that small-town vibe includes people who come from other communities like Avondale and even West Chester. “We know regulars by name,” she says. One of them even has his name on a chair at the bar.
“Staff from other restaurants gather here, too,” says Wilson. “Everyone supports everyone.” This kind of after-hours industry gathering also reflects a deeper, more important truth about businesses in a small town. “If one of us is doing well, it’s good for all of us,” Cain says.
Since the early days in 2017 when Mikles and O’Donoghue spent time walking up and down State Street, introducing themselves to fellow business owners and handing out invitations to Grain’s soft opening, they’ve prioritized talking with, listening to, and building relationships with people here. Which is why, says Wilson, they’ve been so successful creating a great community place in a community they’re not from themselves.
Mikles serves on the Board of Kennett Collaborative and is a key member of the nonprofit’s marketing committee, where his creative ideas and passion for bringing people to town have energized the organization’s recent rebranding–and we’re grateful for Lee’s marketing expertise, creative energy, and investment in Kennett Square! His leadership in the business community has helped to elevate the town and instill that common vision to make Kennett Square a great place to live, work, and play.
Mikles and O’Donoghue have continued to develop the Grain brand and concept with more locations. The Grain KSQ is one of soon-to-be six Grain locations, including the original restaurant in Newark, Delaware, Grain H20 on the water in Bear, Delaware, and another opening this spring in Wilmington’s Trolley Square. A commitment to offering well-crafted food and drink in a casual, friendly place is the common denominator in all of these locations.
Fun on Tap
Dynamic programming is another key element of the Grain experience, and live music is also back on the menu at Grain every Friday and Saturday from 8pm to 11pm. With “happier hours” from 3pm to 6pm on Thursdays and Fridays, brunch on Saturday and Sunday, and Bingo on Wednesdays, there’s always something to enjoy.
And, of course, the famous rooftop bar, 410@Grain—which is 410 feet above sea level, give or take—offers a year-round outdoor experience and views over Kennett Square. “We’re consistently trying new and fun things,” Wilson says.
A Note of Gratitude
More than anything, Wilson and Cain want to say “thank you.” Along with Mikles and O’Donoghue and the entire staff, they’re profoundly grateful for the support of the community over the past two years.
“It was very hard, but we had a ton of support from people,” Wilson says. They’re thankful to everyone who ordered take-out during the shutdown and through the very difficult holiday season in 2020, and they appreciated people’s understanding and continued support throughout the period when guests who wanted drinks also had to order meals.
It’s this kind of faithful community support, say Wilson and Cain, that has brought them through and eager to continue serving both old friends and new friends.
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