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.”


the ship inn has sunk: a microbrewery coming next

Chef Robert Irvine tried to save The Ship Inn. But The Ship Inn has finally sunk:

Le sigh…. I wish the successors much luck but there are SO many brewery places in the area. Actual fine dining is lacking.

Screen shot from Internet – from Restaurant Impossible episode.

According to the Loop Net listing it is indeed under contract.

The new company going into the grand old colonial gal is called VK Brewing. Veteran owned.

Soooo…time will tell. I hope they honor the past of The Ship Inn. Of course I like others wonder what will happen with all of the memorabilia and historical bits?

Chef Robert Irvine tried to bring a horse to water but hey you can’t make him drink. I won’t miss the now former owner yelling at his employees on the dining room floor at the Ship Inn. Here’s hoping they keep him off of the dining room floor at Duling-Kurtz the other place he and his wife own.

Welcome to the area VK Brewing.

to the owner of the ship inn

Dear Ship Inn Owner,

Did you not take heed of the advice that Chef Robert Irvine gave you? I have now been into the restaurant several times since the makeover and since the Restaurant Impossible episode aired. I have to ask are you trying to tank your restaurant at this point?

You have a fabulous makeover. You’ve got a nice chef and nice staff. Yet you are miserable to them, and that is not invisible to your customers. We have a front row seat.

When I watched the episode of Restaurant Impossible, I distinctly remember Chef Robert Irvine not so subtlety telling you to not be so miserable to your employees, to not reprimand them on the dining room floor, to not be such a control freak essentially and give them a chance to do their jobs.

Everyone knows you still have the property for sale. I think probably the way to save the restaurant and the location is for somebody to buy it from you. But you are presuming everyone wants to assume the amount of debt you wracked up. In my opinion, it’s overpriced. I know people looking for historic sites for fine dining, and they aren’t looking your way.

The first time we came in for dinner after the show aired, first you kept us waiting while you “educated” your staff in front of us. I didn’t say a word but it was uncomfortable. Then after we were seated a while you YELLED at your servers ON the dining room floor. My husband has refused to return for dinner since because he found that so offensive. Which is a shame because dinner was good.

I have been back for lunch a few different times with friends. Every time you have been omnipresent and unpleasant with staff. Reprimanding and even yelling at staff again on dining room floor. Storming in and out of kitchen and your guests can hear the kitchens contretemps too.

Most recently I was there for lunch last Friday. I met a friend. We had wonderful salads but something that wasn’t so wonderful occurred before my friend arrived. The waitresses were setting up a couple of other tables coming in and they were right next to me and I forget what one of them said to the other but it struck me as funny and I laughed. You yelled at one waitress on the floor and shushed her for laughing too loud.

I said to you “Excuse me I’m really sorry if you thought it was too loud but it was actually me, not your staff.” You looked at me, said NOTHING and just turned your back to all and walked into the kitchen.

This is one of the things I don’t like every time I’ve been there (including in the past.) You are ALWAYS reprimanding or yelling at some staff member ON the restaurant floor for all of the guests to see and ironically for anyone saw the Ship Inn episode of Restaurant Impossible this is part of what Chef Robert Irvine said had to stop and he also told YOU that you needed a front of house so you got off of the floor. You are not particularly user friendly.

I really wish you would STOP doing this and not be so omni-present on the dining room floor. Your staff IS capable and NICE. I want this place to succeed. I really do.

‼️ALSO See: ‼️

I have sat and thought about this for days because I don’t want people to think I don’t like the restaurant. I do. But I don’t like the way you treat people, and that actually includes customers because what you should have done was apologize to me for snapping at the waitress and making me feel uncomfortable because it was something I did, not her.

People are chattering about this around town it’s not just me. You can see it in your reviews you can see it all over social media. Part of the chatter is you’ve lost staff in your kitchen already and is that true?

I will note that you have monkeyed with the menu again and you’ve done a very heavy special for Oktoberfest or something. No one does the old-fashioned businessman’s lunch anymore. That menu is fine for dinner, but for lunch it’s too heavy and too expensive.

And the furniture in the made over formerly 1970s disaster of a main room? I guess you ran out of money for new tables and chairs? so in the back of the new room you have the old tables and the old chairs which are very out of place and hodgepodge and destroys the uniformity of the space that was designed for you.

And you still haven’t refreshed your ladies room. You should white wash it with bead board to kind of have it match the made over dining room. It’s clean but it’s very tired and it looks very shabby. And you could refresh it for not a heck of a lot of money. I have to wonder if the way the ladies room looks is the way you think of women in general?

I really hope you can get it together, because right now I actually fear for the restaurant and it’s survival not because of the staff, not because of the food, but because of you being like the black cloud of doom in the restaurant. You have a wonderful place there but if you don’t believe in it and the people working for you then what’s the point?

