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Against the Odds: West Chester Adds 4 Restaurants

Night two of the Gay Street experiment. New comer Mae’s is hoping to expand their dining space.

7 restaurants were expected to open before the pandemic pushed pause. Where are they now?

Updated 8/20/20: Nearly seven months ago, I announced the expected spring opening of seven new Borough restaurants. Most of those establishments were planning to open in March, then the pandemic hit shutting down the town for nearly three months. Since then things have slowly begun getting back to (the new) normal.  

Which got me wondering, where are they now? It’s been a brutal time for established businesses, so how could a new restaurant survive? 

Now with the closing of Gay Street and the eagerly anticipated expansion of table space, I followed up with these restaurants to see who’s open, who’s not, and how they are faring under COVID-19 guidelines. 

Open for business 

Mae’s West Chester

Mae’s brisket sandwich.

Location: 39 West Gay Street 

What is it? Mae’s is a BYOB farm-to-table cafe brought to you by local-cater and chef Josh Taggart. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with grab-and-go bites for those on the run. You’ll find Mae’s on West Gay Street just across from the courtyard at the new 44 West. 

Original plan: Open late March

Update: Mae’s is open. The farm-to-table restaurant made its debut over Mother’s Day weekend, delivering brunch to many deserving and still quarantining moms. Since opening they have had to make on-the-fly adjustments to their planned menu, which had been designed to target Courthouse traffic, and leverage opportunities where they have them. 

Need gluten-free? Allergic to shellfish, nuts, tomatoes? Want a coffee, a special sandwich used to make? Just ask. 

“We’re in the business of ‘yes’ right now,” says Erin Taggart, Mae’s co-owner with husband head chef Josh Taggart. 

“In the beginning, it was people we knew – friends and family.” says Erin. “Now it’s more people we don’t know. We’ve worked to build up word-of-mouth recognition on the quality of the food and the service. We try to be as accommodating as possible to as many people as possible.”

But word of mouth only goes so far, if you can’t seat your patrons. 

“Our capacity inside is 15 right now,” says Erin regarding distancing and capacity restrictions. Under normal conditions they should be able to sit 50. “That hurts us a ton.”

“We’re in the business of ‘yes’ right now.”

Erin Taggart, co-owner Mae’s West Chester

Erin sees a lot of potential with the Gay Street closing, which will allow them to spread their tables into the road, but they are going to be careful to abide by the rules. Their tables will be a full six feet apart and they hope others do the same. 

“It’s been a really great experience and we’re bringing something different to West Chester,” says Erin. “I don’t think there’s anyone here that does what we do.”

Want to check them out? The restaurant is open every Wednesday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Starting this Wednesday they are covering the tables with paper and serving family-style crabs and pasta with sides of corn-on-the-cob and garlic bread. Seatings are at 5 and 7 p.m. and call ahead – while reservations aren’t required, they are encouraged. 

La Tartine

Gluten-free crepes at La Tartine

Location: 109 West Gay Street

Original plan: Open in March

What is it? According to the owners, “La Tartine is a modern Mediterranean cafe that will be offering items such as crepes, smoothies, falafel, traditional sandwiches and much more!” 

“Every customer we’ve had has welcomed us with open arms and has supported us the best way they can. This community and all our customers are absolutely wonderful.”

Adele Abi Khattar, La Tartine

Update:  La Tartine is open. Delayed from March to May, the cafe has been able to open with a limited menu.

“This is a new business for us, first time,” says Adele Abi Khattar who’s husband Johnny owns La Tartine, and things haven’t exactly gone as planned. After signing their lease in January, they were not able to open until May, and COVID-19 has dished out other unexpected challenges as well including difficulty finding staff and an initial retooling of their planned menu items.

However, despite early challenges things are starting to settle. La Tartine has increased their initial menu offerings adding gluten-free and vegan options and are finding their niche in the downtown community. When I asked her favorite part of the restaurant so far, the response was quick. 

“That’s easy. No question, our customers. It makes me so emotional to even discuss it,” say Adele. “Every customer we’ve had has welcomed us with open arms and has supported us the best way they can. This community and all our customers are absolutely wonderful.”

Want to check them out? La Tartine is open Monday through Thursday (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.); Friday and Saturday (9 a.m. – 6 p.m.); closed Sunday. 

