is fine dining a lost cause in chester county?

With the planned sale of The Ship Inn it begs the questions of why isn’t there more fine or non-pub, non-chain, non-franchise dining in Chester County? But first, another Ship Inn update:

Ship Inn sale pending; building may become a micro-brewery

By BILL RETTEW | wrettew@dailylocal.com | Daily Local News

PUBLISHED: August 15, 2022 at 5:04 p.m. | UPDATED: August 16, 2022 at 5:47 a

EXTON—Sale is pending for the historic, fine dining Ship Inn, with plans to make it into a micro-brewery.

Michael and Gertie Person have owned the landmark 14,900 square foot restaurant, at 695 E. Lincoln Highway in Exton, for 20 years.

Michael Person said on Monday afternoon that the restaurant, with a listing price of $2.25 million, is not officially sold yet, although could change hands later this month…..There is a possibility that the deal could fall through, in which case the Persons would go back to serving the public from within the well-lit dining rooms with tall ceilings.

VK Brewing, of Glen Mills, has agreed to purchase the property and posted that their business intends to sell great beer and great food.

“Our vision is to combine our passion for beer and food and create an inviting and fun brewery and restaurant,” reads the VK Brewing website.

The company seeks additional investors through a fundraising campaign….“Why not sell?” asked Person. “It’s a successful restaurant.

“We are selling like any corporation does. People feel I’m in trouble. All the bills and employees are paid. It’s not a troubled restaurant. I don’t’ have to sell.”

One hundred and eighty seats are split among four dining rooms, along with a deck and additional room in the bar for 30 or 40 patrons….Ghostbusters have visited the establishment three times and Person said that the ghosts at the business are “good spirits.”

Robert Irvine of the TV show Restaurant Impossible visited last April to help revamp the historic restaurant.

“At the beginning I was a little resentful,” Person said. “But then I was really in favor of it and he did a great job.”

So what will Person miss the most?

“Interaction with people is the goal,” he said. “I love feedback.

“Where else can you interact with doctors, lawyers, artists, the CEO of QVC and movie stars? At which other job can you do that?

“This is a gift.”

~ DAILY LOCAL ARTICLE 8/15/22

So when I posted the other day about the Ship Inn I had no idea if any local or regional media would pick up the the story, but the Daily Local did. And the PhillyVoice too . I am glad they did, because it gives a whole other perspective on what’s happening here, namely from the current owner who is selling.

This is why I have included two snippets from the Restaurant Impossible TV show in 2021. I think that the TV show gave a fairly realistic look inside a restaurant that basically was failing, right? But then when you read this article yesterday it’s like that was all a great misunderstanding, wasn’t it?

I re-watched The Restaurant Impossible episode today. I added the two video snippets because I thought it was important to watch. And it’s very different from the articles today. His wife is the proprietor of the Duling-Kurtz house in Exton.

Duling-Kurtz is expensive and a bit dated. But it is truly a lovely place. The food is never bad, but I never found it exciting. They have a decent wine list, and I have not been there since before COVID. One of the things I liked back then is sometimes musicians I knew would play in the bar. I always thought that was a nice touch, and when you would see the owner (Ship Inn owner’s wife) on the floor it was seamless and sort of passing through checking on things, smiling, not stopping to yell at waitstaff in the dining room.

The Ship Inn is someplace I gave a lot of chances to over the years, including after the television makeover. I kept going back not so much because the food was out of this world, but because I wanted to support a local fine dining establishment, and I am a lover of history. This place oozes history. So to say I am not concerned at the thought of it becoming some kind of a brewery/pub would be dishonest period.

My concerns are not just limited to wondering about a historic asset being preserved appropriately, but because with this place possibly stopping as a fine dining institution it once again limits the options of fine dining in Chester County.

Take for example the Dilworthtown Inn. It closed in April, 2019 with the death of Jim Barnes. The Dilworthtown was one of my favorite places honestly. The food was good the atmosphere was impeccable. They were also the location for fun things like the Dilworthtown Wine Festival. The property was sold in 2020, January, just before COVID.

