A perfect partnership: Old Stone Cider brings its tastes to Hood's07/14/2021 04:26PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Partnerships – personal, business and otherwise – are not often formed in accordance with rulebooks and calendars and protocol, and sometimes the very best of them begin their collective journey in the unlikeliest of circumstances and places.
The partnership that brought Old Stone Cider in Lewisville to occupy a corner office at Hood’s BBQ in Unionville in early July began in a Longwood Gardens truck several years ago, in conversations between two former employees.
In 2015, Larry Hood, Jr. was nearing the end of his more than 30-year career as an arborist and soils and composting specialist at Longwood, when he met Evan Gruber, who had just started in the same department after receiving a degree in soil management from the University of Delaware.
Gruber’s family had been farmers for decades, beginning with his grandfather Alfred’s Christmas tree-growing farm in Conowingo, Md. and expanding to “The Old Stone Farm” in Lewisville, where after several years of growing and harvesting grapes, Gruber’s parents Mark and Mary began planting the first of what eventually became 3,000 heirloom apple trees that led to the opening of the Old Stone Cider Barn in 2016.
“Larry and I would work in the same truck, and make compost and soil mixes together,” Gruber said. “I learned that he also owned a popular family restaurant. From there, once we opened the Cider Barn, Hood’s became one of the barn’s first food trucks. That began a fantastic relationship with Larry, whose food truck came to Old Stone for years after that.”
Just as the Old Stone Cider Barn had become firmly entrenched in the social agenda of southern Chester County by the start of 2020, COVID-19 ended what would have been a banner year of hard cider production and a full calendar of events at the Barn. There was, however, a light at the end of a 15-month eclipse in the form of an extensive renovation of Hood’s – constructed by James K. Holton, Inc. and overseen by Larry and Morgan Hood -- that saw the Unionville institution dramatically alter its interior.
New ‘corner office’
The renovation also included a new “corner office” for Old Stone Cider.
“Larry brought up with me the idea of the Cider Barn setting up a bar area branch location inside of Hood’s,” Gruber said. “At first, I was a little skeptical, because our production is limited and I was concerned about selling too much cider. But after some thought, and talking with my parents, we thought it would be a great opportunity establish a satellite location.”
The expansion to Hood’s, Gruber said, would provide Old Stone with the opportunity to not only expand its imprint but its mission – to bring the taste of traditional European-style hard cider into the U.S. marketplace.
“We realized that there would be only a few avenues in which to expand, he said. “We could try to expand our main location and be open more days of the week and get more people in. We could go down the route of distribution, but it calls for high production and a low mark-up of a revenue stream.
“By joining an existing business, we felt that it was a good combination – a way to further get our name out there and as well as work with an existing and established business.”
Since it opened in 2006, Hood’s has sweetened the air along Doe Run Road in Unionville with the scent of barbecue, while at the same time becoming one of the county’s preeminent establishments for barbecue pulled pork, Baby Back ribs and smoked beef brisket – as well as comfort classics like Honey Stung Chicken and Beer Battered haddock.
Now, diners can compliment their meals with Old Stone Cider’s Roxbury Russet, Enterprise, Gold Rush and Ashmead’s Kernel – as well as four Pennsylvania-based beers on tap. The addition of Old Stone Cider fills a niche that the well-known restaurant had wanted to address for many years.
“We’ve gotten many comments from customers who would come in and tell us that it would be great to have a beer to compliment their sandwich,” said Hood’s owner Morgan Hood. “As a family, we didn’t necessarily want to get into having our own liquor license and all that comes with it, so by knowing Evan and having collaborated with him for years, it benefitted both of us.
“It allowed our business to help another business and make something great – and give our customers the chance to have Old Stone Cider with our ribs and chicken.”
Hood’s is located at 1664 West Doe Run Road, Unionville, Pa. 19348. To learn more, visit www.hoodsbbq.com.
Old Stone Cider is located at 959 Chesterville Road, Lewisville, Pa. 19351. To learn more, visit www.oldstonecider.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].