Scoops ‘N’ Smiles

Doing our research at Scoop and Smiles.

Location: 6 East Gay Street

What is it? A good ol’ fashioned ice cream stand. Dutch farm ice cream and homemade water ice. Twenty flavors rotated daily. Scoops ‘N’ Smiles took the place of Coffee + Ice Cream bar, (ice cream) sandwiched between SideBar and Lorenzo’s. 

Original plan: Open late March

Update: Scoops ‘N’ Smiles is open. If you haven’t been, (we’ve been three times already), the ice cream is a crowd and kid-pleaser. They started dishing cups and cones in May after the Chester County Health Inspector began opening new businesses again. With the aid of a walkup window and name recognition from their Malvern location, they have seen a steady flow of patrons throughout the yellow and into the green phases of the reopening.  

Want to check them out? Scoops ‘N’ Smiles is open noon to 9: 30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

Rolling Stars

Rolling Stars’ Nova Benedict Bagel. Picture via Facebook.

Location: 706 E. Market Street (across the Street from Wawa)

What is it? A breakfast/brunch place featuring old-fashioned, kettle-boiled, New York style bagels baked daily on site – and a parking lot. Can’t underestimate the draw of easy parking.

Original plan: Open March 2020

Update: Rolling Stars is now open and according to early reviews, they are pretty good. One patron called them, “[New York] good.” Which we know is not easy for a former New Yorker to say.

Want to check them out? They are open seven days a week – 7 a.m to 3 p.m. 

Coming soon

Sedona Taphouse

Sedona Taphouse coming soon to the ground floor of 44 West.

Location: 44 West Gay Street

Original plan: Open fall 2020

What is it? Sedona Taphouse is a franchise with about 15 locations across the eastern half of the United States. Expect hand cut steaks, seafood, 50 beers on tap and plenty of room to spread out. With 140 seats in the dining room plus 20 at the bar, this will have to be one of the Borough’s larger establishments. Read more about their anticipated arrival here.

Update: Builder Eli Kahn told the Daily Local earlier this summer, that the coronavirus pandemic set the entire 44 West project back about three months. The builder was then targeting an August 1 open date. While that has not happened, the building appears to be complete and crews are working to lay the final bricks in the outdoor plaza.

During this time, Sedona has made moves to prepare for a fall opening. In June, they petitioned the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) for the installation of four new signs – three exterior signs on the front and side facades and one interior sign – as well as an exterior patio awning. The requests were approved unanimously in July. 

Closed for now

Greystone Oyster Bar

Location: 7 North Church St. 

What is it? A new oyster bar is planned for the newly renovated 7 North Street.

Original plan: To open by the end of March/early April

Update: Greystone Oyster Bar posted for the last time to their instagram account on April 1. An opportunistic mention, “We can’t wait to open when everything is back up and running!” the post read before going black for the next 17 weeks.

I tried reaching out but received no response to my inquiries. Here’s hoping they are still planning to open, an Oyster Bar would be a nice addition to the downtown scene.    

Stove & Tap

Or so the website says…

Location: 158 West Gay Street

What is it? Yet another bar-restaurant getting ready to grace the downtown. This will be the third location for the popular Landsdale eatery the second opened in Malvern late last year. To give you an idea of what you can expect here is a sampling of menu items from their Malvern location: Smoked Chicken Pot Pies, Shrimp and Grits and of course, your All American burger. There is however, also a pretty decent choice of vegetarian options if your friends are going meatless this month. 

Original plan: Spring 2020

Update: Brown paper continues to cover the windows, while the same “Coming Soon” sign hung last fall still occupies the doorfront. I didn’t get a response to queries about an updated opening date, which all makes me wonder how soon we are talking? With a new Malvern location launched late last year and a pandemic still well underway, maybe further expansion is just too much to take on right now? 

It’s never easy opening a new business. Add in capacity limits, staffing issues and health concerns and it can be a down right nightmare, but if this is your dream you find a way to muddle through.

“This has been my husband’s passion forever. We’ve always dreamt of this,” says Erin. “We are members of this community. We raise our kids here. This is just another way we keep planting our roots.”

I wish all the new businesses the best of luck. If you have a chance to go out and try them, do. You won’t be disappointed.

Plus, here are 10 tried and true West Chester experiences, a (still) new coffee shop and best place to get breakfast.

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