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Delirium Café USA in downtown Leesburg. (Image: Alex Mangione Photography)

The first ever Delirium Café in the US opens in Leesburg, VA

We need to talk about the pink elephants in the room. They’re all over the walls and the menus and the beer glasses in the first United States location of Delirium Café. The international brand began in Belgium, but the beer-focused cafés have since spread all over the world. Downtown Leesburg is now the first and only city in the U.S. to host the pink elephants on parade.

Leading the charge is owner and manager Curtis Allred, who first decided he wanted to bring Delirium to America six years ago. A certified sommelier and cicerone, Allred has been operating restaurants in New York and the D.C. area for approximately 18 years, but this is his first foray into ownership. He’s joined by beer expert Aislin Kavaldijan, who has worked with several northern Virginia breweries.

Delrium Café USA opened yesterday, so we sat down with Allred to discuss the brand’s arrival on U.S. soil and what we can expect from this newest addition to Loudoun’s beer boom.

Why is Leesburg, Virginia the first U.S. location for the Delirium Café brand?

Curtis Allred: Leesburg is the county seat in one of the fastest growing counties in the country. There’s a huge amount of international business travel that occurs for the residents who live here; there is a huge amount of beer affluence. You’ve got 27 breweries open in this county before the end of this year alone. Plus, you’ve got so much other what I call agritourism coming up for wineries and for the breweries, and for the farm-to-table movement. You have a great history and you have a stable consistent daytime business as well as evenings with people getting home. So for me, after spending six years wanting to open Delirium Café and looking in D.C. and looking in Reston and looking in markets where you would think it’s a no brainer, we actually gave up and said we’re not going to do Delirium Café, cause we can’t find it.

Serendipitously, the space that’s 101 South King, the main entrance space, when we first were looking at it and it came open, I thought we should do a farm-to-table bar concept where every ingredient we make in house and we only feature products within 50 miles, because it’s Loudoun, and that’s what they love. And so we negotiated a lease, we did the capital raise. I’m sitting on the couch with my wife the night before I’m supposed to come and sign the lease and go ahead and start everything, and she says, all right, you’ve been wanting to open your own restaurant your whole life, you’re about to do it. Is this the concept that you really want to do? And for whatever reason, at that point, it just dawned on me that not every Delirium Café has to be in a city of a million plus people. What makes Delirium Café so unique doesn’t have to be in a 5,000-square-foot restaurant.

Delirium Café started in the basement of a row house off of the Grand-Place when it was not a really nice neighborhood. Our first address was already in a really nice neighborhood in downtown Leesburg. The population is here, the demand for really great product is here, and so long as you can over deliver on expectations with really fantastic food and actually a knowledgeable, engaged, warm, and friendly staff, Delirium should work. Even in a town of 47,000 people. The county supports it, northern Virginia wants it, we’re not too far outside of D.C., it’s not a far drive from Frederick. It’s a million tiny reasons because there isn’t any one big one. Other than the 10-minute commute on my bicycle.

When did you first discover the brand and decide you wanted to open a Delirium in the U.S.?

CA: I was initially introduced to Delirium Tremens as a beer when I got a job at Fire Works Pizza in Market Station working with Tuscarora Mill, the Tuskie’s Restaurant Group, and they had that beer there. I started managing there, I didn’t really know a great deal of where I was going with my career, and at that time I discovered there is a universe of beer the way there’s a universe of wine, and no matter how much you think you know, you never know all of it, ‘cause there’s always something exciting and new and innovative occurring.

When I was working for Tuskie’s Restaurant Group, Kevin Malone who owns it is very, very strongly committed to ongoing training and development, and there was an opportunity to go as a group with a few of the other employees there on a trip to Belgium where we’d go for a week and basically you’re living out of a duffel bag and sleeping on a bus and you’re hitting a different city every day and you’re hitting two or three breweries every day.

We all went over to the Delirium Café there in Brussels, and I had never been and didn’t know that it existed. We got in there and I don’t know if it was just not having slept for three or four days and having drank a lot of really strong Belgian beers, the but the experience in there was so overwhelmingly different from everywhere we had been. It was as remarkably laid back and casual as you would ever want a pub to be. Everybody was as warm and inviting, like everybody’s your best friend as soon as you get there. It just had that mojo, but the food was unreal. Just sitting there with a couple of friends, I was like, “there’s nothing like this. I’ve never been anywhere like this, and I’ve opened restaurants all over the country. We should do this. We should just walk up and ask the guy, can we open a Delirium Café in the U.S.?” And of course we all drunkenly laughed and slapped each other on the back and said, “what a brilliant idea,” because everyone is a genius when they’re drinking. And we went on about the rest of our trip.

