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When Erin (Betlejewski) Wallace ’00 graduated from Moore with a Fine Arts degree in 2000, she never imagined she would one day be an entrepreneur – not to mention the successful owner of three Philadelphia taverns and one of a handful of female brewery owners in the city.
Today, restaurateur Wallace, 36, of Lafayette Hill, owns Devil’s Den in South Philadelphia, Old Eagle Tavern in Manayunk and most recently, Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery in the old General Lafayette Inn in Lafayette Hill.
Among her numerous responsibilities: overseeing more than 80 employees at all three establishments, working with the chefs on menus, choosing the beers, controlling costs and filling out a lot of paperwork.
“It’s kind of like being a gallery manager, in way,” Wallace said. “I have a chef who is talented in putting together what’s on the plate. The same goes for our brewer. They are artists in their own right, different than I am, but artists. My job is to promote their talents.”
Originally from Baltimore, Wallace first got into the tavern business while waitressing at Cherry Street Tavern while a senior at Moore. Then, they offered her some bartending shifts, which she took while at the same time exhibiting some of her mixed-media artwork and paintings in galleries both locally and in New York.
Also during her senior year, she met her husband, Scott, and got engaged. His father had recently retired and wanted to open a bar. He agreed to invest in a property if Wallace would run it. She left Cherry Street and opened the craft beer focused bar Old Eagle Tavern 11 years ago. Devil’s Den followed six years ago.
“We hit a point where my husband kept driving by the old General Lafayette Inn,” Wallace said. “It had been closed but was back up for sale. It seemed logical. We had two beer bars doing well. Lafayette had a brewery but it had been closed. The idea of finding someone who could brew their own beer on site was appealing. If we were going to grow, it was a good place to go and produce our own beer.”
Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery opened in the old General Lafayette Inn in November of 2013. Wallace said her main focus now is getting Barren Hill up to speed, selling and distributing small batches of beer to other bars and then… taking a much needed vacation.
“All the businesses are doing well,” she said. “Old Eagle is having the best year we’ve had. There’s a really loyal following. Devil’s Den keeps growing.”
Wallace said it’s challenging juggling all three businesses. “Once in a while, people don’t believe that I actually run all these businesses or I get, ‘you’re so young, how do you do it?’”
Wallace, who minored in Art History and Photography at Moore, credits her leadership training as a resident assistant and resident director with instilling in her the skills and confidence to make it as the owner of multiple businesses.
“We learned how to run meetings, did team-building exercises, planned events, did public speaking and learned responsibility,” she said. “I applied all those skills to real life.”
She also said her color theory classes came in handy when designing the restaurants and a small business class she took at Moore taught her how to write a business plan.
Coming from an all-women’s college and with a newfound confidence, Wallace said she wasn’t fazed by being a woman in a mostly male-dominated field.
“More and more owners and managers are women. There are women brewers now, sales reps for brewers and bar owners/managers. Things are starting to turn around, but we’re still outnumbered.”