4EG Managing Partner, Dan Cronican, and his family gathered on the field to throw out the first pitch at Great American Ball Park! Keystone is the official mac & cheese of the Cincinnati Reds.
Keystone Bar & Grill has come a long way since its opening ten years ago. We sat down with owner Dan Cronican to chat about Keystone’s humble beginnings, including how it came to be named, and where the Keystone brand is headed next. Check out the conversation below and be sure to visit Keystone during the 10 Days of Giveaways for your chance to win a grand prize trip to Longmont, Colorado, courtesy of Oskar Blues Brewery!
Q: What thoughts and emotions are you feeling as we celebrate Keystone’s 10th anniversary?
A: My wife Shana and I had our first-born son in 2007. Later that year, we opened Keystone Bar & Grill. As I look back over the last ten years I am aware of the many challenges we have faced and overcome: power outages, trees have fallen on the building, inevitable employee turnover, increased competition, bridge closures and many more. Through all of it — we endured. We have been fortunate these first ten years to have really great people on our team and on our side. We’ve developed an incredibly loyal following of fans, who appreciate what we do and who we are. We have created so many great memories, had a lot of laughs and really enjoyed ourselves. I’m humbled by what we have created and excited to see what the next ten years will bring!
Q: What gave you the idea for this mac and cheese haven?
A: My buddy Andy had been a big fan of Kuma’s Corner in Chicago. They have all these crazy burgers they name after heavy metal bands like “The Slayer Burger”. We thought that was a great idea. People raved about our mac & cheese and everyone else at the time was only serving it as a side item. After hearing about this hip spot in Chicago, we were sitting in Keystone on a Monday and realized we could have fired a cannon through the dining room and not hit a soul. We thought up the idea of Mac & Cheese Monday to try and generate some business on an otherwise slow day. We started off with a few macs with special ingredients, like Buffalo Springfield with buffalo chicken and bleu cheese crumbles, and the idea just took off. Once people tried the different varieties, they were hooked.
Q: What makes Keystone Bar & Grill unique?
A: When we created the brand in 2007, we created a space with casual comfort food and beer before it was trendy. We really enjoy simple, approachable, comfort food without pretension, and as a beer lover, it just made sense to build the brand around those two things. What sets us apart is our commitment to serve made-from-scratch comfort food, a great beer selection, with a friendly staff in a comfortable, casual environment… and of course the best mac & cheese!
Q: How would you describe Keystone in one word? What does that word mean?
A: Stability. In architecture, a ‘keystone’ brings strength and stability. Prior to opening, we were driving across the historic Roebling Bridge that connects Covington and Cincinnati. At one point, we looked up and noticed a prominent keystone at the peak of the archways. Given that our new restaurant was located in Roebling Point, we decided on the name “Keystone.” Keystone Bar & Grill has proven to be a strong brand. We are consistent and will always be there for our team members, fans and the communities that we serve.
Dan demonstrates the meaning of a keystone: strength and stability.
Q: What did you envision for Keystone’s success 10 years ago? Have you surpassed those aspirations?
I wanted Keystone to be an iconic Cincinnati brand. When people talk about Cincinnati and what they love about it, they often refer to brands like: Skyline, Graeter’s, the Cincinnati Reds. Now people have added other brands like Rhinegeist and Keystone Bar & Grill. We have opened and operated three Keystone locations here in Cincinnati. Last year, we launched our mac & cheese in over 240 grocery stores and established a quick-serve sub-brand — Mac Shack. We have definitely achieved a lot of what we originally set out to do; however, we still have big plans for growth for the Keystone brand and Cincinnati.
Crew members film at Keystone Covington for an episode of Food Paradise on The Travel Channel.
Q: Speaking of big plans, how do you plan to grow in the next 10 years?
A: We are currently looking at a site for Keystone #4 in Cincinnati. In addition, we have a couple locations we are giving serious consideration for another Mac Shack. While Cincinnati still offers plenty of opportunity for us to grow, we intend to expand beyond our hometown in the future; we’ll keep you posted!
Q: What are your biggest accomplishments over the last decade?
A: I don’t think there is any one thing. What is most important to me is that we have been able to build a great brand, a great team, and I have been able to (most of the time) balance that with raising a beautiful family.
Q: Keystone does a lot to give back to the community. Why is this important to the company, and to you?
A: As a leader, you have a responsibility not just to your team members and your customers but also to the community that you serve. We participate in a lot of charities because we are in a position to help. We make a living by feeding people, so we try to continue feeding more people through our efforts, particularly the Powerpack program at Freestore Foodbank.
Dan presents a check to the Freestore Foodbank for the Power Pack program!
Q: Are there any new macs we can look forward to?
A: I would like to see us experiment with different cheeses, like fontina or manchego. Also, we could branch out with more unique meats, such as duck, and different veggies, like sweet potatoes, broccolini, or fiddlehead ferns.
Q: What is something that you think people would be surprised to know about Keystone?
A: I think people may be surprised by our level of commitment to quality at every level. It’s not just the mac & cheese that people love. For example, our burgers contain a signature triple grind of ground beef from Kentucky Proud farmers. It contains brisket and steak cuts. Then we serve it on a local 16 Bricks bun. We approach every dish with that level of quality. Our fries are fresh cut daily by hand, our chicken tenders are hand breaded, and we make our BBQ sauce in-house daily. It’s all important to us. We work hard everyday to provide the best experience for every person who walks into a Keystone, or orders with us online.
Q: Any last words to the Keystone lovers out there?
A: Thank you, thank you, thank you! We appreciate your support over the last ten years! Let’s share another ten years of delicious mac & cheese and great beer!