Wooden Keg celebrates anniversaries in Saint Clair, Pottsville

In 2005, James T. Croley II opened an Irish pub and restaurant in Saint Clair.

Seven years later, he has two locations, a following and a brand name.

Croley opened The Wooden Keg Tavern at 1 W. Caroline Ave. on Oct. 17, 2005. He said the business, which can seat “more than 100,” has 1,000 customers a week.

“It’s good, homemade food, and that’s what I attribute our success to,” the Saint Clair man said. “We try to do the simple things, like chicken wings, to the best of our ability. Our wings are fresh, not frozen. So are our burgers. We make our own dressings, our marinara sauces, our blue cheese dip, our ranch dip. It’s all homemade.

“When we do battered mushrooms, we take fresh mushrooms and batter them. One of our best sellers are fried pickles. We batter those, too.”

On Oct. 25, 2011, Croley opened The Wooden Keg Pottsville at the former Brass Tap, 112 E. Norwegian St. It can seat 80 and he said he has “about 800 or 900 customers a week” there.

“We’re really encouraged by our start in Pottsville after one year in business,” Croley said.

On Monday, Megan Murray-McDonald, Saint Clair, was at the Pottsville location with her two daughters, Cassidy, 17, and Lily, 9.

“I love the wings and I love how they celebrate local history,” Murray-McDonald said. “The Wooden Keg in Saint Clair, that building’s historical.”

“It was once owned by Patrick Dormer, who was an alleged Molly Maguire,” Croley said. “So over the years I made an expert on the history because it’s kind of important. And there are people who come in who are enthusiasts.”

Starting out

Born in Minersville, March 5, 1983, Croley graduated from Minersville Area High School in 2001 and took a few business classes at McCann School of Business & Technology.

On July 19, 2005, he married Jessica Prutzman, Minersville, and the two moved to Saint Clair. The two graduated the same year from Minersville Area and are both 29. They have a daughter, Hailey K., 5.

As Croley worked to build his business, he had a bit of family expertise to guide him. His father, James A., now of Danville, owned Maroons Sports Bar & Grill, 556 N. Centre St., from 2003 to 2005.

“That’s where I got my crash course in business, and I really admired my dad for taking a risk and opening his own business. That’s important,” Croley said.

With an Irish heritage, Croley said he decided to open an Irish pub and restaurant. He leased the 1 W. Caroline Ave. building and opened The Wooden Keg.

“The business grew over the years. What it was then and what it is now is night and day,” Croley said. “At first, I went in and did the cooking. We did really basic bar food. My wife took care of the front of the house and we managed a 40-person restaurant.”

On Oct. 28, 2010, he bought the building from John P. Wabby for $129,374, according to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator.

Before the purchase, with a determination to build his customer base, Croley expanded the Saint Clair restaurant and pub in 2007.

“I’ve always believed you need to continually invest in your businesses to get the best out of them. So when I did start making some money and business became steady, I added ‘The Molly Maguire Tunnel Room,’ ” Croley said.

A dining room for 45 patrons, it was built underneath the restaurant’s main floor.

“It’s in an area where I found a tunnel that was used by the Molly Maguires,” Croley said. “And I found a lot of old bottles that were buried down there, too, and we excavated a bit of it out so people can go in it.”

Croley took on another business venture in July 2008 when he opened The Porter House Grille & Pub at the Pottsville Ramada.

“I was the owner and my dad was the manager,” he said.

The family closed The Porter House in November 2010.

“I closed down because of contract negotiations with the hotel. So I decided to relocate,” Croley said.

In August 2008, Matthew P. DiRenzo, Pottsville, closed The Brass Tap Tavern, 112 E. Norwegian St., Pottsville, after 17 1/2 years in business. Three years later, in October 2011, Croley leased the restaurant from DiRenzo and opened his second Wooden Keg.

“The Saint Clair location is a full-fledged restaurant now. You can’t eat there on the weekend unless you have a reservation, which is nice, and on the weekend, if we’re booked, we encourage people to come to our location in Pottsville. We needed a second location for The Wooden Keg,” Croley said.

Both locations have a kitchen staff and a full menu. He has a staff of 20 part-time employees and Croley said he markets his businesses as full-service restaurants.

“People who haven’t visited us may have the misconception that we’re just a bar,” Croley said.

The menu at both locations includes steaks, seafood, burgers, wings, sandwiches, salads, “authentic Irish dishes” and fresh baked pizza, according to woodenkegtavern.com.

Looking ahead, Croley said he’s always trying to come up with new ways to treat his customers.

“You have to do that. It’s not always easy for businesses in Schuylkill County. And people will remember you, especially when they have so many great memories at your establishment, and they’ll come back,” Croley said.

Source: Stephen J. Pytak, republicanherald.com

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