Keeping It Local

Bellefonte Brewing remembers its roots while building a brand it hopes will continue to grow

By Kevin Noonan

They didn’t make a conscience effort to honor their home state. It just sort of developed that way, beginning with Orange Street Ale. Then it was Small Wonder IPA and Diamond State Stout and Bellevue Blonde and Claymonster Dark Ale and the one that hit closest to home — Kiamensi Kolsch.

“We started doing that at the beginning and one way or another they became our main branded beers, so we sort of stuck with it,” Joe Jacobs, co-owner and head brewer at Bellefonte Brewing Company, says of the local branding.

“And we’re doing more of that at our Marsh Road location,” Jacobs adds. “We have a Windy Bush Blond Ale for the neighborhood up there. And we’re going to try to work with Arden this year and hopefully collaborate and make a special beer for [the annual Arden Fair at the end of the summer].”

The Marsh Road location — situated in the Plaza III Shopping Center and flanked by Classic Barber Shop and The Comic Book Shop! — is the second brew pub owned and operated by Jacobs and his friends. The first, which opened in 2016, is located in an industrial park off Old Capitol Trail in Marshallton, less than a mile from Kiamensi Road.

“It’s almost like two markets,” says Brandon Walker, a co-owner who oversees much of the sales and operations for the company, along with marketing director Sarah DeFaviis.

“There is a different kind of people up there [Marsh Road] than we have down here [Marshallton],” adds Walker, a Salesianum School and University of Delaware graduate. “Even though they’re only 15 or so miles from each other, you get a different client base, and you even see that in beer sales.”

Oh, yeah, the beer. Bellefonte Brewing Company began as a dream for Jacobs, who, like most professional brewers, began as an amateur one, making beer for family and friends.

“Home brewing led to having parties at the house and giving away everything for years,” Jacobs says. “So, at one point, I thought it was worth trying to make into a business. I was home brewing for about eight years before we got together, and it just sprung from that and putting together a team that I could make it happen with.

“I really just wanted to have a hobby when I moved back to Delaware,” adds Jacobs, who has a degree in engineering from the University of Delaware. “I figured it would be something that would keep me home more, rather than being out — which has now led to the opposite, but that’s OK.”

Jacobs says he knew his beer was ready for the marketplace when he concocted what is still Bellefonte Brewing Company’s best-selling beverage — Orange Street Ale.

“That beer is unlike any other beer,” Jacobs says. “It was something that people didn’t recognize completely, but it was a style of beer they remember from the past, with a new twist on it. It’s not a hoppy beer, it’s not a sour beer, it’s not a fruity beer. It just fills something that was missing from this area.”

When Jacobs first started the business he partnered with Craig Wensell, who later opened his own brew pub, Wilmington Brew Works on Miller Road. They used a Kickstarter campaign to help out with the initial financing, raising about $20,000. And their choice for the location of what would become Bellefonte Brewing Company was an interesting one — it’s in a former garage/warehouse tucked away in an industrial park in Marshallton and only a small, easy-to-miss sign by the road (“Turn Here for Beer”) indicates the existence of a brew pub whose neighbors include a tent rental agency and a construction firm.

So, to spread the word, Walker focused on the internet and social media to promote their beer, as well as forming partnerships with other local businesses.

In February 2020, the business expanded and opened its new place on Marsh Road. Like most businesses in the hospitality industry, things were difficult during the pandemic, but the partners persevered. The new location gave them some much-needed extra space in which to hold events as common as live music and comedy shows and as diverse as male revues and micro-wrestling. The Marsh Road brew pub is 6,000 square feet with a capacity of around 250 people, whereas the Old Capitol Trail store is just 2,500 square feet with a capacity of about 100. Jacobs gives much of the credit for that to CEO Rob Boyle, the third co-owner of the business.

As for the future, Bellefonte Brewing Company wants to stretch out, but the partners never want to roam too far from their roots.

“I definitely think we have to focus on a bigger picture,” Walker says. “We’ve done well and managed to survive by taking advantage of our local markets here. But it is a very saturated market and there are a lot of options when it comes to craft beer and a lot of our business comes from repeat customers in the tap room.

“So, I would love to see us expand our distribution side of things, and I don’t know if we were doing that as aggressively as some other businesses, because we have that local market that’s kept us alive for so long. But I would definitely like to see us widen our footprint. I don’t necessarily care if we make it out to California, but I’d like to see us at the local beaches and in Philly and places like that.”

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Above: Rob Boyle, co-owner and CEO of Bellefonte Brewing Company. Photo by Joe Hoddinott.