Brown Derby farewell

Photo by Chris Barber The Brown Derby stands facing Baltimore Pike, closed after 80 years of feeding locals Italian food and big lobster tails.
Photo by Chris Barber New owners, from left, Steve Burkes, Ray Maxwell and Owen Grime stand behind the bar that is in the midst of renovation at the future Fire Hill Pub.

NEW GARDEN -- A southern Chester County landmark that has endeared itself to its community for decades has served its last meal.

The Brown Derby, the neighborhood restaurant that specialized in Italian dishes and huge lobster tails since 1934 closed its doors on Saturday night forever.

The widely recognized building along Baltimore Pike in Toughkenamon has been purchased from owners Joe and Lynne Hudock by a trio of hometown men who hope to modernize it, create an atmosphere that attracts families and provides nighttime entertainment. Olen Grimes, Steve Burkes and Ray Maxwell, all of the Kennett Square area, bought the building on a lease-to-puchase deal with the intention of turning it into Fire Hill Pub, a place that not only feeds the community but also gives back to it

All three remember the restaurant from their past fondly, and they have all contributed to a plan that they hope will be a big part of their future. On Sunday they joined to begin the overhaul of the interior, yanking out wooden posts, pulling up carpet and carrying out trash.

Additiionally, they have contributed their unique talents.

Burkes, 59, provides the financial acumen. He did the preliminary survey and plan and crunched the numbers. He believes that this project will be successful.

“Success could come fast or slow. It could be successful fast,” he said. He added that he is not sure how fast or how many changes they will make. For example, the Brown Derby ended its run with a take-out area. He is not sure when or if that will happen. And if they do have one, they may change the location.

Grimes, 52, is also the owner of Art Works gallery in Kennett Square. He said he will not abandon that part of his life. Rather, he will probably spend his days at Art Works and his nights at the restaurant. He and his wife are concentrating their efforts on the design and the ambience of the future eatery.

He said it will have hardwood floors, pictures on the wall that hearken back to the area’s history and music after 10 p.m.

Maxwell, 44, is the chef. He has worked at several restaurants in the area and if looking forward to providing fresh and locally grown food for his customers. He intends to change the menu seasonally and to provide meals that are affordable to everyone in the community. He said the average entre will be between $8 and $15. The restaurant will be open seven days a week and offer brunch on Sundays.

Maxwell, is also the one who came up with the name. He said the hill overlooking Toughkenamon at the airport is the highest point in southern Chester County. When the Lenape Indians lived in the area, they used to send smoke signals to other groups of Indians from atop the hill. As time went on, the area came to be called Toughkenamon, which Maxwell said means “Hill of Fire.”

All three men said they want Fire Hill Pub to be a place that people in the neighborhood feel comfortable stopping by.

Grimes said he wants to give back to the community with things like an Oktober Fest in the back yard or community picnics. He said he wants to hear what neighbors have to say and follow their lead.

They are aiming for a fast turn-around on the building. Burkes said they have the third week of June in mind for the opening.

Grimes said many people have told him they are happy about the acquisition and eager to come and try it out.

One piece of information he said he wants to get out is that there has been and always will be plenty of parking.

“Someone asked me how it would succeed because we only have seven parking places. That’s out front. Some people don’t realize we have the large lot in back,” he said.

For Grimes, Fire Hill is a new beginning, but it is also a part of his past that he doesn’t want to lose. He said he and his wife often went there for family birthday parties, and that welcoming atmosphere will continue.

Maxwell added,”We wanted a place in the neighborhood to get good food. It will be a place for family, food and friends.”

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .