This year, four of South Bethlehem’s restaurants closed while four more opened.
Hector Lopez, a member of the South Side Ambassadors program that aims to beautify the community through its maintenance efforts, said part of the reason restaurants continually come to South Bethlehem is because of recent rejuvenation in the area.
“Before people only saw dirt. They didn’t see the storefronts,” Lopez said. “Now that we’ve cleaned the streets and the sidewalks, people are seeing the empty storefronts and claiming them.”
Lopez said in the last month, the South Side Ambassadors have removed 138 stickers, 33 instances of graffiti, 65 bags of leaves and and 71,000 pounds of garbage from the area.
“The mom and pop shops being opened in the area are much better than chain restaurants,” Lopez said. “In my opinion, they offer the same employment opportunities while providing more of an incentive to work, because you’re working for a face and a name, not a chain.”
For five years, Full of Crepe operated at 333 S. New St. and was a staple of the Bethlehem community. The creperie, which was a popular weekday lunch spot for Lehigh students and Bethlehem residents alike, closed its South Bethlehem doors but continues to operate at the Easton Public Market.
A few blocks away, Playa Bowls, owned and operated by Jim and Susan Dale, opened at 310 E. Third St.
Known for its fruit bowls, smoothies and juices, Playa Bowl’s dishes are made with blends of acai, chia pudding, coconut, kale, oatmeal and pitaya. The restaurant also serves nitro-cold brew coffee, kombucha, various teas and other snack items.
Blue Sky Café, which opened in 2007, operated out of its location at 22 W. Fourth St. until its closure this summer. Roasted, a restaurant specializing in breakfast and lunch, replaced Blue Sky, but Steven Brunette, a former Blue Sky chef, serves as Roasted’s head chef.
Shelli Topping, a former Blue Sky employee, is now a partner of Roasted, alongside Derek Wallen and Chris Topping.
“Both partners and I have a passion for food,” Wallen said. “We serve fresh food — not fried food — from local vendors, and we include vegetarian and vegan options. There aren’t many places around here that have a vegan menu, so that will attract customers.”
The Publik House, an Irish-themed restaurant, operated at 123 W. Fourth St. for about a year before Golazo House replaced it in early October.
“I don’t know why, but restaurants don’t seem to do well at that location,” Lopez said. “In the 12 years I’ve been in the area, four or five restaurants have passed through that location.”
Sergio Martinez, the owner of Golazo House, said the restaurant serves a mixture of Columbian and American food, whereas Publik House only served Irish food.
“My restaurant is a soccer-themed restaurant,” Martinez said. “We don’t support a particular team, (we support) pretty much all teams — European, South American, American. We just have an atmosphere where people watch soccer games and eat food.”
Golazo, which means “great goal” in Spanish, caters to a mix of Lehigh students and local community members. Martinez said the restaurant also partners with the Bethlehem Steel soccer team to bring more soccer fans to the restaurant.
The Greek Meat Guy restaurant opened this fall at 129 E. Third St, the former location of George’s Light Lunch. Owner Nikos Malitsis said he is confident in the restaurant’s potential for success because of the up-and-coming atmosphere of South Bethlehem and the need for “a little bit of Greek” in the area.
Malitsis said his BYOB restaurant aims to give people a good product at a reasonable price. He said The Greek Meat Guy’s signature item is souvlaki, which is a kebab made of pork, chicken, lamb or vegetables.
Although many South Bethlehem restaurants are experiencing turnover, some restaurants on the South Side have remained open for decades, including Deja Brew Coffeehouse and Deli and Nawab Indian Restaurant, which have both been in business since 1995.