Saying 'Goodbye' to an iconic landmark
03/07/2017 11:39AM ● Published by Richard Gaw
Ever since they first hung the well-known sign that announced the arrival of a new eatery on State Street in Kennett Square in 1997, Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon owner Scott Hammond and his partner Kristin Hess, who have offered a diverse menu that includes elk and bison, have always managed to run their popular restaurant against the grain.
Now, after 20 years, they will be selling to it.
Hammond and Hess recently announced that they are retiring, and that they have sold the Kennett Square institution to managing partners Lee Mikles and Jim O’Donoghue, who have owned Grain Craft Bar+Kitchen in Newark since July 2015, as well as the former Aqua Sol in Bear, which they recently purchased. The Half Moon will close after business on March 11 and will reopen in a few weeks under a new name: Grain KSQ.
“Twenty years in the restaurant business is like 25 years in any other business,” Hammond said, moments before the restaurant opened on March 3. “It doesn't stop. You're here on Christmas Eve. You're here on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. You're always here, and we have to staff it every day from eight in the morning to two in the morning the next day. That's a lot to have to worry about, and it just doesn't stop.”
When Hess announced that she was stepping away from the day-to-day operation of the eatery three years ago, she said that Hammond was reluctant to leave the Half Moon at the time, but she persisted.
“It was seven days a week, every day, for 20 years, and Scott and I figured that we wanted to go out while were still going strong,” Hess said. “At first we put caps on it. We said to each other, 'Hey, how about another five years? How about another year?' I kept telling Scott that it was time,” she said. “It was about two years ago when I finally got Scott to say that it was time.”
When the original plans were conceived for the Half Moon when Hammond and Hess purchased it in September of 1996, the concept was to create a one-of-kind restaurant that would make a mark in the local foodie scene, one that would take customers on an imaginary trip to turn-of-the-century Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco or New Orleans.
It began with its aesthetics: A touch-up of the original flooring from the Kennett Candy Kitchen; a hand-crafted wooden bar highlighted by mirrors that call to mind the speakeasies of a bygone era; its familiar row of booths; the upstairs patio that provides a clear vista of the Kennett Square skyline; and its signature patterned tin ceiling.
It ended with its menu, which has provided an eclectic array of locally sourced ingredients like its Chester County Cheese Board, which offers cheeses from Unionville, Elverson and Honey Brook; Prince Edward Island mussels in sherry sage broth and crusty bread; and its signature wild game entrees like wild boar tacos, bacon buffalo loaf and North Dakota Bison NY strip. Eventually, the secret that began on State Street was no longer one; publications like The New York Times gave the Half Moon two write-ups, and it has also been featured on national TV shows that celebrate food and travel.
Neither Hammond or Hess have any immediate plans for the early stage of their retirement, and ironically, they will be entertaining out-of-town guests on March 11, the day that the restaurant will celebrate its last day of business. Like the Deer Park Tavern in Newark and Kid Shelleen's Charcoal House and Saloon in Wilmington, the Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon has become an iconic institution of Kennett Square, one that will be celebrated this coming Saturday with a flood of memories and important moments.
“It's the people that have come in who have made this place special,” Hammond said. “We've heard from a lot of our customers, who have told us that they have to get here before it changes. That's the big thing, to have people come in and say, 'I remember when I met my wife here,' or 'Our first date was here,' or 'This is where we came after I got that promotion.' The Half Moon has meant a lot of things to a lot of people.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.