Curtis Allred was living the dream when he was able to experience first-hand “the Belgium beer culture” in Brussels during that country’s national beer festival.
Seven years later, Allred is reliving that dream – over and over – as proprietor of Delirium Cafe USA in Historic Downtown Leesburg.
“I think for me, the greatest joy and the feeling of that dream-come-true happiness is every time someone who has never had Belgian beer has their first experience with it here and is so thrilled about it and by it,” Allred said. “I get that feeling every single time I have one and those times remind me of my first experience of with authentic beer in Belgium.”
The seed that would become Delirium Cafe was planted in 2011 when Allred and a few friends from the Northern Virginia hospitality scene took a trip to Belgium which included Brussels and its annual beer festival. Allred was the general manager of Fire Works Pizza when he went with Jesse Prevatte and Mike Berry – who were beer managers at the Leesburg and Arlington Fire Works locations, respectively.
“The main festival was in the Grand-Place in Brussels, but a couple blocks from there was the Delirium Cafe,” Allred said. “It’s crazy because I was cleaning up the other day and I found my VIP pass for Hoppy Loft and I remember the three of us were sitting around and we thought, ‘We have to bring something like this to Loudoun.’ In America, craft brewing was truly in its infancy, but it had been going on in Belgium, literally, for centuries. We all slapped hands and had a good laugh and thought, ‘What a brilliant idea.’”
Allred was born in North Carolina but grew up in Southwest Virginia. He is a certified Sommelier (wine expert) and Cicerone (beer expert) who got experience in the Manhattan restaurant scene. He and his wife, Dana Hunter, decided to leave New York when their family began to grow, moving to Leesburg while Allred worked at restaurants in Washington, D.C.
“I realized that I was commuting my life away,” he said. “I was working all these crazy hours in DC and not spending time with my family, which was the main reason we moved here in the first place. We were having an anniversary dinner at Tuskies (Tuscarora Mill) and we had a wonderful meal. I started thinking, ‘Maybe there’s a chance for me to get a job out here.’”
Allred said the idea of opening a Delirium from the 2011 trip took a back seat over the years to both life challenges and simply opening a smaller boutique restaurant-bar concept. In fact, it wasn’t until the day Allred was signing a lease on the current Delirium location that he made the grand decision to go for it all.
“My wife was very influential in making Delirium a reality. The night before I signed the lease on what was to be just a small 1500 sq ft corner boutique spot, she asked me to weight the options against my dreams. That was the reality check and the turning point,” said Allred. “I walked in to sign the lease the following day and changed the entire concept on the landlord.”
Fortunately, that meeting went well, the lease was signed, and Delirium was borne. But was it?
With the lease signed, Allred now had to raise more capital, convince the franchise to allow him to open the first Delirium in the US and quickly establish trusting relationships with both the brewery in Belgium and the importer.
“The three-tier law in the US made it difficult because the importer cannot be a retailer, so I had to earn the trust and respect of the family (brewery) and also earn the trust of the importer,” Allred said. With anyone involved in the Delirium brand, it’s all about relations and always representing the excellent reputation of the brand.”
Allred also found two partners to invest in his vision in co-owners Rick Leith and Anthony Poggioli.
“Rick had been a great regular customer at Fire Works,” Allred said. “He had heard about our trip to Belgium and voiced interest that if it ever came together, he would be interested in getting involved. Rick is the one who brought Anthony in.”
From the lease signing in January of 2017, things fell into place and Allred opened the first Delirium Cafe franchise in the United States in May of that year.
“Between the time we signed the lease and took possession of a space for Delirium, we had tenants next to us move and we immediately started expanding our footprint,” Allred said. “But, it’s a historic site and not only do we care very much about providing a safe and healthy place for our guests to spend time, but we also wanted to maintain reverence for the history of this amazing corner and this town. I love that we’ve kept it intact. We haven’t taken down any walls or cut open doorways.”
The Delirium menu also features a mixture of authentic Belgian food, thanks to some help from the Belgian Embassy in Washington.
“The goal was to have a Belgian pub kind of menu, and we have taken a lot of cues from our guests,” Allred said. “We have done some events with the Belgian Embassy and worked with their chef, Dries Molkens. He has come out a few times and worked with our people in the kitchen.”
Allred said he already has plans to open Delirium Cafe franchises in Richmond and Washington, D.C.
“It’s going to happen in 2019 – I’m hell-bent on it,” he said. “We haven’t signed anything yet, but we are working with brokers and looking at properties.”
Allred is also in the process of opening a second restaurant in downtown Leesburg – Balls of Glory meatball restaurant in the current Senor Ramon’s location a few blocks from Delirium Cafe.
“We are going to be running it as a pop-up on the same property as Delirium until the other location opens up,” Allred said. “We will have the menu out within a matter of days.”1 comment