25 years ago a Courier-Post reporter called the Dutch Inn’s restaurant in Gibbstown ”the center of Gloucester County’s gastronomical cosmos”. Today it is a Red Carpet Inn, and that restaurant section of the motel complex is being demolished after years of non-use.
Now operating as a Red Carpet Inn, the motel rooms will remain operational, and are serviced by a secondary front desk entrance.
The Gibbstown property is located off Harmony Road at Exit 17 of Route 295. This is in the same area as the Gibbstown ShopRite.
The motel originally opened in 1974 as the Dutch Inn, with its iconic front entrance featuring a tall and large windmill.
For several decades the Dutch Inn restaurant, lounge and banquet rooms were a significant part of the larger South Jersey community.
Thousands of area residents remember eating dinner at the Dutch inn restaurant, enjoying a drink at the Flying Dutchman Lounge, or attending numerous events there such as weddings or retirement parties, in one of the facility’s banquet halls.
An Inquirer article from 25 years ago says the Dutch Inn had even become a favorite place for South Jersey politicians who on election nights would gather to hear balloting results and discuss important issues happening within the community.
The local Dutch Inn even made global news! In the late 80s during the Cold War, the motel became the center of a warm and positive story when it provided rooms and hospitality to dozens of Soviet Union crew members whose ship had sunk off the coast of New Jersey.
Red Carpet Inn Gibbstown – Partial Building Demolition
Today the Swedesboro Ave motel is a much different story.
As mentioned the motel rooms are still available, but the original front entrance section (which used to house a restaurant, lounge and more) are being demolished.
In my visit Thursday you could see that the two-story tower entrance was still standing (temporarily), but the building section immediately behind it was already gone.
An exposed long cinder block wall section was still standing, but it had no remnants of its long ago “Center of Gloucester County” restaurant past.
I chatted with a representative of the still operating motel who said the restaurant portion hadn’t been open for some time. Several different operators over the last 25 years tried to revive the restaurant under different concepts, but none of them were successful.
So for many years most recently, the space was just left unused.
While I don’t know the exact full condition of the space before the demolition started, I do know that time and Mother Nature have a way of taking back buildings that aren’t actively utilized. It quickly gets to a point where the cost to bring a building back to a usable state is just too great.
Several years ago local officials placed “Mold Hazzard” stickers on the portion of the building that is now being demolished.
I also chatted with local resident James who is a moderator at the Facebook group “Things That Aren’t There Anymore – South Jersey Edition” (FB), who shared with me his last visit to the front lobby building was around 2005 when a coffee shop was still operating there. The coffee shop closed soon after that.
While the unused front portion of the building is coming down, it appears that there are no immediate plans to develop anything else in its place. The motel continues to operate using a different entrance for the front desk.
The Dutch Inn – Iconic Restaurant and Meeting Place
As mentioned, the Dutch Inn first opened in 1974.
Up until 1998 the motel operated as the Dutch Inn, when it was sold to new owners who converted it into a Ramada brand motel. Since then the brand has changed additional times.
But for it’s first 25 years and more, it was much more than just a local highway motel.
The Dutch Inn featured a high-quality restaurant, banquet rooms, the Flying Dutchman Lounge, Sunday buffet room and a separate coffee shop.
It was such an iconic part of South Jersey that newspapers like the Courier-Post wrote numerous reviews of the restaurant over the years. Advertisements highlighted some of their entertainment aspects of the lounge, including regular talent shows.
The earliest review I could find was from Alonzo Gristle in the Courier-Post back in October of 1975.
He calls out their crock of onion soup for an appetizer, which was priced at a dollar. His guest ate the Dutch Inn baked clams at $2.25… which the companion stated “I can’t remember when I’ve had better”!
The Prime Rib of Beef was just $7.75 and the Broiled Lobster Tail came in at $9.50
In 1977 an advertisement featured the $9.50 all-you-can-eat open buffet, and an upcoming performance of a tribute band featuring songs of the Platters.
Also highlighted were the famous Dutch Inn “traditions”, such as offering dinners for two at reasonable prices. Reviewer Alonzo Gristle must have been quite the famous reviewer back then because he is mentioned in the advertisement!
In 1984 another Courier-Post review calls it “a Dutch Treat in Gibbstown”, and highlighted the changes to the restaurant including the hiring of an experienced chef to bring a Continental menu to Gloucester County.
