CLEARFIELD – Most of us, at some time, have had this conversation: “Where are you from?” “Clearfield, Pennsylvania.”
After a blank expression, we add: “Home of Denny’s Beer Barrel Burger Challenge?” And then, their face lights up with recognition.
Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub has obtained national, and in some cases, international attention.
Next time, take a few moments to page through the guestbook, and you’ll see names and addresses from across the country and a few from outside the United States.
It’s almost hard to imagine that there was a time when the restaurant didn’t exist.
The humble beginnings of this restaurant actually start with his father and uncle, Dennis Liegey Sr. and Robert McBride, who operated Denny & Bob’s Tavern in Philipsburg as partners from 1959 until 1970 and Liegey Jr., grew up with the restaurant atmosphere.
He adds that his mother’s side of the family is from Ireland and they touched on the restaurant business, “So I guess it is in my DNA!” he says.
In 1977, he and his wife purchased a license, and on Labor Day, along with one other employee, they opened their doors.
Their family chipped in, helping wherever they could, while the Liegey’s offered home-made ham sandwiches as well as pre-packaged Stewart sandwiches.
The entire operation consisted of 600 square feet and they made hamburgers and hot sausage sandwiches on a cast iron skillet. This was also a time when a bottle of beer cost somewhere around 50 cents.
Liegey said they tried different ways to enhance the business, with varying results, some that were not positive. However, they kept working at it, and about a year later, they were able to purchase another property, which included a house.
They lived in the house and began building what would eventually become Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub. Liegey explained that it began with 2,000 square feet, but this included a small kitchen, where the previous building did not.
As the restaurant grew, they were able to expand the building several times, which grew into the present business.
Over the years, they had to contend with changes and challenges. State and federal laws and regulations changed, standards of operation evolved and the needs and desires of customers changed, as well as how the industry is structured and operates.
Through it all, Liegey said, he was driven by this theory: “Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and take care of your own house, because that is where you have the most control.”
“We have kept this approach through the years,” he added, “to give good and friendly service.”
The menu of Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub is extensive, but for first time visitors who have heard of the restaurant, the burger challenges are top on the list of interests.
Now it seems to be a given that people can order a massive burger and try to eat it in a limited amount of time.
But it started in 1991 as a way to bring attention to the great food Denny’s had to offer, and was a friendly competition between the Pub and another local eatery, and they added a customer challenge to the mix.
“And the rest is history,” Liegey said.
Today, guests can choose from a 2-, 3-, 6-, 15- or 25-pound challenge, and there are also 50- and 100-plus pound burgers. In addition to bragging rights by customers, Denny’s has set two world records and was the first to be recognized by Guinness World records for big burgers on the menu.
That’s not all. Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub has been recognized on Good Morning America, David Letterman’s Top 10; the Travel Channel and Food Network, The Today Show, The Tony Danza Show, Rachel Ray Show and CMT Country Fried Videos.
And the international recognition includes a German network and a Japanese network, as well as newspaper and magazine articles around the world.
The pub has been visited by people from all of the states and 17 countries, and Liegey said they are pleased to have been able to bring recognition to their hometown of Clearfield.
He said they always have felt they have an obligation to support the community through many organizations, and they received a commendation from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture for their years of support of the Clearfield County Fair.
Looking back over the past 40 years, there are many things to be proud of, including having a local, small business that has survived so long.
But Leigey says he is most proud of surviving those 40 years in the business and of his family, who have sacrificed much over the years.
“I am very proud of my son, Denny III, who started 20 years ago and who has been instrumental in our success,” he said. “I am proud that I have been able to employ 30-plus people (both full- and part-time) and be able to offer health insurance and benefits.”
The big celebration will be held this Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the pub. The event will include Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap at a special price.
Liegey said he first put Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap in May of 1979 and it has been offered ever since. He surmises they may be the longest consecutive running tap in the country. And, of course, Denny’s fantastic food is always on the menu.
What is on tap for the future? Liegey says that is, of course, hard to predict as the world continues to change, but they will always keep their focus on the commitment of giving customers a good experience as well as keeping fresh with new ideas.
Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub would not be what it is without the support, and Liegey said they are so thankful for their exceptional staff and loyal customers.
“You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with and those who believe in your mission,” he said.