There’s been essentially nothing but good buzz about Iechyd Da Brewing Company since even before Chip and Summer Lewis opened its doors in June 2012. In the nearly two years that they've been filling our bellies with delicious beer, they've also managed to make the brewpub an all-around cool place to be.
Iechyd Da bartender Brian Grupp says that in addition to an extreme dedication to providing a quality product, the owners are equally concerned with fostering creativity and collaboration amongst their employees. And as a customer, when it’s clear that your server, cook and bartender all love their jobs, it makes for an experience you want to come back for again and again.
The recent “Food Fight” contest at Iechyd Da was an opportunity for staff—cooks and bartenders alike—to “flex their culinary muscles,” in the words of co-founder Summer Lewis. Over seven weeks, 14 employees competed to create the best new menu item. Every week, two employees went head-to-head in a pizza vs. sandwich battle. Each participating employee was allowed just two special order ingredients for his or her creation—the rest had to be regularly stocked items. The judges were the customers—whichever item customers ordered most was proclaimed the winner. The grand prize? A $100 bonus, a spot for the winning item on the brewpub's summer menu and 25 percent of the item’s profits.
Which meant that the friendly competition didn’t stop with creating the dish. Competing employees took to the front of the house, using any means necessary to get customers to order their items. Clever names and even accompanying costumes didn’t hurt, which may have been what secured Grupp the winning title. His “I Mustache You to Eat This Wrap” sandwich—a chicken, bacon and avocado wrap he peddled whilst sporting a fake mustache—wasn’t particularly experimental or visionary in its ingredient list, but Grupp made up for it with his crafty sales approach.
Certain contest entries were more eyebrow-raising than others—bratwurst pizza, anyone? But overall, Grupp says, “people chose to make variations of their favorite comfort foods.” Bartender Danni Hughes went with PB&J—but the peanut butter and jelly were house-made and served on a thick rye bread.
The best part, said Hughes—creator of the “Suck It, Tom PB&J” sandwich—was that the workers’ many loyal regulars got to participate in the menu change by voting for the foods and folks they love. “I’d be telling my regulars, ‘my sandwich is next week, bring your friends!’ and then they would! They would bring in eight or nine of their friends and all order my sandwich. It just makes it fun,” Hughes said with genuine enthusiasm.
The competition gave both staff and their customers the opportunity to become more involved in their local food culture—just the latest manifestation of the spirit that makes Iechyd Da so appealing. The Elkhart brewpub is continuously trying new ways to make dining a truly community-enriching experience, and they’re having a ton of fun doing it.