Over the past four winters, the SouthSide Arts District has provided South Bethlehem residents and Lehigh students with a week of food, drinks and special deals.
One week in January or February locals have the opportunity to take advantage of a variety of restaurants and cuisines in South Bethlehem and throughout the Lehigh Valley.
But 2021 Restaurant Week was different and more important than ever.
From Jan. 18 to Jan 24, 20 South Bethlehem restaurants and bars displayed their menus and offered specialty deals throughout the week.
Tulum provided customers with three tacos for $6.45 and rice and beans for an extra $2.
Molly’s Irish Grille and Sports Pub, offered 10 percent off the entire bill for the week.
Jenny’s Kuali had a $15 package deal where customers could pick either an appetizer or soup to start and one of four suggested entrees.
Missy Hartney, downtown manager at SouthSide Arts District, helped organize the South Bethlehem Restaurant Week.
“We pride ourselves on not being a traditional restaurant week,” Hartney said. “The menus are always very three-tiered, you get an appetizer, a meal and a dessert. I was never a fan of that. I always thought, ‘We should let you do what works best for your business and what works for the SouthSide.’”
Due to COVID-19, all the restaurants had to limit the amount of customers that can eat inside and there was an increase in curbside delivery and takeout.
“Each place is just doing what works best for them given the environment that we’re in,” she said. “Some places have just to-go options. Other places have 10 percent off your total bill. They’re just happy to be open and trying to get folks to come downtown and support locals.”
Charles Patrick, co-owner of Molly’s, said the first few days of the week were pretty slow, but business picked up over the weekend with Lehigh students coming back to Bethlehem.
He said the pandemic has made things more challenging and caused people not to eat out.
Jenny Lim, owner of Jenny’s Kuali, said their business was slow at the beginning of the week but there were more weekend reservations.
“It’s a little slow last week because after the holiday, people are watching what they are spending and then with the spike of the coronavirus, a lot of people are afraid to do much,” Lim said.
Lim said for Restaurant Week, she is making sure everyone is socially distant when eating inside the restaurant and limiting the amount of people that can come in at once. The reservations are spaced out so everybody isn’t coming all at once, she said.
Hartney said there was a contest on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter each day to help promote the week and a particular restaurant. Each contestant shared the post on their social media and qualified for the chance to win a $25 gift card to one of the restaurants.
Hartney said many of the restaurants have never provided takeout before and have had to close because of the statewide mandates.
“I want to do as much as I can as their downtown manager to ensure we’re doing events that encourage people to shop local, support local and that people know how important it is right now,” she said.
Hartney said she applied for a grant to receive PPE equipment to ensure employees and customers had all the equipment needed to participate in Restaurant Week. All staff members and customers are following and staying up to date on CDC guidelines, she said.
She said all the restaurants and merchants have been through a lot with COVID-19 and are struggling to keep their businesses intact.
“It’s been really challenging for the merchants to get educated on how to keep themselves safe, how to keep customers safe, how to stay up to date with what the state needs them to do to comply with all of these different measures, things change every week,” Hartney said.
Lim said Jenny’s has lost a lot of their business since Lehigh first shut down. She has tried to apply for grants and loans so employees don’t have to go on unemployment and they are watching how much they buy and use, she said.
Patrick said the staff at Molly’s is following all CDC guidelines and keeping the place clean to create a safe environment for all staff, customers and vendors.
Hartney said she is hopeful that Restaurant Week is increasing the amount of traffic within a week. Although the weekends have been steady, it has been tougher getting customers to come in the restaurants because of the pandemic.
Patrick said they are doing everything they can to survive during the pandemic. He has paid his staff extra to make sure they get by and has received some grant money, he said.
“We’re still here,” he said. “We’re smiling and we’re happy. We can’t wait for everybody to get back, the vaccine starts kicking in and people start going out again.”