At first, Dean Carlson was hopeful he could reopen his popular restaurant on his farm in western Chester County. He and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection just needed to straighten out a few things.
But as the reality of complying with sewer regulations settled in and the projected costs added up, he decided last year to close Wyebrook Farm's restaurant. He had said he would stick to farming, selling cuts of meat, and throwing the occasional special event on his 360-acre swath of land in West Nantmeal Township.
Now, the father of three is selling nearly 190 acres of that property — including the farm and the stone building that houses the former restaurant and meat market. He's asking for $7.9 million.
"We are enormously grateful to all of the people that have contributed to the success of Wyebrook, and thank you for all of the support," the business wrote in a Facebook post last month announcing the property was for sale. "We are excited to see what the next evolution of the farm will be."
All but five acres is preserved farmland, the result of a 2012 purchase by Chester County through a grant program. Most of the handful of interested buyers so far are based in Philadelphia and are in the catering and restaurant industry, including a distillery, said Caryn Black of Kurfiss Sotheby's International Realty.
"It's going to be a challenge, because not everyone wants 190 acres," Black said. But "the property is spectacular."
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Carlson was unavailable for comment.
The property includes a 2,300-square-foot stone house that has seven bedrooms and four bathrooms, a smaller farmhouse, the stone building that housed the market and restaurant, and smaller outbuildings. The structures sit on rolling green fields. Carlson and his family plan to continue to live on another piece of the land.
Carlson bought the property in 2010 through a foreclosure sale and, in 2012, opened his restaurant, which was known for "grass-fed" beef, pork, and other meats that Carlson also sold at the farm's on-site market and Reading Terminal Market.
He was one of many farmers throughout the country who have discovered they must expand their business in order to thrive in agriculture. He called the restaurant a vital part of how he sold his farm's products.
State officials originally said Carlson did not need a sewer plan for what they thought was going to be a farm store. Carlson's plans grew to include his restaurant, but the property "slipped through the cracks" of established regulations, a county health staffer said in a 2016 email.
Carlson said he didn't know there was any issue until a Department of Environmental Protection employee happened to dine at the restaurant in 2016. The off-duty wastewater specialist wondered whether the restaurant had its sewage approvals, which led the department to look more closely at the restaurant. To keep operating, state officials said, Carlson would need to expand his sewer system.
He decided to shut down the restaurant in November, just before his slower winter season, to consider his options. State officials at the time stressed they did not force him to close. But he said this spring that he would not reopen, citing regulatory red tape and environmental testing that would be too costly and time-consuming.