Try to be happy, and just be pleasant. If you can’t be pleasant, don’t be present. As patrons and diners we want to enjoy our experience, and that’s what we’re paying for is the experience and food and service. We’re not paying for the slideshow of yelling at your staff, which interferes with everything.

Eventually I will be back to give it one more try but not for a while. I might be the only one blogging about this locally, but I’m not the only of your local patrons to feel this way.


A customer

oh you are going to want to make reservations…

The Ship Inn in Exton on Lancaster Avenue or Lincoln Highway is beloved to so many. Recently they got a television show makeover courtesy of Chef Robert Irvine and Restaurant Impossible.

I have to say well done! It’s wonderful!

Yes they are essentially getting a rave from me. I loved every minute! But I also have some other observations before I get to that.

The owner is working the floor. He is wound way too tight and he was is charge of the hostess desk when we got there…only we were marooned there for more than five minutes with no one greeting us. He also corrects his staff close to the point of berating them right there on the floor. He wasn’t yelling but the intent was obvious and it’s not something patrons wish to see. Hopefully he finds a competent front of house.

There is new life breathed into main room and the awful little booths are gone. Those booths were super uncomfortable and for a big room it was dark, it wasn’t airy.

Dark room no more. Clean and light and a design that so appeals to me because of the simplicity and execution of the design.

You are greeted crisp white walls with touches of maritime inspired brass rails, white bead board, and “sails” and a singular and fabulous ship cut out. It is this simple ship that is carried through on the tops of the menus and on the wait staff shirts.

At one end is the exposed stone wall with what looks like a semi-gloss clear seal. I love that look anyway and I think it looks fabulous.

The chairs are mid century inspired and SUPER comfortable with great back support while not looking clunky. The tables are very different but I think they will be a lot easier to maintain and they have a very clean look to them. Everything is very well spaced in the dining room it is not cramped.

They have some new cocktails. I chose the cranberry mimosa, which had just the right balance of everything. I enjoyed it. And I don’t drink very much so that’s saying something.

Ordering off the special prix fix menu is slightly rigid but I think post makeover they are getting their sea legs.

I ordered the surf and turf and wanted to substitute shrimp cocktail to start and waitress told me it was too expensive to do that. However I never said I would NOT pay for the up charge substitute, I would expect it. So I ordered shrimp cocktail separately and split it with my family. I love a good shrimp cocktail and it didn’t disappoint. And the cocktail sauce itself was fresh and had just the right bite.

With my entrée, I had the beet salad. Great vinaigrette, lovely greens, and I love beets anyway. The beets were chopped and I would’ve preferred a very thin slice to a little square, but that’s not really a criticism that’s just a personal preference on my part because I love beets. And they were red and yellow beets which are so pretty on a plate.

One thing I found surprising about the show makeover was the ladies room. The ladies room was surprisingly not refreshed. I think it would lend to the cohesiveness of the room makeover. It’s not that the ladies room is bad because it never has been, but I would suggest for the future that they take the design of the redone room and translate it simply into the ladies room. White bead board and white paint with a couple brass accents in that ladies room will really make a difference.

Now let’s talk about the lighting fixtures in the makeover room. Totally TERRIFIC lighting fixtures!! So many places fall short when it comes to lighting fixtures and the lighting fixtures are clean with a classic design that works so well with the room. And the lighting fixtures make you feel like you are on an old-fashioned teak yacht don’t know how else to explain it and I know that might sound weird but they’re great fixtures. The devil is in the details and they are spot on.

All of our main courses were amazing. We had crabcakes, Dan Dan noodles, surf and turf, and the ribeye. Compliments to the chef and our waitress for getting the meat temperature literally perfect.

We had various things for dessert. I had the sticky toffee pudding which I couldn’t finish, so half of it is in my refrigerator. But it was amazing. And sticky toffee pudding as one of those things that if it’s done right it’s just the best.

I went out of my way to take photos when people really weren’t around because I wanted you to see the room versus the people. They had a good crowd inside and out.

The wait staff as always is really nice, and I loved our waitress. She is one of those waitresses that is just perfect giving you the right amount of attention and not being intrusive or overly solicitous. And she’s genuinely nice. And that’s the thing— I always found the wait staff there pleasant and you can’t say that about a lot of places. The staff all seem to be working really well together and things were well-timed coming out of the kitchen and in the beginning our drinks were gotten to us quickly and our water, etc.

It was a fabulous experience as a guest, and we weren’t left hanging —- I don’t know how else to describe it. But you know what I mean sometimes when you go into a restaurant, and you feel like you are almost abandoned. Not tonight at The Ship Inn. They went out of their way to make guests feel special and I appreciate that.

I am so happy to see the new life in the old girl known as The Ship Inn and I wish them continued success from the bottom of my heart and I can’t wait to go back!

Make a reservation and check it out! Thanks for stopping by!

A postscript: The Ship Inn is only open for lunch Friday and Saturday which I do find inconvenient.