By Mary Bigham and Amy Strauss

Gilmore’s Restaurant, an award-winning French restaurant in downtown West Chester, has closed.

Chef/owner Peter Gilmore debuted Gilmore’s Restaurant in August of 2001 following a 22-year stint as as chef de cuisine at Philadelphia’s renowned Le Bec-Fin. Over the years, Gilmore has received copious amounts of praise for the authenticity of his creative, classic French dishes. In 2008, Gilmore’s was also the target of local anti-foie gras protests for serving his guests what they wanted – the sought-after French delicacy.

The restaurant closed on Sunday, July 15th. “We had a five-course Crabfest, it was a packed house and we closed on a night of a full house – that was our final meal served,” Peter told us.

Since then, he’s called customers with an upcoming reservation to tell them the news, and he will also be sending out an email tomorrow to let their loyal customers know about his career change.

Peter has said in the past that “the public’s perception is that they simply can’t get in and the restaurant is booked to capacity every night.” This resulted in customers thinking they could not easily get a table. “Resources still say it takes 3-4 weeks to get a reservation and that certainly doesn’t help any restaurant,” he recently shared.

Over the last few years, Peter has had to be creative to stand up to the constant restaurant competition. Bistro menus were introduced to attract a regular dining crowd to escape the restaurant’s perception of being a “special occasion” restaurant.  In October 2011, Peter and his staff also introduced an exquisite brunch menu but it was short-lived.

“There’s never a good time to close, I have to think about my life and I’m tired of doing 16 hours a day at the stove. Maybe I’ll do something corporate, or teach. But, we are closing on top – we are in Zagat’s 2012 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia and we are thrilled to be there.” (Zagat’s local guide was just published early July 2012.)

Chef Peter shared the following in regards to his award-winning sous chef, Jason Curtis – ranked among the top 10 sous chefs in the country in 2010 from the Chaîne des RôtisseursJeune Commis Rôtisseurs Competition and Frank Hurley, the Dining Room Manager and Pastry Chef. “I think they are two of the most talented employees I’ve ever employed and any establishment would be incredibly fortunate to have Jason Curtis or Frank Hurley on their staff. It’s been an honor to work with them.”

We spoke to another West Chester restaurateur, John Brandt-Lee of Avalon and Avalon Pasta Bistro, who understands the reality of owning and operating a restaurant.

“For my first eight years of being at Avalon, I was always in Peter’s shadow. Customers would come in and say we were almost as good as Gilmore’s but we were always a step or two behind him – that little bit of competition always pushed me to be a better chef and restaurateur,” said Brandt-Lee.

“We opened around the same time, he started a year before me so it makes me very sad to see his establishment go.  It’s been a long journey together in West Chester and it’s unfortunate to see another great food establishment close in a town with an abundance of bar/restaurants.”

During the foie gras protests, Peter was quoted as saying, “I refuse to allow anyone to tell me what I can and cannot serve to my guests. I am in the customer service business; what the customer wants, the customer gets.”

Ironically, with the recent news, his sentiments are leaving many customers hungry, as they will no longer be getting anything they want from this West Chester fine-dining institution.

“We’ve loved working in West Chester, it’s a great town, it’s been a great run. It’s time to make a change in lifestyle. For now, I’ll be sitting by the pool drinking a scotch and soda deciding what move I want. Who knows what will happen in the future,” Peter said with a relaxed, refreshed voice.

Chef Peter, we tip our hats to you. Your ability to offer an enchanting dining experience in downtown West Chester has proven forever-memorable, and your air of culinary elegance has and will continue to set the bar for excellence within our local food scene.

Photographs credited to Aly Debbas and Amy Strauss.