But when I got back, the idea didn’t leave. It just stuck in my head. And so six, eight weeks later, I flew back, and I met with the family, and it’s kind of interesting, I mean Delirium Café has got locations all over the world, and yet it’s a small family business, and that always stuck with me. They were really excited about the opportunity to see the brand grow, we were very excited about the opportunity to develop the brand, and so here we are, six years later and lots of bumps in the road, but here we are.

What can guests expect to see on the beer list?

CA: I think right now there’s 263 beers on the list. Over 100 of them are Belgians. Some of them I myself had never even heard of, but Aislin has done such a great job putting together the beer menu. Stylistically, they’re a little more rich, they’re a little more intense in flavor, they’re a little more highly carbonated. We generally don’t have those big west coast-style IPA beers. There’s a good selection of trappist and abbey ales that are on there. Aislin did a really good job of trying to source some great gueuzes and lambics and fruit lambics. No, there’s no Cantillon, because we can’t get Cantillon. There is no importer for Cantillon right now in Virginia. Someone did just buy the distribution rights, so we’ll have to drive to Richmond and do a dock drop to pick up some as soon as that becomes available.

What should people know about the core line of Delirium products?

CA: Huyghe Family Brewing has been in existence, as Huyghe Family, it’s been labeled since 1902, but they’ve been brewing there at that site since 1654, so a ton of history in there, with a lot of their beers. Most of the beer they actually produce there does not come into the United States. The Delirium product line specifically, I think on draft there’s seven beers coming from them. You have the full Delirium portfolio, and then we were able to get Floris Apple, which is a really delicious apple wit, on draft.

The Delirum beers, it’s a lot of depth and flavor and complexity without pretentiousness. There are places where you can go and fully geek out and it’s kind of stuffy, even with beer. Here is not that. You can’t have pink elephants on your walls and be stuffy. We have plenty of beer geeks. We are beer geeks, to the nth degree. But it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere and a relaxed environment and I think that’s Delirum.

What about the food menu?

CA: As far as the food goes, everything you eat, we make. Except for the bread. The kitchen is tiny; I don’t have the facility to make bread, but otherwise, everything you eat, we’re making here. A lot of support of local farms, Baker’s Farm from Mount Jackson supplies us with all of our pork, and we use a lot of pork. But the food is small plates, reasonably sized entrees. It’s a heavy focus on what I would consider a casual brasserie menu. So lots of fries, lots of mussels, lots of waffles, some salads and sandwiches at lunch, some heavier entrees at dinner. We use beer in almost every dish. All of the mussels have a different Delirium beer in there.

How will Delirium Café become a part of the Loudoun County beer community?

CA: We’re using a lot of Virginia spirits behind the bar. We are directly collaborating with local breweries to create beer for events for Delirium Café. For instance, one of the beers that’s available is the Crooked Run Dedicated IPA. It’s an American-style IPA that Aislin and my partner Rick [Leith] actually went out to the brewery and worked with Jake and team and actually brewed the beer together, and we have it on draft here now. We’re working with Ocelot to put together some firkins and some cask ales. We’ve reached out and are working with Three Stars to do some collaboration events. But even closer, reaching out to Western Loudoun homebrewers association is on the radar to do bottle share events and those kinds of things for private events. Working with local bicycling clubs, local running clubs. If you’re not a good business citizen, if you don’t work with your community, you’ll fail. We do it really without thinking about the business impact of it. To me, it’s just something you do.

What about luring customers from D.C.? Why do you think people should make the trip out here to check out Delirium?

CA: There’s so much more if you get out of your box. And I think the reason we opened this is because we saw an opportunity to get out of our box. And I think that if you look at it that way, there’s so much there for you. Make a day of it. There are plenty of wineries, plenty of breweries, great dining. I think there’s a lot more than just us here. But I think you could come out and you could spend the day at Delirium. You can come here 365 and never have the same beer twice. There are seldom places, even in D.C., that you can come and get the variety of Belgian beer that we have.

There’s more to come out here than just this restaurant. There’s a lot of great retail just on this block. There’s so much wonderful food and beverage and hospitality. There’s a lot to offer in this community, and it’s why we live here.

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