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 | | 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.”


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. (

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.


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

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.”


cedar hollow inn ….new year’s eve

We forgot about New Year’s Eve again this year and made last minute reservations through Open Table at The Cedar Hollow Inn in Malvern. I was very glad they had a reservation but my experience has left me with some reservations.
We got there and there was ample parking, and we were actually able to park right in front. That was terrific on a cold night. But the hostess seated us in restaurant Siberia.

Our romantic date night New Year’s Eve dinner was at the last deuce before the kitchen and the bathrooms, and if you went the other direction you headed towards the bar.

For what we paid for dinner, and considering the fact that there were ample tables available in the dining room away from the kitchen door, bathrooms, and pathway to the bar I don’t understand why we were seated there. We were not the last table to be seated for dinner, but we were the last the last reservation for two people.

The photo above was taken just before the last group was seated for dinner. It was not packed, so one would have thought there were a couple more choices for tables where you weren’t marooned in the center of the room or stuck in Siberia like we were.

The waitstaff was very pleasant, and the service was decent. I liked that they did not hover over you.

The inn is known for quite the selection of craft beers, and their wine list wasn’t half bad either. I had a perfectly acceptable Gewurztraminer. I can’t drink red wine, so I am always on the hunt for a decent white by the glass that isn’t Chardonnay. Chardonnays are fine but they’re a little boring when there are so many other varietals available.

My sweet man had the lobster bisque soup as his first course. He enjoyed it very much although he said it was a little heavy on the Cayanne pepper.

I had a spinach salad which was off the charts terrific. I love a good spinach salad and so few places make them anymore. And it wasn’t swimming and dressing which I really was grateful for.


The entrées were served very quickly (almost too quickly) after the first course. He had the salmon, which didn’t look like salmon to me but I didn’t taste it and I had the venison.

My sweet man liked his fish okay, but again somebody in the kitchen had a heavy hand with spice. There was some kind of a quinoa that that the fish sat on and it was too heavy with whatever hot pepper they used.

I must say that I loved the venison. Venison is something a lot of restaurants do not get right, and they did a very respectable job with it. It wasn’t tough it wasn’t undercooked or overcooked, it was just right and it wasn’t too salty.

The venison (two delicate chops) was served on thinly sliced potatoes that were described as frites on the menu but really weren’t, but that was okay. They were also served with roasted brussels sprouts which is one of my most favorite things as far as a winter vegetable.

2014/12/img_9903.jpg The desert was a chocolate cake with some kind of a raspberry filling. It was very prettily displayed and served with a tiny dollop of whipped cream, a few fresh raspberries and spun sugar ornament. It was a very decadent dessert and so rich that it wasn’t finished. A smaller slice probably would’ve been better, and they should have let the cake sit out about 15 minutes before serving because it was just too cold. A cake like that should be firm and the chocolate not melting, but it shouldn’t be ice cold.

The Cedar Hollow Inn appears to have a very loyal following for the bar. There were a lot of people in that area of the place and they were setting up for music and New Year’s Eve festivities once dinner service was complete.

Another thing I noticed is they started to clean up from the dinner service and convert the dining room to an extension of the bar area before everyone was even finished dinner.

And again, the menu prices were not inexpensive, and as a diner I really would prefer that a restaurant wait until the diners are finished before they break down and change up a room. If the bar was so packed to overflowing when we were finishing dinner I would’ve understood it, but they weren’t. And given our close proximity of our table to the bathrooms and the kitchen we got to see everyone in the bar as they went past the entire time we were there. I think when I was about 25 I would’ve loved that, but not on my romantic New Year’s Eve dinner as a bit more of a grownup. It was like eating dinner on a subway platform in a way.

I don’t want you to think that I did not enjoy my experience there, there were just aspects of the experience that I found lacking. I enjoyed my dinner tremendously, but I am not sure how much my sweet man enjoyed his. My dinner in as far as the meal was just terrific and his was just okay. If you’re going to get dressed up and go out for New Year’s Eve dinner you want it to be more than just okay for the guy who is treating you to a nice dress up occasion, right?

The Cedar Hollow Inn I am sure has suffered greatly with all the hot mess construction around it and highway construction nonsense over the past few years. But I don’t think they are doing things as well as they could. They have a truly decent kitchen I think, it just needs a little tweaking. They don’t have a large menu which I like, but I think they need to be more consistent all across the board. And if you’re going to make delicate shellfish and seafood flavors pop you have to be careful about how you spice.

The place is very clean and neat on the inside, but the dining room is kind of bland and the tavern/bar part a little dated. I think both the tavern/bar section and the dining room need to meld together decor wise a little more.

