On the corner of Linden and North streets, a small breakfast and lunch restaurant is wedged into a residential block. A red bicycle on a lit sign points patrons in its direction.
As the cook swoops between one station and the next, the owner frantically scrubs dishes in full view of every customer.
“If I were middle-aged I don’t think I could handle this lifestyle,”said Billy Gruenewald, 26, the owner of The People’s Kitchen and a Bethlehem native. “This isn’t too bad for me yet. It’s trying to juggle all the jobs of a larger restaurant in one. It’s tough.”
The People’s Kitchen, a small “hipster-traditional” breakfast and lunch restaurant, has been open since October but already has a growing customer base.
“There’s a lot of people that want a small business to succeed,” said Dorian McDonald, a server at The People’s Kitchen. “A lot of locals are supportive of it, and I definitely see a lot of faces again and again. I rarely see anybody not come back.”
It may be one of many breakfast and lunch places in Bethlehem, but McDonald said The People’s Kitchen is set apart by its menu. Things like breakfast macaroni and cheese, croissant French toast, and shrimp and grits crepes give customers something they can’t quite find anywhere else.
“It’s really fantastic food,” said Justin Miranda, a Bethlehem resident and customer of The People’s Kitchen. “I’m a huge foodie so I have really high expectations, and the menu is a little small but what they offer is really great. And you can’t go anywhere else and get breakfast macaroni and cheese.”
For those who want to stick with the classics, though, Gruenewald included more usual fare.
“It’s nothing expansive, not a huge menu, but it kind of hits home for everybody for the most part,” he said. “There are some people that say, ‘where the hell is the rest of it,’ and to that I say, ‘I don’t have the space for anything else, man.’ Ten things on each side is about all I can handle.”
Gruenewald does all of his food shopping in Bethlehem, said McDonald, and also looks for local businesses to buy food from. Much of this local fare shows in the weekly specials, which range from grilled cheese and tomato soup to crab benedict, which includes eggs, crab, hollandaise sauce and avocado all on an English muffin.
He may have created a menu that seems to hit everyone’s sweet spot, but Gruenewald likely wouldn’t make any of it for himself.
“Honest to god,” he said, “I’m not a breakfast person. I’m not a seafood person. A lot of stuff, I really won’t eat. But in my head I can put all this together.”
He’s more of a dinner person, he said, but he keeps the menu to breakfast and lunch for financial reasons.
“That’s how I manage to keep my prices low,” he said. “Food costs should be about 33 percent. And with breakfast, I’m still doing that, whereas you’ll see some of these other places and they have a plate that costs them 20 (cents) and they charge three bucks. I was never about that.”
While Gruenewald may not be a breakfast person, he is a Bethlehem person. He graduated from Liberty High School in 2006, went to Penn State as a hospitality management major, and returned to Bethlehem with a singular goal: open at least one restaurant before he turned 28.
He reached that goal. The building, which currently houses the restaurant went on sale on his 26th birthday, and he entered negotiations as soon as he found it.
Since then, his friends have been a huge help in running the new restaurant.
“People always say, ‘Don’t let your friends work for you,'”Gruenewald said. “I couldn’t disagree more. If you have an actual friendship with people, and it’s not going to turn into this huge feud, nothing’s better than working with your friends.”
The communal feel of The People’s Kitchen may start with Gruenewald’s reliance on friendship, but it doesn’t end there.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” said Chelsey Potuck, a Bethlehem resident and People’s Kitchen customer. “It’s weird, but I like how small it is because it feels really intimate and kind of like you get to know everyone. I think it adds a sense of community in the community.”
Ed Flaherty, a Bethlehem resident and customer, says the restaurant is set apart by the friendly waitstaff.
“They were on point, if you will, simply with the timing and the friendliness,” he said.
The People’s Kitchen may be small, but customers concur that the food, atmosphere, prices and staff work together to set it apart.
“The food is amazing, the atmosphere is amazing, and the staff is amazing,” Potuck said. “So basically for every reason you’d want to go to a restaurant I’d definitely give you the thumbs up in all manners.”
The People’s Kitchen may be just the beginning for Gruenewald, but he won’t be leaving it by the wayside when he continues on to bigger things.
“Even if I open up a million restaurants after this,” he said, “I think I’d still always want to have this one.”