A taste of Brussels in Leesburg—It's Delirium
Updated: May 31, 2019
After five nights and six days traveling through Europe and living out of a duffle bag, Curtis Allred returned to Virginia with more than just stories and memories. He had an idea.
One night in Brussels, after attending the National Beer Festival and the Brew Masters Guild parade five or six years ago, Allred and a group of 30 or so people gathered in the "Hoppy lounge" of the original Delirium Café, admiring the unique environment and relishing in the atmospheric elixir that Delirium encompasses - all while enjoying some of the best beer in the world. During the merriment, a question came to Allred's mind: Why isn't there one of these back in the states?
Upon his return, Allred found he could not shake this notion: "You shouldn't have to fly halfway around the world to have that kind of experience," he said.
And thus began his mission to bring the first Delirium Café to the United States. The week before Thanksgiving the year of his idea-sparking trip, Allred flew back and met with the family owners of the original café. He spent some time with them and presented a business plan showcasing the idea. They loved his vision and signed off on the plans. Within weeks, America's first Delirium Café will open in downtown Leesburg.
What is the Delirium Café?
"For us here, it is a full experience " because it's not just beer. It's a Cicerone-selected beer list and Court of Master Sommelier wine list, it's a high-quality food plate. None of the other Deliriums have that kind of focus. Everywhere else it's just beer," said Allred.
Having worked management positions in the restaurant industry for most of his adult life -- including Fireworks Pizza, The Capital Grille D.C. and Shoe's Cup & Cork - Allred is well-suited to spearhead the venture.
Allred and his family are current Leesburg residents, having moved from New York almost 12 years ago.
The recently on board Delirium chef, Vi Nguyen, is a Leesburg native with extensive experience. The excitement in Allred's voice as he described Nguyen was apparent, like he had found a missing piece to the puzzle. "He can cook, he can build a team, he can teach," Allred said.
The menu is expected to offer traditional Belgian classics along with relaxed, brasserie-style meals. Options will include heavier dishes for dinner, such as butter-poached salmon and 24-hour braised short ribs, while lighter selections include an array of sandwiches and salads. For the most part, the menu will feature Belgian favorites such as waffles, five or six different mussel varieties and mouth-watering poutine fries. "I expect 200 pound of potatoes dropped off a day," Allred said jokingly.
Local products are also party of the business plan. The restaurant plans on buying cheeses, meats and vegetables locally. "You would under-serve your guests to not highlight the things that are being produced right out your back door," said Allred, "I believe you can create a viable food service business with a responsible association with local producers and be successful with it."
The Delirium Café - which is not a brewery or formal tasting room -- wouldn't be as revered as it is without its impressive and extensive beer offerings. "I think we have components of those things, but if we tried too hard to be those other things, then we would not be great at anything," Allred noted.
Though not producing ales in house, beer lovers will not be disappointed. The restaurant intends to open with close to 300 beers, and by the end of this year, you could come to Delirium every day for a year and not have the same beer twice.
Not a beer fan? Not a problem. Delirium Café will offer a grand wine list complete with bottles from both local wineries and those around the world. "I want to have Sancerre by the glass for the person who has no interest in drinking beer, but really wanted to come with friends or family to go to the first Delirium Café," said Allred.
Baby blue shutters and pink elephants
There is no mistaking the building on the corner of South King and Loudoun Street for anything except the official site for America's inaugural Delirium Café. The baby blue shutters, intricate doorway and recognizable pink elephant sign are just a few of the spot's distinctive features. People passing by are beckoned by the allured of the building. They try to sneak peeks through the paper-lined windows, which only seem to enhance the mystery and anticipation of what's to come.
Why Leesburg as the first place to introduce a Delirium Café to the states? Allred sums it up with one word: energy.
The search for the perfect space took six plus years of scanning the DMV high and low for a place that could not only accommodate the plans and expectations for the restaurant, but a building that simply felt right. "For whatever reason this space said: Here, do this here, come here. Something about it spoke to me" Allred said.
The future restaurant space was previously two separate businesses - Crème de la Crème, a French pottery shop, and Sugar Magnolias, a small jewelry boutique. It sits on the highest point in the original Leesburg town proper. The construction team was able to unite the two spaces with virtually nothing infringing on to the original bones of the building.
There were some challenges involved with the layout due to the fact the building had never been a restaurant before and had no infrastructure in place. "I had initially thought that there are things that should be fairly simple, and then I realized there is a lot of engineering and laying things out to make sure everything flows and fits," Allred said.
There are several rooms where patrons will sit and sip, including the bar room, the "brick" room and the garden room, which leads to a gorgeous outdoor seating area, bound to be in high demand for the upcoming warm weather.
Providing a warm welcome
Good food, beer, and environment are key ingredients to creating a pleasurable experience, but Allred knows the most important factor is hospitality.
"So much of what Delirium Café is, and what we are trying to create, are the things you cannot touch. Hospitality is really what we are ultimately trying to deliver. Beer and wine and food and environment are really great things, but hospitality transcends that," said Allred.
The restaurant opening is expected to draw regional attention, especially in the "beer nerd" community.
Though this is the first Delirium Café, it may not be the only. Allred plans to expand the brand throughout the country and open more locations in the future. "We have high ambitions, but we know that we can't make unit two or three exist if you can't show success in unit one," he said.
Be on the lookout for a potential announcement for a Delirium Café christening parade that Allred hopes to throw as commemoration for the official opening of the restaurant.
"Baby blue drapes and pink ribbons, we are going to look ridiculous and it's going to be great," he laughs.