Owner/Manager Hench Transforms Historic Buildings
into a Lively Entertainment Complex
Quakertown has seen many changes in its dining offerings over the past 200+ years, but one constant has been the Red Lion Inn at the corner of what is now Broad and Main Streets. Opened in 1750 by Walter McCoole as McCoole’s Tavern, this historic spot now celebrates its 10th anniversary year operating as McCoole’s at the Historic Red Lion Inn under owner/manager Jan Hench.
Hench and a silent partner purchased the property in 2002 from owners who had ceased operating a restaurant years prior, although they continued to run the inn established in 1747. (Hench bought out her partner in 2012.) After almost a year of extensive renovations to the downstairs restaurant space, adding historical architectural touches of the period such as wood paneling and tin ceilings, bringing back the stone fireplace to working condition, and restoring the outside paint to original colors, the restaurant was leased to a chef who operated the facility as The Red Lion Inn. In June of 2005, the chef closed the restaurant.
Faced with much-needed local restaurant space and no tenant, Hench, not one to shrink from a challenge, decided to manage the restaurant portion of the business herself. She reopened November 25, 2005 as McCoole’s at the Historic Red Lion Inn. Specializing in good, reasonably priced food in an upscale atmosphere and featuring live entertainment on weekends, the restaurant quickly became a local favorite and has continued to flourish over the past decade.
Hench purchased the adjacent property in March, 2007. The former carriage house for the Inn, it had been operating as The Main Street Theatre until it went into bankruptcy before Hench purchased it. Quakertown had been lacking banquet facilities since the demise of Meyer’s Restaurant, so Hench saw the opportunity the building offered to meet that need in the community as well as offer some additional parking opportunities to her restaurant patrons when that facility was not in use.
Again, countless hours were devoted to renovating the space to become a banquet/catering facility on the ground floor, with the black box theatre upstairs available to rent for music and theater productions as well as business seminars. Renamed McCoole’s Arts & Events Place, it opened for business in time for theatre productions in May of 2007 as well as a myriad of special occasion parties in 2007.
Fast forward to 2015 and the corner of Broad and Main has become a lively venue. Dramatic murals done by local artist Lorenzo adorn the former carriage house openings of the Arts & Events Place. The front patio of the Arts & Events Place extends the outdoor dining space of the restaurant’s front porch in seasonal weather. State-of-the-art heaters extend the season so patrons can continue to enjoy a meal under the stars and listen to live entertainment on the weekend beyond the summer months. The restaurant porch has seen a dramatic face lift over the summer. The building’s limestone façade, covered since the 1700’s, has been exposed and pointed.
The Arts & Events Place now offers three separate rental spaces as well as the theater. Production companies stage musicals and cabaret performances at the theater several times a year, including children’s productions and summer camp. Last year, Hench teamed with employees to convert the theatre space into a Haunted House. It was open only for Halloween night, but the positive feedback they received has led them to extend the operation of the haunted house for eight days in October and to offer a Halloween Bash party on October 24, 2015. Each year hundreds of patrons come to enjoy the McCoole’s Beer Festival, now in its 7th year, featuring over 75 unique beers, crafts, live music and food.
The Red Lion Brewery, another project pioneered by Hench, is now located at the Arts & Events Place. Here an IPA and Amber Ale as well as two seasonal blends are microbrewed year-round and served at McCoole’s Restaurant. The Red Lion IPA and Amber Ale have become so popular, that they outsell all existing national brands on draft at McCoole’s. As a result, Hench has introduced Red Lion Brewery 64 oz. Growlers selling at $15 each at the bar. Patrons can fill these growlers, or others of their choice with Red Lion microbrews. IPA’s are priced at $22, ales at $20 and porters at $21.
In recognition of its 10th anniversary, Hench is also transforming the menu at the restaurant. “We want to move towards humanely raised, antibiotic- and growth hormone-free foods in cooperation with local farms for as many menu choices as possible,” states Hench. “To do that, we need to change some of our offerings to allow us to keep everything really fresh.” A new test menu was introduced in February and will be finalized in October. Some old favorites are gone, much to the dismay of some regular patrons, but new additions keep with the restaurant’s tradition of providing upscale atmosphere for the working person’s wallet. For this reason, Hench is willing to give this new menu a chance. “It’s a risk,” notes Hench. “Change is hard for a lot of people, but in the long run, I think this move is the right one for us.”
The popularity of the two venues has led to another issue, one that is faced by many businesses in small towns – namely, parking. “People in this area are used to the parking convenience offered by the big box stores out on Route 309,” remarks Hench. “They don’t want to walk. The borough was built originally to serve horses and there just isn’t room for all these cars.” Hench has arranged for overflow parking at the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce lot – a half block away. However, many patrons were hesitant to cross the very busy intersection due to a lack of designated cross walks.
The solution to this parking issue? Hench approached the owners of West End Styles and Battery Warehouse to arrange a parking arrangement for her patrons that would not interfere with their business needs. In addition, Hench has invested in a small bus seating 16 passengers and is offering complimentary door-to-door service to patrons of McCoole’s Restaurant and Arts & Events Place, either attending McCoole’s or private functions. Christened The Mane Street Shuttle, the bus features playful murals by artist Lorenzo and can be seen throughout the area transporting patrons of McCoole’s. Patrons can arrange for complimentary round trip door-to-door service. Hench also views this as a way for those attending private functions at the Arts & Events place to feel more comfortable about their alcohol intake. “Many wedding and event venues now offer shuttle service to local hotels for those attending the event,” notes Hench. “We have all the hotels out at the turnpike with whom we have developed a good relationship, and this is a win-win for all of us.”
Throughout all of this evolution, one constant remains: the inn itself. Offering 16 rooms, the inn that sits above the restaurant continues to serve those needing a room for an extended stay. Hench rents rooms by the week or month. Keeping the inn status is important to Hench, and although she may have ideas on how that space will evolve, one thing is for sure, it will continue to function as an inn, as it has for 265 years.