At one of the most difficult times in the history of the City of Bethlehem, the Fegleys entered the brewing and restaurant business. The Bethlehem Steel plant had been slowly shutting down for years – a dying industrial giant of a bygone day – and the region was suffering the loss hard. By 1998, the downtown had also been bled by the malls and box stores that promised savings in exchange for genuine local culture and community. That April, at one end of a quiet Main Street, the historic Hotel Bethlehem declared bankruptcy and closed.
That very same day, at the corner of Main and Broad, the Fegley family optimistically threw open the doors of the Bethlehem Brew Works. The Fegleys chose to ignore the public exodus, and instead celebrated the history of ‘the Steel’ and paid tribute to the region’s working class culture in their brewpub’s decor and menu. The Fegleys believed a transformation was possible, and together with the hard work of incredible downtown shop owners change slowly began. Over the next several years stores began to keep longer hours and restaurants began to open one by one.
During the first 5 years, the restaurant and brewery’s success began to push its limits. To keep up, the Steelgaarden lounge was added and quickly became a Valley hotspot, the kitchen was tripled in size to serve more guests, and the brewery added additional tanks to keep up with their thirsty demand.
By this time Historic Bethlehem had become a vibrant year-round destination, with a gloriously restored Hotel, a thriving restaurant row, and fantastic retail shops of all kinds! The Steelgaarden lounge had expanded again, having annexed another two shop locations in the Main Street Commons for more nightlife and event space, and the brewery was operating at capacity, producing over 1,000 barrels annually.
Seeking to expand further, the Fegley family looked west into Allentown. The Fegleys became enamored with the history of the “Queen city” – from its role in the War of Independence, to the great silk industry that supplied the world’s fashions, and the grand retail era that followed. Opportunity was difficult to see in a city whose retail heyday had ended years with the demolition of Hess’s department store; “The All-American City” as it was known, seemed to be frosted over – and the Fegleys believed it was about to thaw.
In June 2007, after years in the making, Fegley’s Allentown Brew Works opened on Hamilton Street from where the Hess Brothers once reigned. The new establishment had restored and renovated the historic Harold’s Furniture Building: two and a half levels of dining, plus state-of-the-art banquet facilities in The Hamilton Room, multiple bars offering different atmospheres, as well as Der Biergarten outdoor casual patio and a new seductive lower level lounge, Silk, were ready to accommodate 700 guests at one time. That first year with the new brewery, Brewmaster Beau Baden returned with a GABF Gold Medal for the city of Allentown!
Within a few months of opening, the American economy collapsed into the Great Recession. Bethlehem remained steadfast, drawing visitors throughout the year for its major festivals, its “Christmas City” heritage, and its hometown Brew Works. And though Allentown had many wonderful people working diligently to re-spark the downtown district there, the revitalization of center city became increasingly daunting. But the Fegley’s had doubled down – with the largest restaurant in the Lehigh Valley and a new 15-barrel brewery boasting seven fermentation tanks and eight serving tanks, they had built a destination restaurant in city with a with an injured reputation, and a brewery with enough excess capacity to begin outside sales of Fegley’s Brew Works beer.
During an April stop in Bethlehem while campaigning for the White House, President Barack Obama visited Fegley’s Brew Works and lunched with Peg Fegley. He praised the family’s hard-earned success and commitment to the revitalization of the Lehigh Valley’s downtowns. “Now that’s a good beer!” he said while drinking the Fegley’s ESB.
“Now that’s a good beer!” — President Barack Obama
The boys of summer came to Allentown that year, when the Philadelphia Phillies AAA team, the Iron Pigs, opened the new Coca-Cola Park stadium, and added Fegley’s Brew Works to its lineup. that account in place, and a new sales team behind offsite brewery sales, Fegley’s Brew Works began to be found locations from Harrisburg to central New Jersey, north to Scranton, and south to Philadelphia.
The Allentown Brew Works leaned into its task and filled its rooms with dozens of rotating events, festivals, banquets, and weddings. Word began to spread as guests told others about their visit to downtown, and a deeply loyal group of patrons soon adopted the establishment as their regular stop.
