Blue Heron Café

Restaurateur Paul Hanley Jr. has sold the Blue Heron Café in Chestertown. The restaurant will undergo renovations as it becomes Washington’s College’s Eastern Shore Food Lab.

CHESTERTOWN — After 20 years of serving Kent County residents and visitors, Blue Heron Café in Chestertown will close its doors in late October.

In a Facebook post Sunday, owner Paul Hanley Jr. wrote that he received an offer in June to purchase his restaurant and its building on Cannon Street. A news release issued by Washington College Tuesday announced that Larry Culp, chairman of Washington College’s Board of Visitors and Governors, bought the building.

While Hanley was not available for comment before press time, he explained his decision to sell his “beloved” restaurant in his Facebook post.

“In late June, I received an offer to purchase my building and business — my beloved Blue Heron Café. It was the offer I had hoped would come one day. I had wished for it to happen five years from now, but it came this year and I accepted. The offer was a solid, generous one that I could not refuse,” Hanley posted on Facebook.

The news release states the space will undergo renovations and open next year as the college’s Eastern Shore Food Lab.

“Washington College is committed to providing our undergraduates with an education they can’t get anywhere else. The Eastern Shore Food Lab embodies this goal, a cutting-edge, multidisciplinary centerpiece of broader programming that will change the way we think about food, from access to diet and health,” Kurt Landgraf, Washington College president, said in the release. “Community involvement is key to the Lab’s mission, and basing it in this terrific property in the heart of downtown Chestertown will spark that. We are deeply grateful for Larry Culp’s foresight in understanding the key nature of this relationship, and his continued extraordinary commitment to Washington College.”

The release states the new space will feature an “interdisciplinary research, teaching and production laboratory” that is dedicating to studying and experimenting with sustainable food systems, “using the Eastern Shore food-shed as its primary context.”

“By researching the resources unique to the region based on weather, climate, soil, chemistry and microbial biology — and fusing ancient and historic footways with modern technologies — faculty, students, community members and collaborative researchers will re-envision our food system, from how we define food to how we grow it and prepare it,” the release states.

The Maryland Department of Commerce, as a part of its Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative, granted $944,000 to match gifts of $1 million from donors to create “an endowed chair in sustainable food systems for the lab.” Bill Schindler, chairman of the college’s anthropology department, will be the food lab’s director.

“One of the Food Lab’s fundamental missions is to engage the community as we address this region’s food resources, traditions, and history, with an eye toward how we can make positive changes in the future,” Schindler, who also is an international expert in the intersection of primitive foodways, technologies and contemporary innovations in food systems, said in a statement. “Not only will it enable our students and local residents work together, I fully expect the ESFL to draw experts from all over the world to Chestertown to participate in this hub of innovation as we create food system solutions that are environmentally and culturally sustainable.”

In his Facebook post, Hanley thanked his staff for being the “best of the best” and Chef Eugene Bethel for his “talent and pure dedication.”

“I’d be nothing without your talent and pure dedication. You’re as close to my heart as family,” he wrote to Bethel and his staff.

Hanley also thanked the restaurant’s “patrons, guests, friends and neighbors” for “allowing us into your lives.”

“We’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, weddings, business meetings, and so many other fun times and memories. I’ve watched your toddlers grow up and graduate. We’ve talked food, business, politics, cars, boats, airplanes, grandchildren, fishing and pets – all while enjoying the culinary art of casual fine dining. I am so grateful for your two decades of loyal support,” Hanley wrote.

The Blue Heron Café is still open, and will remain so until late October, according to Hanley.

“We will still be here for another few months. So come on over, say hi, and get a last round of our famous Sweetbreads, Oyster Fritters, Filet Mignon, Lamb Chops, Crab Cakes, Soft Shells, Double Duck, and all the rest,” he posted on Facebook.

Blue Heron Café is located at 236 Cannon St., Suite 1, in Chestertown.

For more information on the Eastern Shore Food Lab, visit

(1) comment


The headline of this article is incorrect. Washington College did not purchase the Blue Heron building.
We at Cross Street Realtors will miss our good friend & neighbor Paul Hanley, but look forward to the exciting educational activities that are to come.

Joe Hickman
Cross Street Realtors
Owner, Agent

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