Dinky’s Ice Cream Parlor & Grill co-owners Norman Mattews, left, and Jill Matthews in the new Bethlehem restaurant. Business was slow at the beginning, but has increased since Lehigh students came back on campus. (Annalise Kelloff/B&W Staff)

Some South Bethlehem businesses faring better with return of Lehigh students

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Some South Bethlehem businesses saw a boost in sales with the return of students to campus last week after an original loss once students left the region with the closure of campus in March.

Dimitri Kalahanis, owner of El Jefe’s Taqueria, said his restaurant saw a decline in sales on the order of 60 to 65 percent during the first two months of the pandemic. Now, with students slowly returning to campus, sales are rising once again.  

“In terms of numbers, we went up another 28 percent literally the week that [students]came back,” Kalahanis said. 

Saxbys Coffee, another Lehigh staple, has also welcomed back students to its Morton Street store.

“Having students back has been great as we serve Lehigh University and the surrounding community,” Haley Samsi, vice president of operations, said in an email. “Amidst these uncertain times, we’re so impressed with how well our guests have responded to our new health and safety measures to keep our team and guests safe.”

Other small businesses, however, haven’t been as fortunate. 

Matt Hengeveld, co-owner of Lit Coffee Roastery & Bakeshop, said their sales still aren’t back to the level they were before, even after the return of students.

“I would say we get about 10 percent more customers per day, which has been a helpful boost, but it’s nothing like if normal procedure was in place,” Hengeveld said.

Hengeveld added that, while Lehigh’s upperclassmen know of South Side businesses and are eager to shop at them, the incoming first-years aren’t as familiar with the area.

“With having mostly freshmen students back, it’s a little hard because they’re new to the campus, new to the area, so I think it would be great if Lehigh did a little more outreach to show the younger students some of the downtown businesses,” Hengeveld said. “We’ve definitely seen a lot of upperclassmen and grad students but haven’t seen much in the way of freshmen.”

Other businesses, such as New York Gyro, are just now regaining footing after suffering losses over the past six months. 

Carlos Marrero, the owner of New York Gyro, said he had to shut down in March and reopened last week. Marrero said he’s eager for more students to return to campus so he can get his restaurant back up and running.

“We only have two tables [outside],” he said. “It’s not like Main Street [on the North Side]where you can have more tables out.” 

Dinky’s Ice Cream Parlor & Grill is a new family-owned business on the South Side run by husband and wife Norman and Jill Matthews. 

Jill Matthews said the restaurant was supposed to open its South Bethlehem location in March but had to push it back until June due to the pandemic.

“It was pretty slow at the beginning,” she said. “Not having the college kids here (made it) a very rough opening.”

But Jill Matthews said she’s seen an increase in business since students returned to campus.

“I’ve noticed a lot of kids coming in,” she said. “I’ve been seeing groups come in more and more each week.” 

In an effort to target college students, Jill Matthews said Dinky’s will stay open until 10:00 p.m. and will be offering food through Doordash and other online ordering services. She said in the future they hope to stay open later than 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Dinky’s offers indoor and outdoor seating, and Jill Matthews said both have been filling up fast.

She said she hopes when the weather gets colder and outdoor seating is no longer an option, customers will still come to the store.

“If they really want the food, I’m hoping they come and maybe they can take it home or sit inside,” said Jill. “Our seating area is pretty big so that you can separate yourselves far enough away from each other.”

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