Q&A: Simon Pearce

One-on-one with the jolly Irish craftsman as he celebrates a decade of excellence along the Brandywine.

Simon Pearce on the Brandywine in West Chester is celebrating its 10th anniversary Dec. 10-12. So MLT caught up with the legendary Irishman behind the glass-and-pottery empire and discovered how he’s established his iconic brand—not to mention what it’s like to be asked, “Are you the Simon Pearce?”

Simon Pearce, the craftsman.MLT: Congratulations on the anniversary of your restaurant. Can you believe how much time has passed?
It’s unbelievable. It feels like we were just looking for a location in that area.

MLT: What attracted you to the Brandywine area for your second restaurant location?
I was looking for a site that was something like the one we have in Vermont. I wanted to combine three things: a restaurant, a glassblowing workshop and a retail store. I also wanted it to be on water—because I just have this thing with water. Surprisingly enough, it’s hard to find a location for all four things. I found this site on the Brandywine, and it had everything I was looking for. I like the area very much.

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MLT: Are you planning any other restaurant openings?
No, not right now. It’s not out of the question in the future, but, at the moment, two is enough. I’m really appreciative of how well-received our restaurant is in West Chester. Our new chef, Karen Nicolas, is fantastic. Her food is really, really amazing. We’re excited about the anniversary weekend, and I designed a vase, which is signed by me, that we will be selling to commemorate the occasion.

MLT: How did ideas come to you to mark this special occasion?
I wanted to design a really nice vase that wasn’t too big and was under $100 so it could be affordable to many people. I’ve never figured out where my ideas come from. This one I was really happy with, and that’s not always the case. [laughs] We also installed a chandelier in the restaurant, which I designed.

MLT: Sounds like you’ve been busy. What are your favorite things to design?
You know, I love designing the simple things, the basic things: the wine glasses, bowls, pitchers, vases. That’s why I got into glass, because of the whole functionality. My father was a potter in Ireland. He made functional pottery like dinnerware. I think the things you grow up with are the things you end up doing. So I’ve always enjoyed designing and making the simplest of things.

MLT: What is next for Simon Pearce, both the man and the brand?
I’m not much of a planner. I usually like for things to come up, and then I do them. We have a new Internet site. We’ll go on designing new pieces of pottery and glass. Two years ago, I hired a president, Rob Adams, and he’s doing a fantastic job. He’s much better at that than I was [laughs]. Now, the nice thing is that I can get back to doing what I think I’m better at, which is design and the creative side of the business. That’s the perfect way to have it. We all have our strengths.

Inside Simon Pearce on the Brandywine.MLT: What do you think when you step back and look at your successful business?
It’s interesting because, when I was building it over the past 30 years, I was amazed at how well it was going and how many people wanted the glass. Now, I’m at a place where I don’t need more; the “more” doesn’t excite me. Just doing it really well and getting the quality even better is what keeps me going. I have a great team that is really into it; that’s much more rewarding now. Of course, it needs to grow to stay healthy, but not for the sake of growth. We had a big decision a few years ago, whether or not to make some of the glass offshore like everyone else has done. We looked at it and decided we wanted to keep doing it in this country for as long as we possibly can—and it’s going really well. That’s a fun challenge, instead of taking the easy way out. Vermont takes great pride in crafting, and there are so many great craftspeople in this state. We love being here.

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MLT: What’s it like to have your name as your brand?
It’s funny you ask that because, when I started, I never dreamed what would happen. I thought I was starting a little craft business of my own. I had seen some potters make more money because they used their own names on the products, so I thought I should do that; I thought it was going to be really difficult to make a living as a craftsperson. Now, it’s the only thing I would probably change if I was to do it all over again. It’s not something I enjoy: the recognition. I don’t know why, it just doesn’t work for me—[like] when I hand my credit card over at a store and they say, “Are you the Simon Pearce?” Many people don’t think that Simon Pearce is an actual person. That’s one of my favorite questions that people ask: “Is there really a Simon Pearce?” Or, if they think there was a real person, they think that I’m long gone [laughs].

Simon Pearce at night.Celebratory Events

Dec. 10-12
Chef Karen Nicolas’ special tasting menu.

Dec. 10, 6-8 p.m.
Cocktail party featuring Simon Pearce hors d’oeuvres and private-label reserve wines, along with a special thank you gift and the unveiling of a commemorative vase signed by Pearce. R.S.V.P. to westchesterevent@simonpearce.com.

Dec. 11, 3-5 p.m.
Wine tasting with artisanal cheeses from Amazing Acres, hosted by E.&J. Gallo Winery.

Dec. 12, 3-5 p.m.
Wine tasting of Simon Pearce private-label reserve wine, paired with artisanal cheeses from Amazing Acres and chocolate bark from Penny Hill Confections.

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1333 Lenape Road, West Chester; (610) 793-0949, simonpearce.com.

For MLT’s July 2010 review of Simon Pearce, click here.

Our Best of the Main Line & Western Suburbs Party is July 25!