John Paul McFadden, 72, a noted restaurateur whose passion for modern eateries in historic surroundings put West Chester on the map as a dining destination, died Friday, Sept. 11, of heart failure at Chester County Hospital.
A visionary, Mr. McFadden was known for stripping old buildings down to the studs and creating eye-catching restaurants with outdoor seating. While in Europe, he loved frequenting sidewalk cafes, his wife, Yvonne, said. He wondered: “Why can’t we do this at home?”
“Jack was one-of-a-kind — a true, old-school restaurateur with a lot of forward-thinking ideas, like outdoor dining in the ’burbs," said Inquirer food writer Mike Klein. "He also really helped set up West Chester as a dining town.”
Born in West Chester, “Jack,” as he was called, was the son of Michael and Pauline Meters McFadden. He graduated from Bishop Shanahan High School and graduated from Millersville University in 1970.
In 1974, he married Yvonne Przemyski, a French teacher. The two met on a boating excursion while Przemyski was dating his friend.
Mr. McFadden began his career as a waiter at the Downingtown Inn. While driving with his wife, he would often pass the Marshalton Inn, a historic inn and tavern in West Bradford Township, Chester County. “I’m going to own that place someday,” he told her. And he did.
In the late 1970s, Mr. McFadden became a partner with owner George Mershon. They transformed the inn’s stable into a second restaurant, the Oyster Bar, which is now the Four Dogs Tavern. The outdoor patio for dining "became an instant hit,” his wife said.
Chris Bechtle, who has since become a managing partner at Ludwig’s Grill & Oyster Bar in Glenmoore, worked as a chef in the Oyster Bar adjacent to the Marshalton Inn.
“Jack was my boss in 1979 and 1980, and we’ve been friends ever since,” Bechtle said. “He was one of these guys I always looked up to and admired. He taught me to enjoy the business, and believe me, it’s a hard business.”
Mr. McFadden and Mershon’s next project was transforming a former shoe store on West Chester’s Gay Street into The Restaurant and The Bar, now Kildare’s.
“That was very popular, too, and was instrumental in putting West Chester on the map because there were a lot of empty storefronts,” Yvonne McFadden said. “There was a movement then to make the town a lot more lively.”
Mr. McFadden added his own commissary to the site, mimicking Steve Poses’ Center City creation, the Frog Commissary of the 1970s.
“It had an impressively sized fish tank that separated the commissary from the bar,” his wife said. “Parents would bring their kids in to see the fish, which were ornamental. Along with outdoor dining and Sunday hours, it made a big splash."
Following the success of The Restaurant and The Bar, Mr. McFadden converted an old Chadds Ford dairy barn into a restaurant called The Gables.
“He had a very good design sense," his wife said. "There was an outdoor patio with water going down the wall and a room for parties upstairs with cathedral ceilings and a huge Tiffany lamp.”
After opening in 1997, it became the place for visitors to Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum. Celebrities including actress Jennifer Aniston, pitcher Tug McGraw, and British comedian John Cleese were seen there.
In 1996, he combined three buildings on High Street in West Chester into Turks Head Inn. It was known for its sleek style, outdoor eating, and as a late-night spot.
In 2012, he bought a decrepit building at 16 E. Gay St., which became Jack’s Steaks and Shakes, now The Classic Diner. His restoration won the West Chester Historic Preservation Award in 2013, for respecting the elements of the original building.
Mr. McFadden enjoyed travel and hiking. In 1973, he created the pedal-paddle-pace race, or Marshalton Triathlon, to bring attention to the Brandywine Valley. It’s now an annual event in Chester County.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two brothers and nieces and nephews.
Services were private. Memorial donations may be made to Natural Lands, a nonprofit land conservation organization, via https://natlands.org/.