An indoor-outdoor bar and patio dining have already been popular with patrons of Grain Exchange at the University of Delaware STAR Campus. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS
NEWARK – Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, the fast-growing local restaurant group, recently opened its latest concept, Grain Exchange, at the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus.
Delayed by COVID-spurred supply chain issues, the sixth location for co-founders Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue was a labor of love of sorts – the friends are UD alumni who opened their first location at the former East End Café on the campus’ Main Street eight years ago.
As of May 10, patrons have been enjoying the new space on the bottom floor of the brand-new FinTech Innovation Center.
Mikles said their discussions with the Delaware Technology Park, the nonprofit that owns the building, started back in January 2019.
“We felt like STAR Campus was the future of UD. The university is definitely going to be pushing all its energy there. And it’s very focused on grad students, who are over 21. So, it seemed like a great fit,” he told Delaware Business Times.
A coffee shop will help draw in workers early in the morning to Grain Exchange. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS
The building of the FinTech Innovation Center marked a rare opportunity for Grain to design its own space from the floor up – its first five locations were all renovated from existing spaces.
The location presented its own challenges though – namely that there is virtually no foot traffic after work hours and few residents in the surrounding area. So, Grain put a coffee shop into the design to capture patrons before they get to the office – it picked up the lessons learned from its coffee shop at Grain On The Rocks at the Lewes ferry terminal. Mikles said that they’ve also seen a growing trend of patrons eating earlier in the night since COVID, which could help boost their happy hour and early evening sales.
“We want to be that morning stop. We want to be that lunch stop. We want to be that happy hour stop. And we think that’s the crowds that that STAR Campus has right now,” he said.
The group also had to seek out variances from the city to allow an indoor-outdoor bar, which is one of the most unique features of the location.
“After going through this whole process through COVID, we told ourselves we’re never opening a location that doesn’t have outdoor dining of some sort,” Mikles said. “The view is incredible. You kind of forget you’re in an office park.”
A wall-sized print of the Chicago Board of Trade helps to draw in the business influence to the Grain location. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS
Seeking to find an identity to differentiate the STAR Campus location from the Main Street one in Newark, the partners landed on the Grain Exchange name. It harkens back to the Chicago Board of Trade, the original commodity market where farmers traded crop futures, and plays into the fintech work done at the UD building.
A wall highlighting Delaware innovations speaks to the University of Delaware STAR Campus connection. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS
Inside the location is a wall-sized print of a historic Chicago Board of Trade photo that has been altered to include Delaware touchpoints. In recognition of the innovative work done at STAR Campus too, Grain commissioned prints honoring Delaware inventions in a style reminiscent of Public Works Administration posters of the 1930s. Included among them are DuPont’s Kevlar and nylon, Dogfish Head’s hopping system, W.L. Gore & Associates’ Gore-Tex, and MBNA’s affinity cards, among others.
Mikles said that Grain expects to move all of its catering for its northern properties to Grain Exchange and use the location as a test bed for future technology upgrades to its point-of-sale system and other components of the operation.
“We’re hoping that this place can be that test set for us so we can experiment with different technologies, different concepts, different ideas, different foods, etc. We’ll try it there and if it works, we can roll it out to the other locations,” he added.
After opening a Trolley Square location last year, Mikles said the group “has its hands full for now” in terms of looking at further growth.
“I think that we’re always interested if there’s something unique. In the past, we’ve been focused on growth in order to get to a scale to do these kinds of things, and I think we’re going to be spending the next year or so making sure we can do these things now,” he added.