On August 31, 2021, the day before Hurricane Ida decimated Chadds Ford, employees at Hank’s Place elevated chairs, tables and whatever else they could manage. That evening, though it was only drizzling, an NBC10 van was stationed in the parking lot, an unsettling omen for what was to come.
Hank’s Place owners Katie and Anthony Young checked the rain gauges for the Brandywine River, then headed home. When PECO Energy called to say it was cutting the power lines above Hank’s Place, the Youngs knew they were sunk. The river would rise more than 21 feet, the highest level on record. Inside the beloved restaurant, everything was left floating in more than seven feet of water.
Today, there’s only a smelly shell of rotting wood. “It was a tsunami,” Katie says. “It wasn’t, but I call it that.”
More than a year later, the waterline is still visible under the hanging baskets above the restaurant’s entry ramp. Vegetation grows in the gutters, and the meticulously maintained feed-trough planters recovered from Route 1 after the storm remain unkept. Three storage trailers sit in the parking lot. “That night, we were in shock,” Anthony says. “Once the gas was shut off, we could finally enter—and that was the ‘oh shit’ moment. Fish were swimming around with unrefrigerated food. There was the nice ripe smell of the Brandywine in our dining room. It’s a beautiful river—until it’s in your dining room.”
The Youngs bought Hank’s Place in May 2017 from Peter and Voula Skiadas, owners for 16 years. It’s been around since 1950. Under the moniker of Blue Door Hospitality Group, the Youngs are committed to rebuilding the local landmark, named decades ago by proprietor Hank Shupe. For a year now, they’ve navigated friction from neighborhood opponents, township bureaucracy and other challenges. The process must cycle through a historic architectural review board, sewer, zoning and planning commissions and a board of supervisors. All stages are fraught with potential pitfalls.
The couple has also moved forward on another location in Kennett Square. Hank’s on Birch (formally the Birch Inn) is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch. They hope to offer dinner in 2023. “It gives us the opportunity to bring our staff back,” Katie says.
Over the past year, a township-issued special events permit allowed a rented food truck in the Hank’s parking lot, but only Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “I needed a permit to operate on my own property,” says Anthony, a career chef, adding with more than a little sarcasm, “It’s been my lifelong dream and ambition to run a food truck.”
More than anything, the food truck provided a way to stay connected to the community. “Some days, it was just a soap box, a place to stand and say hello as we tried to conserve a tradition,” Anthony says.
“Or a place to say, ‘Come down to a township meeting and show your support,’” adds Katie, who’s gathered over 1,600 signatures on one petition in an effort to get things moving in Chadds Ford. “The last few meetings, we’ve packed the place.”
Updates would expand the kitchen, further equip the restrooms for ADA compliance, add more dining space and grow the footprint, mostly with an enclosed outdoor dining area. The new Hank’s would also be raised nine feet to the established flood line. According to former Brandywine Conservancy associate director David Shields, the marsh area behind the restaurant is particularly low because it was a longtime borrow pit used to elevate other areas of the floodplain. “Few know that,” he says.
If the Youngs were to rebuild without elevation, they would waive the right to flood insurance and coverage through FEMA (which should cover soft costs like legal and other professional services). Any rebuild estimate is totally speculative due to the delays and current supply-chain and labor shortages.
The rebuild’s most vocal opponent is Mark Stookey, a Creek Road neighbor and chair of the Chadds Ford Sewer Authority. He notes that the Hank’s Place proposal would increase seating from 68 to 98 (largely because of the outside deck) and reduce the existing 50 parking spaces to 41 where there’s already parking issues near a busy intersection that’s close to two other restaurants. “There’s not enough space, period,” says Stookey. “There will be too much stuff in too small a bag. Opening at the same size with the same hours remains logical, but creating Hank’s 1.5 creates a problem. The natural disaster will be compounded with a manmade disaster.”
Meeting in the restaurant business in the 1990s, the Youngs used to have meals together at Hank’s Place. Anthony sometimes had lunch with a guy he only knew as Andy—before learning it was Andrew Wyeth. Since then, he’s often conversed with the iconic painter’s only grandchild, Victoria Browning Wyeth. “If my grandfather was still alive, this would be finalized,” she’s told him. “He’d march down there or make a call and end all this nonsense.”
Anthony recounts a telling story that reveals the essence of Hank’s Place. His normal greeter was off, so he was covering at the door. It was a Sunday morning, prime time, and a single lady was waiting for a table along with a couple she’d never met. By the time something was free, they asked for a table for three. “A month later, they were still coming every Sunday and asking for a table for three,” says Anthony.
Back inside the shell that was once Hank’s Place, the wooden cashier sign is still hanging where it always was. It will be used again. “Our resolve has definitely been tested,” Anthony says. “We took over this corner to preserve a legacy. Now, we’re too stubborn to give up.”
“Let’s be clear,” adds Katie. “Hank’s will be back.”