by Len Lear
Mary Alana Kurz, 29, public relations and marketing manager for the Blue Bell Inn since February, 2014, lives in Chestnut Hill with husband, Rob, a 6-foot-9 former National Basketball Association player for the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics. He had previously starred at Penn Charter High School, averaging 18.5 points and 12.0 rebounds per game as a senior, and at the University of Notre Dame, averaging 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a senior. The couple moved to Chestnut Hill in December, 2013.
The 350-seat Blue Bell Inn made news when it reopened on April 7 of last year after a 14-month, multi-million-dollar renovation. At 272 years old, the inn is one of the oldest restaurants in the Delaware Valley. Prior to the renovation, foodies often joked about the “old-fashioned” menu and décor of the antiquated property as well as the “blue-haired” clientele.
One of the inn’s original patrons was George Washington himself. The inn was marked as the “White Horse Inn” on military maps that led his troops to the historic Battle of Germantown. The room Washington slept in was later used to display military memorabilia from the Revolutionary War. In 1796, the inn’s name was changed to “Blue Bell Inn” when a distinctive bell was hung outside the building so all would be able to recognize it. In 1840, the surrounding area, once known as Pigeontown, was renamed Blue Bell because the inn had become so renowned. The original bell is still prominently displayed.
In late 2012, Kevin Clib, Bruce Goodman and Scott Dougherty purchased the property, closed its doors and began an extensive renovation and redesign. In an effort to preserve historical significance, various aspects of the inn were kept intact and enhanced through the restoration. An exposed rock wall from the original 18th century edifice was refurbished into a focal point in the main dining room. Antique glass and old-fashioned bottles reclaimed during construction were repurposed into pieces of art throughout the restaurant. A new executive chef, Pete Sherba, was previously the executive chef at Bridget’s Steakhouse in Ambler.
Last week we interviewed Mary Alana, spokesperson for the new Blue Bell Inn, both about her Chestnut Hill connection and her employer. Here is that interview:
Q: What do you like and dislike, if anything, about living in Chestnut Hill?
A: I adore this town. When we were looking to move to the Philadelphia area, we looked at a lot of different homes all over, and honestly, the moment we drove through Chestnut Hill I turned to my husband and said, “We HAVE to find a place and live here.” I didn’t want to move anywhere else. I love being able to walk my dogs up and down Germantown Avenue, shop for almost everything locally … and the dining options are fantastic.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Napa Valley, California! My family still lives there, and it’s the best place to be able to go on my vacation time.
Where did you go to high school and college?
I went to a high school called Justin Siena in Napa, California. Then I went to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, for college. Then I got my Master’s in public relations from Georgetown University. I finished that program a little over a year ago, right before I was hired by Blue Bell Inn.
What jobs did you have before this one?
Fresh out of college, I worked at a luxury Relais & Chateaux resort in Napa Valley, Auberge du Soleil, as their guest services assistant manager; also I worked as a marketing coordinator for the American Red Cross.
Did you always want to work in the hospitality industry?
Yes, ever since I could legally apply for a job, I looked for exciting hospitality positions. Growing up in a place like Napa Valley, it was a natural fit, and I was very blessed to get my foot in the door with some big-name restaurants, wineries and hotels. My very first job was as a hostess at Thomas Keller’s restaurant, Bouchon, in Yountville, California.
What are your ultimate goals, career-wise?
To continue to grow in a challenging and exciting position where I can develop marketing strategies in the hospitality industry.
How did you meet your husband, Rob?
We met at Notre Dame. He is a local kid. His family lives in Lower Gwynedd. After playing in the NBA, he played professionally overseas for a couple years, and we had the special opportunity to live together in Spain, France and Germany. When he retired in 2013, we moved here, looking to be closer to his family. He owns two Retro Fitness gyms, one in Horsham and another in Rockville, MD.
What were the main changes in the physical plant during the renovation of the Blue Bell Inn?
The original structure was kept intact, but an architectural redesign of existing spaces transformed the entire look and feel of the inn. It feels more spacious, bright and open. The interior redesign by Judi Goodman is breathtaking; chic rustic-meets-modern with reclaimed woods, exposed beams and Italian porcelain flooring.
What were the main changes in the food, drinks and service?
The menu is completely different. We serve a modern American menu with an emphasis on quality cuts of meat, seafood and the new raw bar which always has fresh East Coast and West Coast oysters, shrimp, lobster and crab … We now have an enclosed patio bar that was part of the new expansion. Live music is offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
What changes have you noticed, if any, in the customers coming to the restaurant before and after the renovations?
We now cater to a wide variety of ages. We like to see people ages 9-90 here.
How much of your business consists of private parties, business meetings, weddings, etc.?
We have 10 individual rooms … that can accommodate private parties ranging in size from 10 to 90. We have seen an increasing amount of private events business since the reopening. I think we hosted 135 separate events in December alone.
For more information, call 215-646-2010 or visit www.bluebellinn.com.