Home-cooked lunch a family-style affair for Philadelphia Brewing Company workers

 PBC employees enjoy lunch cooked by their boss Bill Barton almost every day. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

PBC employees enjoy lunch cooked by their boss Bill Barton almost every day. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

When lunchtime comes for the people who brew Kenzinger beer, Walt Wit Belgian-style white ale and others, they don’t have to leave the Philadelphia Brewing Company. The owner, Bill Barton, makes lunch for his employees almost every day.

On a recent weekday, about an hour before lunchtime, Barton was in the kitchen with a burgundy apron thrown over a yellow dress shirt and slacks. The menu that day, Barton said, included “quinoa with butternut squash, chick peas, golden raisins and some cranberries.” He set off to chop, sautee and mix up enough food to feed 17 people.

A ‘family’ tradition

So why cook for his employees? Barton said he tries to apply his culinary skills to the benefit of his employees just about everyday.

“We try to do healthier meals, and years ago, going back (we’ve been in this business 15-plus years now), we’d all eat together, because it took — there was four or five of us — and it took four or five of us to run the bottling lines.” So, Barton said, the group ate together.

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“We just started making lunch, and it wasn’t too bad about six or seven, eight, 10 people ago. But now look, there’s going to be 17 people eating, but I have to prepare enough food for what 25 normal people would eat,” he said.

Why make so much food? Barton said sometimes he thinks its the only meal his employees eat all day. “I could be wrong, but they just eat a lot of food.”

He said that’s probably at least in part because of all the hard work they do brewing and distributing the brew. “Our proximity from here, from in Kensington to downtown Center City, our trucks can load up, go deliver and be back here in 10, 15 minutes to load up and go back again. And that’s what they have to do. And there’s a lot of climbing up and down basement stairs and, you know, it’s not an easy job at all.”

In an office next door, his wife and co-owner of PBC, Nancy Barton, pointed out that the lunchtime ritual isn’t a man operation. “Usually he does the lunch, and I’ll clean up. And I don’t mind doing that.”

She said the dining experience is important to the beer company “because it’s more like a family, and then the guys don’t realize it, but they just start talking about stuff — work, personal stuff. I don’t know, it just makes them closer.”

Something for everyone

Barton said some of the employees have dietary restrictions and preferences that can make serving up a meal for 20 or so people a bit of a challenge. “One of our guys doesn’t eat any vegetables. At all. Nothing green,” he said. “We have a couple people that are vegetarian — like, Bill and I don’t eat meat. So a couple of our guys don’t like tuna fish or eggplant. So if Bill does an eggplant lasagna he’ll do, like, a square without eggplant in it for those couple people that don’t want that.”

While Bill Barton is best known for his beer, he said he looks forward to spending time in the kitchen. “It’s kind of like my moment of zen, so I get a little time just to zone out of all the other stuff,” Barton said. “And people usually leave me alone. And then when I’m done eating, it’s back to work.”

The funny thing is, making these meals for his employees is just about the only cooking he does — ever. “I haven’t made a meal at my house — I live in Queen Village — in well over 10 years, if not more.”

Barton said he rarely cooks, except for these lunchtime adventures, because they visit customers all the time. “We have a lot of bar, restaurant customers,” he said. “We go out every night, and we like to eat their food.”

Ringing the dinner bell

When the meal was ready — quinoa, ham and Brussels sprouts — Barton sent out a mass text message letting his employees know it’s time to eat.

“Look out for the stampede,” he said. “Full family-style meal today. So, for the meat lovers it’s going to be ham and the quinoa dish along with brussel sprouts. For the meat haters they’ll just skip the ham. So, eat more quinoa.”

Employees filed in to load up their plates. Nick Cassizzi, not a picky eater, isn’t shy about piling it all on. “It’s pretty easy to eat when you work here. Everything’s delicious.”

Cassizzi said he’s really lucky to have a boss who makes him lunch. “It’s really good after a hard day’s work,” he said. “The hardest part is getting back to work after filling your stomach.”

PBC employee Bob Boileau agreed. “It’s wonderful,” he said. “I mean it saves us from having to go out and spend our own money. Plus, he’s a hell of chef. I mean, he ever wants to get out of the beer business, he knows what to do.”

Boileau works as a boxer. He joked that means he beats up people and makes them buy beer. Really, Boileau said, “I make boxes. And then I work the bottling line. I put the empties on the hungry part of the bottling line and it takes them down and rinses them out and fills them with beer.

Boileau’s plate was loaded with ham, Brussel sprouts and bread, but not a grain of quinoa. 

“No quinoa,” Boileau said. “If I can’t spell it, I don’t eat it.”

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