The Creamery of Kennett Square re-opens
By Richard Gaw
After nearly a year-long closure – one that tried the patience of its owners and the thousands of locals who had turned it into a meeting place mecca since its opening as a pop up beer garden in 2016 – the Creamery of Kennett Square kicked off its newest chapter on Nov. 21 with an opening night party that seemed to make all of the delays and frustrations worth the wait.
The best news yet? The popular destination spot on Birch Street will no longer just be open seasonally. Beer lovers and their families will get to enjoy it all year long.
At a champagne reception before more than 100 special guests, Mike Bontrager, the founder of Chatham Financial and the visionary behind the concept that renovated an unused historical piece of Kennett Square history and repurposed it as a successful community beer garden, said the Creamery is a juxtaposition against what he called the “Mallification of America.”
“All we wanted was a unique place that felt like community,” he told the audience. “We wanted a place that felt like a backyard barbecue where everyone was welcome, and that's what we've tried to create here at the Creamery. It has a place in Kennett's history, and we certainly hope that it will have a place in Kennett's future.”
Bontrager also tied the beer garden's re-opening to its link to Kennett Square history. He delivered his remarks inside the newest addition to the Creamery, a fully-renovated, heated and designed quonset hut, the semicircular structure that fronts the re-opened facility. The building, he said, was built around 1903 by Theodore Pennock, an inventor. Pennock's father Samuel, also an inventor, moved to the Kennett area in the 1800s, where he operated a machinery company and became a prominent member of the community. Samuel and his wife Deborah were prominent members of the Kennett Community but were abolitionists and were involved in the Underground Railroad.
Theodore's son Herb grew up to become a Hall of Fame pitcher in the Major Leagues for several teams, including the successful New York Yankees' teams of the 1920s, when he became friends with his teammate, George Herman “Babe” Ruth.
“Since Herb and the Babe were friends, I like to think that they hung out, which means that they came to Kennett Square, and Babe Ruth probably hung out with Herb here at Herb's dad's place,” Bontrager said. “So, I like to think that Babe Ruth was hanging out here, and since we have no one to disprove that, we're going with it.
“I have to tell you, if Babe was alive today, this is where he would hang out.”
From the freshly-planted row of new birch trees along the renovated sidewalks on Birch Street to the greenery plantings in the quonset hut, the new Creamery has taken its visual splendor to a new level. While the existing area still features lawn games, fire pits, local artists and a rotating lineup of craft beer and food trucks, the quonset hut is illuminated by delicate lighting, interior plantings, plenty of seating, a full-stocked bar and the convenience of being able to order menu items like pizza (The Fat Duck, Grazing Goats, Spice It Up), as well as brisket, chicken fingers, sausage and killer mac n' cheese.
In a concept whose architectural mission was built on original ideas, a new company that's also opening it's doors in the quonset hut may be the most original idea of all. Chop Shop KSQ, LLC, is a six-lane, 12-target axe throwing facility that will allow guests – after they read and sign a 16-point liability and waiver form – to toss small axes at circular targets from several feet away. Axe-tossing leagues are being planned there soon.
Aaron Lefebvre, the co-owns the Chop Shop with Travis Messman of White Horse Solutions, was drawn to the Creamery soon after arriving from Oregon last year.
“I am an artist, and I'm passionate about building a community around art,” he said. “When I saw the Creamery and what they were doing to repurpose old buildings and showcase local artists, I fell in love with the concept. I realized that this is the place to be.”
For most of 2018, the Creamery of Kennett Square was forced to shut its doors in order to comply with various zoning and code requirements that were requested by the Kennett Borough. While tensions between the Creamery and the borough were prickly at times during its closure, both sides were determined to see that the fixes were made, and that the community could again enjoy what has become one of Kennett Square's largest attractions.
“It's open again, and there's life on Birch Street,” said Doug Doerfler, Kennett Borough council member. “In looking at ideas like this around town, we have to try different things, not just look at ideas as variations of the same thing. If we do have to give a little leeway, we might get into certain sticky issues, but let's face it. There's going to be headaches, but they're not deal breakers. This is an example of working through it, keeping the communication going, and seeing that everything turns out well in the end.
“It's great to come down this once-abandoned property and see life happen. Everyone expected to see between 1,500 and 2,000 visit the Creamery last year, and we had over 30,000 people visit the Creamery over the last two years,” Doerfler added. “It's not just we in Kennett Square who are enjoying this. People are coming from all over to enjoy it.”
Bontrager closed his remarks by thanking Creamery manager Sandra Mulry, who praised the work and persistence of White Horse Solutions, the Creamery's management company.
“Although it took a little time it's okay, but we came back strong, and we have bonded. It's not about the 'How' and the 'What' it's always been about the 'Why,' the story of the Creamery,” Mulry said. “The Creamery actually exists because of a rather small group of very talented people who were committed to this story, and I am in awe of their efforts.
“Here we are. The Creamery is ready, and we're turning the lights back on.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.