At the time the menu consisted of filet mignon, lobster tail, seafood sensation shish-kebab and a unique Gloucester County staple… snapper soup!
In 1986 a large advertisement highlights their talent show contest with host Johnny Moore. Every Monday and Thursday night was a talent show, and the final grand prize was a trip to Cancun!
And this will really bring home the popularity of the long gone Dutch Inn restaurant experiences…
A 1990 review calls out their tradition of serving Christmas dinner between 3:00 and 7:00pm while other restaurants remain closed. It goes on to say that in 1989 they served over 500 guests in a similar 4 hour span of Christmas Day.
The Dutchman’s Maryland crab cakes were so popular they sold 800 orders every single week!
As I said, up until 30 years ago the Dutch Inn was quite the big deal in South Jersey!
Bill Reinhardt’s 1996 Courier-Post line about the Dutch Inn says it best “The center of Gloucester County’s gastronomical cosmos”!
1998: Dutch Inn to Ramada
Surprisingly just two years after being bestowed such a high honor, in 1998 the Dutch Inn was sold and the new owners signed an agreement to be part of the Ramada inn Brand.
The Ramada Inn corporation didn’t see the iconic windmill as a match for the brand so in the summer of 1998 the windmill was removed.
Even with the brand change, at the time the new owners were fully committed to keeping the full restaurant and bar experience thriving, having invested in new carpeting, new furniture and all new linens for the rooms.
In my researching of newspaper archives I found help-wanted classified ads from 1998 looking for restaurant and bar help… proving it was the initial intent of the owners at the time to continue the full motel, food and beverage operations.
But over the ensuing years the restaurant and lounge could not continue it’s same success.
South Jersey Hospitality for the Soviet Union
Clearly South Jersey’s biggest connection to the Soviet Union was the 1967 Holly Bush Summit which took place at Glassboro College (Rowan University). That summit featured a meeting of President Lyndon B Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, who met to discuss Soviet American relations.
But that isn’t our only Soviet-Union connection!
While not on the same scale of that meeting, almost exactly 20 years later in 1987, Gibbstown’s Dutch Inn had its own globally followed Soviet Union experience!
For the younger readers of this article, I’ll call out that 40 years ago before many barriers between countries came down, and long before the Internet gave us access to everything… the Soviet Union people knew very little of the United States and its lifestyle.
The time was called “The Cold War” because while there was no large-scale fighting between the USA and Soviet-Union, this was a time of high-tension between the two countries.
And residents of each country would not travel to the other. In the Soviet Union literally no one knew anything about the American people and lifestyle. They had never heard of McDonald’s!
That changed a bit in 1987 when a Soviet Union freighter sunk off the coast of New Jersey, and the 37 Soviet-Union members of the ship’s crew got to experience some of the American lifestyle.
And that experience included a night and meal at Gibbstown’s Dutch Inn!
The 34 men and three women were plucked from the decks of their sinking freighter by the US Coast Guard, and first brought to the FAA Technical Center in Pomona. They were later brought to the US Customs House in Philadelphia.
While in Philadelphia it was getting late, and with a final US destination in Washington DC (before being sent home), officials rented 21 rooms at Gibbstown’s Dutch Inn to spend the night and to enjoy an American style meal.
The story was covered by news organizations around the world.
The Courier-Post quotes restaurant manager Mary Ellen Leach who said it was really amazing just to see how everyone got along. It was like everyone was old friends. She couldn’t believe what they ate, and they even had a few customers waiting on the Soviets!
The ship’s hungry crew devoured American cheeseburgers, eggs, chopped steak, chef salads, ice cream and beer.
It was described as a beautiful experience. The employees and other guests of South Jersey were all ambassadors to the Soviet Union!
The Soviet Union visitors went on to the DC area and had a chance to shop in a Virginia department store. They enjoyed their last American meal at a Washington DC area McDonald’s.
An UPI article closed with the following quote:
‘President Reagan is a very nice man,’ said crew member Viktor Bobrov at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where the historic Apollo-Soyuz superpower space mission is commemorated. ‘Americans are good people.’
A few short years later the Soviet Union collapsed, allowing republics of the larger country to become independent. The Cold War ended.
I’m not saying that the friendly folks of Gloucester County’s beloved Dutch Inn played a part in changing the world… but you have to believe those 37 sailors were extensively interrogated by their country upon their return.
“Americans are good people.”
And that includes folks from Gloucester County
Links and Location
Red Carpet Inn (Originally Dutch Inn)