It was hard for Debi Keith to single out a fond memory from her 31 years of owning and operating the Boiling Springs Tavern in South Middleton Township.

“There have been so many weddings, anniversaries, engagements and birth announcements,” Keith said Tuesday. “Our customers are like family. It was truly a family experience since day one.”

Over the years, people have made offers to buy the fine dining restaurant, but she and her husband Geoff always refused to sell. That is until an opportunity came along to preserve their legacy.

The couple recently signed an agreement to sell the historic tavern to township residents Terry and Kathi Rickert who are regular customers of the restaurant. Settlement can only take place after the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board officially transfers ownership of the liquor license between corporations representing both couples.

As potential buyers, the Rickerts filed the paperwork to start a review process that could take 60 to 90 days to complete. Meanwhile, they plan to meet in three weeks with an architect to discuss possible renovations and upgrades to the tavern property.

“We’ve talked about this for some time now,” Terry Rickert said of the transaction. “The Keiths were looking for a buyer willing to take their vision forward. We were looking for a stepping stone for the Old Anglers Lodge project.”

Over five years ago, he submitted a plan to redevelop the Deer Lodge property in Mount Holly Springs. Though the plan received approval, the project has been delayed due to the economy, Rickert said. He said the goal next year is to revise and scale down the project in the hope of starting construction in 2019.

Buying the tavern allows the Rickerts to immerse themselves back into the hospitality industry, which they had been away from for about 25 years.

Boiling Springs resident Phillip Brechbill built the tavern as a hotel in 1832, according to a press release announcing the sale. One of the past owners was Anheuser-Busch, who founded the restaurant.

The Keiths purchased the property in 1986 while Geoff worked as a bartender and Debi as a server at the Camp Hill Casa Rillo. “It was a goal of mine to have my own restaurant,” Geoff Keith said.

The couple scrimped and saved to make the dream come true. After buying the tavern, they immediately began restoration work and were hands on in completing that project.

“We developed it from a hole in the wall to what it is today,” Geoff Keith said. “We put our program into place and kept growing it. We have done a lot of business from the War College and the car shows. There is a constant flow of people from all over the country and the world.”

The result has been many fond memories from customers who became like friends and family. The customers have included Terry and Kathi Rickert.

“Four other serious buyers have approached us, but none of them gave us the confidence the tavern will remain the venue that people have come to know,” Debi Keith said. “When Terry and Kathi approached us, we had many meetings with them and are now confident they will retain our current employees and the integrity of the tavern will be maintained.

“This is our child and as good parents we know it is time to let the tavern continue to grow and develop with us as cheerleaders,” she said. “The new owners have the depth and passion to do what is necessary to prepare the tavern for the next hundred years plus.”

“What clinched the deal for us was that they asked us to stay on to help with operations,” Geoff Keith said. The sales agreement includes language where the Keiths will serve as consultants for the next five years not only in the development of the tavern but the Old Anglers Lodge project.

Current management leaders, Kevin Rockwood and Sharon Roche, will remain as the managers of the tavern along with many of the long-term employees, according to the press release.

The Rickerts have retained the services of DAS Architects Inc. of Philadelphia, which has extensive background in restaurant and hospitality architectural design.

“Our vision includes a new kitchen, renovated dining room and outside dining,” Terry Rickert said. “The beloved bar at the tavern will remain intact.”

The work will be done in phases over the next three years so that the restaurant would not have to be closed completely due to construction and improvements, according to the press release.

“The Rickerts are the right people to move it forward,” Geoff Keith said. He said the renovation will include the gutting of the second and third story vacant apartments for conversion into eight hotel rooms for guests.

“We are honored the Keiths have chosen Terry and me to be the guardians of their legacy,” Kathi Rickert said.

Selling the property would allow the Keiths to slow down a little bit while staying involved in the transition of the Boiling Springs Tavern. Geoff and Debi are in their 60s and plan to remain local with occasional trips to Florida to visit their son.

“The opportunity was perfect,” Debi Keith said. “It’s a win-win for the tavern and the area.”

Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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