As the family concentrated their work in Allentown, they found it tough but rewarding. The brewery was awarded for its Framboise Lambic at the World Beer Championships, and the Bagpiper’s Scotch Ale returned from GABF that year with a bronze. Then, during the height of the Christmas holiday season, the Bethlehem Brew Works suffered a fire.
Struggling through the winter with a limited menu and dining area, the Bethlehem Brew Works kept brewing. Thanks to the loyal fans of the Lehigh Valley, who kept visiting during the reconstruction, the restaurant had a grand re-opening on February 26th.
Two months later, in the west end of Allentown, the Fegley’s had another grand opening – the Brew Works on the Green welcomed diners to the municipal Benner Fairways golf course.
Two more GABF medals came that year, Brewmaster Beau Baden brought home a Silver for the Bagpiper’s Scotch Ale, and Rude Elf’s Reserve got a Bronze.
The city of Allentown continued to awaken, and the festivals and events hosted at Fegley’s Brew Works continued to grow. Their Bridal Fair and Event Extravaganza established itself as a particular success in the region, filling the ballrooms with young love.
Distribution of Fegley’s beer grew further into the region, reaching new fans. In December that year, one of the nation’s leading beer writers and co-founder of Philly Beer Week, Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack), named Fegley’s Hop’Solutely the Beer of the Year!
Production was stepped up further at the brewery, and two new 30bbl fermenters were added, and new packaging equipment was brought online to satisfy demand. Barrel aging was increased as well, and by this time 150 oak casks were being filled each year for great beers like Fegley’s Bourbon Barrel Insidious Imperial Stout, which is now an annually anticipated release.
Good things were blossoming in Allentown, and the Fegleys saw that new restaurants were adding to the draw of the city. They had been thinking up good ideas that they wanted to see happen in the neighborhood for some time, when it finally struck them that they should just do it themselves. In an effort to continue to move the Fegley brand toward healthy, sustainable “green” practices, they chose concepts that would fit that ideal. Fegley’s Burrito Works opened right next to the brewery with all-natural, local, sustainable, organic meats and produce as a quick-service limb of the Allentown Brew Works. In addition, the Coffee Works offered organic, fair trade, single sourced coffee and espresso – everything from cappuccinos to mocha-caramel lattes.
After 3 years at the golf course the Brew Works on the Green said goodbye. The Fegleys thank the fans that had flocked to the out of the way location for the Brew Works beer and food. It had taken a tremendous effort by the family to turn a snack bar into a successful million-dollar operation, so when the city’s leaders decided to re-bid the contract for the golf course space, the Fegley’s took a bow and refocused on their core operations in the downtown districts.
Beau Baden and his team continued to be awarded regionally, nationally, and internationally, respectively at the Philadelphia Summer Ale Festival (Best Summer Ale), at the Great American Beer Festival, and at the World Beer Championships.
In early 2014, the Burrito Works/Coffee Works sadly closed after a small fire, but the lessons learned there about healthy eco-conscious restaurant operations strengthened the company as a whole. The Fegley’s remain ever-optimistic, continuing to work hard to improve on what they do. As the national economy is beginning to find a foothold, both cities are attracting new people.
In September 2014, Allentown lit up with the September opening of the PPL Center, home of the Philadelphia Flyers’ AAA team, the Phantoms. With professional hockey, A-List concert events, and more, the city now sees tens of thousands of visitors on a regular basis coming to the downtown district. Allentown is once again bustling at its center with a burgeoning dining scene and new retail shops.
And in Bethlehem, Fegley’s Brew Works continues to stride forward with the city’s downtown. Our loyal mug club regulars and rewards club fans help welcome, with a big smile, thousands upon thousands of new diners, tourists, shoppers, and fest attendees to “Christmas City, USA.”
New opportunities and challenges will spur the family into action…but they’re always happy to take time to enjoy great beer and delicious food.
“We know that great things are born from a commitment to values, and a passion for excellence. Just as every generation has worked hard to stand apart and forge the best, for the past 20 years our values have been “the star and gear” that guides us night and day. Our family is proud to share our best with you – to celebrate your labors, your values, your very best. Cheers, to a job well done!” — The Fegley Family