Great American Pubs In Conshohocken, Wayne and Phoenixville Draft A Legacy For The Hemcher Family
Story and photography by Ana Welsh, business editor
Love Great American Pub? So do we. The pubs’ cozy-classic décor, great food and friendly service make them neighborhood favorites. Everyone knows Great American Pub, but not everyone knows that the restaurants are owned by a local family.
Great American Pub’s story starts with the late Charles W. Hemcher Sr., who passed away in January 2021. Mr. Hemcher spent his entire career building businesses from the ground up and left a lasting legacy to his family, friends and employees.
Mr. Hemcher began his career in construction, which was also a family business run with his father and two brothers. He then got a small partnership in a restaurant called Timbers in Newtown Square, which was open from 1971-1979. After Timbers, Mr. Hemcher opened, sold, then opened several other restaurants. “My dad would have a successful restaurant, sell and flip it, buy another restaurant, sell and flip it,” says Chuck W. Hemcher, Jr., his eldest son.
The flipping stopped when Mr. Hemcher opened the first Great American Pub opened in Conshohocken in 1990. Then, Conshohocken was not nearly the booming mini-city it is today. But Mr. Hemcher had a vision for an affordable, well-decorated pub that would wrap its arms around the growing community. “That is what led him to find this small 2,000 square foot restaurant,” Chuck says as he points to the smaller, original, main entrance of the pub.
Chuck is now co-owner of the Conshohocken location, which has expanded to 21,000 square feet, including a rooftop that seats 200 people. “It’s all about hard work,” says Chuck, as he sits in one of the restaurant’s extra-large, semi-round corner booths. “My dad taught us to work hard, be kind to others and enjoy life.”
“My dad loved people and I learned everything from him,” says Sarge Hemcher, who helps his brother Chuck run the Conshohocken GAP.
So what makes the Great American Pubs stand the test of time? “Pubs are timeless,” shares Sarge. “My father went out of his way to decorate the pubs to the nines. I remember going to Newport, Rhode Island to pick out antique signs for the pub. My dad loved the place so much that he went on a shopping spree and had to arrange for a tractor trailer to deliver all of the vintage décor.”
That’s one of many core memories Sarge recalls of his father, who set the bar high for his restaurants. “We’ve always wanted to offer affordable, good food and lively entertainment,” shares Tom Hemcher, who co-owns the 24-year old, 6,000-square foot Wayne location with his other brother Tim. “We want to be able to serve families multiple times a week versus the once-a-month, expensive restaurant.”
That’s the vision for the business: affordable and delicious meals in lively yet comfortable environments. The spirit of the pubs however, boils down to family and community. “Wayne has the most ‘Cheers’ factor and 70% of our customers are our friends,” Tom says proudly. “We manage to get through recessions and tough times by treating our customers with respect.”
Although the pubs are visually appealing with word-of-mouth popularity, they haven’t always been easy to manage. The Hemchers sold the Paoli and Narberth pubs several years ago, although the restaurants’ names remain the same. “We buy and sell all the time and we decided we could do a little better in another location.,” Chuck explains.
“Narberth was sold to attain money to for the Wayne property,” Tom explains. “Malvern was sold to acquire Phoenixville. We thought they were bigger, better opportunities.”
The Hemchers had one of the first restaurants on N. Wayne Ave. “I lived in Wayne when I was younger, and there was nowhere to go for a beer and burger with kids and families,” Chuck says. “Great American Pub was in Wayne when there were just us and Christopher’s – and then Wayne exploded.”
It’s the same with Phoenixville, which opened 11 years ago. Run by general manager and cousin Debbie Hemcher along with chef and long-time friend John Sacos, the 11,000-square foot location caters to the pub’s tight-knit community that is full of all year-round regulars. “With Conshohocken, Wayne and Phoenixville, this is the only time we’ve kept three in a row,” Chuck says.
The trio are very different from one another. “Wayne is ‘Main Line,’ Phoenixville is cultured and regulars come all year round. Conshohocken is one square mile of ten thousand people,” Chuck says. “And Conshohocken has really taken off.”
During the height of the pandemic, the Conshohocken pub was the only one that remained open. “I worked with a local single woman and a local chef who had four little girls and we managed take-out. We barely made 5% of our usual sales but I was able to pay them and help the community,” says Chuck.
“Everyone was overworked but we got through it, only because we own the bricks,” Chuck says. “Owning your real estate is huge in this business. We are so fortunate to own our properties. I have a lot of friends who were in this industry, but they were leasing and lost their businesses, which is so sad.”
While staffing and staying open has been tough for the last two years, the Hemchers stayed determined, in their usual family form. “We are finally back to 100% staffing and capacity,” explains Tom. “We have some employees that have been with us for over 20 years because we are a great family environment and they make great money because we are always busy.”
Busy they are. But hard work and teamwork were instilled in them at young ages. The Hemcher brothers started as busboys then graduated to bartenders before becoming business owners. “My dad always stressed that we work well together,” explains Tom. “We put challenges aside, get things off our chests and move on. We’ve been very fortunate to work together.”
When asked how they’ve managed to stay successful all these years, Chuck proudly responds. “When you don’t worry about competition, you don’t have any. That’s what my father would always say.”
And that is the story behind over 30 years of hard work and family-oriented approach that created our mini ‘Cheers’ pubs, where everybody knows your name, and that of the late and great, Charles W. Hemcher, Sr.
Love this story? Share it!
Connect with Main Line Tonight!
Radnor Hunt: Looks We Love
Best Dressed (And Hatted) From Radnor Hunt 2023 by Diane Oliva, style editor Radnor Hunt 2023 was a wonderful day, as always, and we saw many first-timers attending. Which outfits did we love? Here are my top picks. L-R: Sama Fanaselle, Evie Romanova and Katie Molloy; Kathleen Kenneally, winner of the 2023 hat contest L-R:… Read more
Radnor Hunt: What To Wear
Rain or shine, Derby or equestrian style, here’s what to wear to Radnor Hunt. by Diane Oliva, style editor Ready for Radnor Hunt Races? While it is one of the most fashionably fun days of the year, planning your outfit can be difficult because the weather is so unpredictable. Last year, the sun baked us… Read more
Radnor Hunt Cocktails You’ll Love
Hosting a tailgate or tent at Radnor Hunt? These drinks will make your guests happy. by Michele Gargiulo, wine and spirits editor Radnor Hunt Races is one of the Main Line’s most beloved traditions. Horses, fashion, food and drinks make Radnor Hunt one of the most fun days on the calendar. Tailgating at the races?… Read more