The Dilworthtown was a complex of three restaurant gems:  Dilworthtown Inn, Inn Keeper’s Kitchen, Blue Pear Bistro. When the property sold a website went up, and then crickets. (https://www.historicdilworthtown.com/).

NO ONE has looked into the fate of The Dilworthtown in essentially TWO years! It’s a magical and fabulous property that sold and then nothing —- so what’s going on? I feel so badly for the new owners because I can’t imagine buying a property that’s somewhat substantial and historic and then a pandemic hits. But are there any updates?

We still have The General Warren Inn in Malvern. Another place I love but it is never consistent. I know COVID was hard on them affecting hours and days open – lunch was 86’d. The food is good, but sometimes it’s really good, and other times it’s just good. And I’m not saying that to be mean, but that has been my personal experience. I still go there, but not as often.

And the last time I was there was a group of couples for dinner, it was before Covid and we were a large group, all of us having patronized the restaurant in the past, but not what you would call a regular. We were kind of left in service wasteland while the waitstaff paid attention to the people that they recognized. It was embarrassing for me personally because it was my idea for all of us to go there. And no one wanted to be rude and get up and walk away from the table because of the lack of service, so by the time we all finish getting served our dinners which was staggered and no one ate at the same time because it was like they kept forgetting about us, and the restaurant was practically closing.

There was no accommodation made to our bill, which is something which should’ve happened automatically because it wasn’t like it was a big secret we were in dining wasteland there that night. And it is not an inexpensive place. Now we have been back since, and I am happy to patronize them because it’s a gorgeous place and it’s local, but as an intermittent diner I would like to be made to feel more welcome. Just because you don’t go to a place weekly or super often, it doesn’t mean as a patron you shouldn’t be valued, right?

And when you talk to people about fine dining, they all say “but we have kids, so pubs are easier.” Fine dining can be welcoming to children too. It’s fun to dress up for dinner, and we live in a more casual world so you don’t do that very often. But what is even less evident out here in Chester County is actual fine dining.

There is a need for fine dining. There are lots of other dining options, but everyone wants that special place for special occasions. You have some places in the Borough of West Chester, but as restaurants they are ok, but parking is so not fun. And that also goes for Phoenixville. Last time we went to Phoenixville for dinner it was before we saw Al Stewart. We had dinner at the Black Lab Bistro. Dinner was wonderful there, and the service was really good. However it took my husband 40 minutes to park. So I sat in the restaurant by myself for 40 minutes before he came in.

So that’s the thing of it: we need fine dining, and you need more options for fine dining where there’s actually easy parking.

The Ship Inn going pub removes one more option. If the pub doesn’t come in that deal falls through I don’t know that the owner will actually reopen. And if he reopens will he have any staff left? And if he reopens would it be any different? People all over are talking about this “transaction” and the owner attempting to divest himself of the Ship Inn.

But this trend towards pub food isn’t just here. I was speaking to a friend of mine today who mentioned that friends of his lamented there really wasn’t any place special to eat dinner where they lived.

Years ago when I worked in New York, and it’s also been my experience since then because my th sister lives there, there is always an option in New York City. There are so many restaurants. And there are so many cool little restaurants that you actually can find places that are fairly affordable. Philadelphia? I’m not so sure at this point. There used to be so many places, but between Covid and the sheit show that the city of Philadelphia is in, there aren’t as many fabulous restaurants I think anymore.

I would love just some more pretty fine dining establishments (fancy or semi-casual) where you can go and feel special in Chester County. We have some other great restaurants, but they’re more like great casual dining, not a great experience with classic French, American, or high-end Northern Italian food, etc.

We have lots of pubs/micro breweries with food, lots of Asian, Indian, Thai, sushi, steak houses. We have lots of chain restaurants, franchises, coffee places. We have barbecue, but only one place is to die for and thank goodness we will soon have sit down when Farm Boy Barbecue opens their own restaurant home in Malvern where the Friendly’s once was.

