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Community Highlights: Meet Kevin Curley of RegionAle

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kevin Curley.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I started working in restaurants when I was 16 years old. Cooking has always been a passion of mine from a young age, and I always dreamed of being a chef. I attended culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America, followed by a degree from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. I have competed in the Bocuse d’Or as a commis and won the honor of best commis during the competition in the United States.

After graduating college, I worked under James Beard-nominated chef Cindy Wolf at Charleston restaurant in Baltimore, MD. After which, I was the opening executive chef at Cafe Cent-Dix in Ithaca, NY, at the age of 22. I worked for about three years as a chef in Ithaca when I started developing my own restaurant concept. The concept is called RegionAle. It is a chef-driven sandwich concept that focuses on highlighting famous sandwiches from across the country and pairing them with local craft beer. We opened the first RegionAle location in November of 2016 and have enjoyed great success ever since. We recently opened a second location in February of 2020, with plans to continue to grow the brand.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The road has been anything but smooth. I opened my own restaurant at the age of 25 with no support other than my family (who have no prior experience in the restaurant industry). It is through grit, passion, luck, and probably a little naivety that the brand has been so successful. While the restaurant has always financially performed well, the emotional and physical strain of being a small business owner is incalculable unless you have gone through it.

There have been steps along the way that have helped me grow individually and as a business owner. The brand has gone from me working all day, every day for the first few years to now leading a large team. It is a very different job when you are no longer only counting on yourself to show up and give it your best every day. The restaurant industry inevitably brings a host of challenges from staffing, product quality, razor-thin margins, long hours, etc. The aspect of my job that is most challenging at this point is letting control of the reins. As you grow, you need a solid team around you, and that is my sole focus at this point, developing into a leader, not just a manager.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
RegionAle was created with the goal of highlighting regionally famous American sandwiches and craft beers. These legendary sandwiches originate from across the country, including quintessential favorites such as the Maryland Crabcake, Philly Cheesesteak, and Florida Cubano. At RegionAle, we maintain the essence of these sandwiches while simultaneously modernizing them with fresh, unique ingredients.

Here at RegionAle, we strive to provide our customers with a distinctive, delicious meal. Our sandwiches are made from scratch, using locally sourced and seasonally appropriate ingredients whenever possible. In addition to our main fare, we also offer seasonal soups and salads, as well as numerous sides, including house-made chips and cookies. While we emphasize a modern culinary approach, our sandwiches are rooted in tradition – embodying cultural differences from across our great country. Whatever state you hail from, we hope that enjoying a meal at RegionAle is equal parts nostalgic, delicious, and refreshingly original.

Can you talk about how you think about risk?
I believe all small business owners to be great risk-takers. There is financial as well as a social risk when you are operating a business. Financially, a restaurant is extremely risky. They are very expensive to open, and the possibility of failure is constantly looming over you. When I refer to social risk, I am mostly referring to social life outside of work. I am very lucky to have a supportive wife and family, but the long hours and constantly being at work or thinking of work is not for the faint of heart.

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