When Jim Barnes and Robert Raffeto mapped out a plan to convert a general store that dated back to 1754 into a modern American bistro, they had no illusions about the challenges.
'Structurally, it was a pile of rocks,' said Barnes, sitting at a high-top table across from the Blue Pear's smart little mahogany bar.
'The floors were eight inches off from one end to the other and we had to dig out the basement from four feet to seven feet. When you do this stuff, everything breaks' the doors, the windows, the doorframes. It was a battle.'
Barnes and Rafetto, owners of the popular Dilworthtown Inn since 1988, purchased the crumbling building and finally closed the store six years ago.
The partners have spent the past two years and $2.7 million in renovations.
Located across from the Inn in the tiny village of Dilworthtown, the Blue Pear adds yet another element to Barnes and Raffeto's culinary offerings.
'I see it as a little village concept,' Barnes explained. 'Fine dining at the Inn, cooking classes by celebrity chefs along with private parties at the Innkeeper's Kitchen and now the Blue Pear with a bistro feel.'
Once one of America's oldest operating general stores, the two-story stone structure housing the Blue Pear was originally built and run by blacksmith John Dilworth.
Its rich and colorful past is dotted with tales from the Revolutionary War when the victorious British troops from the Battle of the Brandywine rampaged and looted the Dilworthtown buildings.
Legend has it that a British soldier was buried in the cellar in 1777.
'When you go into the basement and see the foundation you can actually feel the history,' said chef David Fogelman on the Blue Pear's front porch that features hand-forged lighting fixtures and granite tabletops.
A former sous chef at Blue and executive chef at Palette in Philadelphia, Fogelman has crafted a small and medium plates menu that spotlights fresh locally grown products and organic produce. His dishes combine French and southern American comfort cuisine.
Fogelman, who owns on a small farm in Berks County, grows herbs, asparagus, zucchini, squash and 31 varieties of tomatoes.
'We're into the fall and winter squashes that we use for soups and purees,' said Fogelman, who runs a compact kitchen with seven-foot high ceilings. It is one-sixteenth the size of the Inn's kitchen.
'My heritage is Pennsylvania-Dutch and Cornish, so I like to add things to the menu like saffron cakes that my family always made.'
A small plate favorite is the bacon and egg salad with soft fried farm egg, pork belly, a salad of five beans, spicy greens, tarragon vinaigrette; another is the chicken nuggets served on skewers in a flowerpot with a white-truffle honey mustard on the side.
Main dishes include a grilled top sirloin of lamb shoulder teamed with black eye peas, soybeans and basil puree and the free-range buttermilk poached chicken breast with braised thigh, five-spice glazed carrots and cipollini onions.
As for Barnes, his introduction to the culinary world began at age 14 at the old Pancake House on Route 202 outside West Chester. In 1976 he was hired as the general manager of the Dilworthtown Inn.
'It gets in your blood and you can't get away from it,' confessed Barnes.
Barnes says they wanted the Blue Pear to compliment, not compete with the Inn. The bistro mixes the old with the new.
The bones are still there: the 21-inch thick stonewalls and both fireplaces are operational.
Take a close look at the golden and amber walls that surround the bar. The walls shimmer from a mixture of crushed gold glass. Upstairs, chocolate leather couches and easy chairs make for a cozy meeting spot. A warren of small dining rooms and the bar area adds up to a seating capacity of 75.
OK, but why did they call it The Blue Pear'
The story goes that the first pear tree in the region was planted behind the stone structure. The tree eventually seeded a series of orchards throughout the region.
Says Barnes: 'The 'blue' is a nod to a 1700s Chester County tradition of decorating plants and gardens with English blue glass bottles.'