But classic fine dining is becoming a lost art in a sea of mediocrity out here in Chester County.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. I will close the post at the end with a new Philly Voice article about the Ship Inn sale…if it goes to closing. I say if because in May of this year, Breweries in PA website reported VK Brewing who is now buying the Ship Inn as going to Delaware County:

VK Brewing Aims To Bring High Quality Hand Crafted Beer And Dining To Delaware County

By Breweries In PA
March 2, 2022

You can add VK Brewing to the list of breweries that will soon be calling Pennsylvania home. The brewery, which is the brainchild of Jason Van Keuren and Najib Abiaad will soon open its doors in a 4,000+ square foot facility in Glen Mills, PA.

We recently spoke with both Jason and Najib to get a better perspective on the business and their plans for the brewery once they open for guests later this year….

As we learned, the duo had originally met during a casual neighborhood gathering. Jason had been pouring samples of his beer for his neighbors. The two were enjoying Jason’s beer and thus began a relationship that would bring their partnership together to build out a brewery/ restaurant for locals to enjoy.

The brewery intends to open in a 4,000+ square foot facility which was formerly a yoga studio. As of this writing, construction is underway to transform and breathe new life into the space. Once completed they plan to operate a 10 barrel brewery offering a wide variety of beer. But, as Jason confirmed, “I like more of the classic styles of beer” so guests can expect a rotating taplist of both traditional and modern craft beer….The plan is for the brewery to open in late 2022 as construction is still ongoing. However, you can keep up with the brewery in planning by following them on social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

~ BREWERIES IN PA 3/2/22

I guess I’m a little confused. These people are new to being in the brewery/brew pub business, correct? so are they opening in Glen Mills and Exton? Or just Exton? They have a Mainvest going. Opening restaurants are an expensive proposition. Especially for newcomers. So do they have other backers as well? Their plans are on the Mainvest, and truly I wish them well but this property is so historic and special. Hopefully, we will all be looking forward to their grand opening soon.

Here is the Philly Voice article…but remember this blog had the story first 😊

Philly Voice: Exton’s historic Ship Inn, once a stop for George Washington, Andrew Jackson, to be sold
A new microbrewery, VK Brewing Co. & Eatery, is expected to take over the restaurant on Lincoln Highway
.

BY MICHAEL TANENBAUM
PhillyVoice Staff
UPDATED AUG 16, 2022 AT 03:24 PM

The owner of the Ship Inn, an historic property in Exton that dates back to the late 18th century, has found a pair of buyers who envision turning the two-story Georgian building into a microbrewery. 

Built in 1796, the stone property was designed to be a place for travelers to eat and rest along the recently completed Lancaster Turnpike — designated today as part of U.S. Route 30. It served as a western milepost for Philadelphia, about 25 miles away, welcoming dignitaries like former presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson and, in the 20th century, former first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. It has been praised as one of the best-preserved inns from the era and an enduring example of Georgian and Federal architecture. 

Operating under various owners, the building has served as a restaurant for much of its existence, with the exception of a long stretch in the 19th century when it was a private residence. Innkeeper and architect John Bowen designed the property at a time when residential and commercial buildings had less distinction between them, particularly in Chester County’s rural West Whiteland Township, which includes Exton. The building marked the arrival of an urban style as commerce spread west of Philadelphia. 

The pending sale of the Ship Inn was first reportedMonday by The Daily Local. The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed…..

The duo plan to open the restaurant this fall and the brewery before the end of 2022. A Mainvest pageinviting investors to support the upcoming taproom includes a detailed business plan for VK Brewing. 

The buyers declined to comment on the pending transaction when contacted Tuesday. 

Last year, the Ship Inn drew attention for its appearance on Chef Robert Irvine’s Food Network show “Restaurant: Impossible,” which aims to turn around failing businesses…..”We are selling like any corporation does,” Person said. “People feel I’m in trouble. All the bills and employees are paid. It’s not a troubled restaurant. I don’t have to sell.”

~ PHILLYVOICE 8/16/22

3 thoughts on “is fine dining a lost cause in chester county?

  1. Marshalton Inn/Four Dogs Tavern is consistently top quality and service. Take out service carried it through COVID and is still available. Surprised you didn’t mention it.

    • Because I think of Four Dogs as more casual. We eat there often and love it. I did not think the Inn side was open except for private events now. THAT was one of my favorite places growing up. My father loved the Marshalton Inn

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