Don’t misunderstand me, I think the place should retain its country charm, I just think the charm should be displayed differently and with less beer mirrors. Truthfully, they should go around and study the decor of other country inns in Chester County. I am glad they aren’t all gingham and plaid curtains, however. Or overly heavy Victorian in decor with really cheap scented candles burning outside the bathrooms.

I am still very glad I went this evening. And I really did enjoy my dinner and I did enjoy my date night. And I am glad I finally have the opportunity to dine at the Cedar Hollow Inn. I hope 2015 is their year! I saw potential this evening.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

restaurant do-over

Last Thanksgiving because everyone was scattered, we ended up having Thanksgiving at The Farmhouse Bistro at People’s Light and Theater Company in Malvern, PA.  They had only reopened at the end of September and were advertising a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  It sounded perfect, as well as fairly close to home….too bad it was so disappointing.  As a matter of fact, the whole experience was so bad that I wrote to the restaurant.

The restaurant, when they finally responded, were very gracious, and offered me a modest gift certificate if I would give them a second try.

So this past weekend, we did just that.  When we arrived, this time we weren’t left standing at the hostess station, nor were friends of the hostess/manager who arrived after us, seated before us.  We were seated promptly, but rather ironically  they seated us at same service marooned table as last time.  At first, I must be honest,  I had the “do-do-do-do” Déjà vu/Twilight Zone sound in my head.

They are still disorganized, but the food was vastly improved over last time.  Our meal was excellent.

However, I can tell you exactly what the restaurant’s problems are:  they do not have enough staff on the dining floor, and the staff that is there needs support.  They are all nice people. They know the menu.  They are articulate and pleasant.  But management of the Farmhouse need to buy a clue and support their wait staff.  It is not that the restaurant is so huge and cavernous that staff can’t cover the floor.  There are simply not enough people on the floor.

The Farmhouse Bistro has terrific food and a mixed menu (I don’t find wraps to be a dinner item for example) and the setting is beautiful. But they need more staff on the floor, and while I get they want to get the people attending the People’s Light theater performances moving through their meals to make their curtain on time, there are plenty of other diners who are just there for the restaurant.  When you are out to dinner, you do not want to feel either rushed or abandoned.  Because the dining rooms do not have enough staff working the floor, you feel abandoned, as well as sensing confusion on the part of the servers as to who is responsible for what table and when.

So all in all, would I return again after trying the restaurant a second time? The short answer is maybe.  And I am appreciative they tried to make up for their initial dining disaster we experienced. I am not trying to sound ungrateful.

Here’s hoping that now that the menu and kitchen work well together that they step up and give their staff the support they deserve.  Otherwise, what will happen is they will lose all these tremendously nice people because they will get burnt out.

If you decide to give The Farmhouse Bistro a try be patient with the staff.  They have a lot of tables to cover.

The Farmhouse Bistro is located at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA 19355.  The have a website, a Facebook page and are on Twitter.

Quite a few of the reviews by other diners on various websites have similar issues to what we have now experienced twice. See one example below.  I will note Urban Spoon which we use to find new restaurants regularly only has 57% of the people enjoying the restaurant. on 08/03/2012

3 / 5
1 / 5
3 / 5
“Our first and last visit. So many service mistakes:waited almost 25 minutes for someone to take our drink order.The waiter never introduced himself, or apologized for the wait; his excuse was ‘nobody told me you had been seated,’ even though he was the waiter for the other two tables currently occupied. That’s how rarely he checked in with his tables.We were never offered or given bread. We left 1.5 hours to eat before the show, but service was so slow that, although we only had salad and entree, we had to skip dessert, barely making the performance. We only saw the waiter to place our order, and once during meal. Water boy and hostess did almost everything. We had to seek out the waiter to get our check.

 Main Line Today Magazine had this to say this past spring:

When Places! Bistro at People’s Light & Theatre Company reopened as the Farmhouse Bistro last September, it had everything necessary for a seamless transition to an exciting new place: a beautiful setting, lush gardens with tables lining the terrace, and cuisine that was seasonal and inspired. Three chefs later, the kitchen seems to be struggling with its identity, seemingly unsure of how to juggle its roles as an event space, a casual-yet-classy restaurant and a post-theater martini bar….Chef Joe Maguire says attracting non-theater diners is a big focus right now…THE SKINNY: Playing mostly to the theater crowd, the Farmhouse Bistro can be eerily vacant during the week or after the pre-show rush. It is a beautiful setting for a wedding or private party, and light bites and drinks are a real pleasure when enjoyed on the garden terrace. Given that the space has such potential, here’s hoping the kitchen works out its glitches.

I am thinking maybe Chef Robert Irvine should be invited to dine.