Lehigh Pizza, a cornerstone of the South Bethlehem community since 1975, has borne witness firsthand to the transformation of the South Side.
Since adopting its current location in 1996, on the corner of 3rd and New Street, Lehigh Pizza has remained unchanged. Now, however, the restaurant has plans to renovate with the assistance of Lehigh students.
Seven Lehigh students initiated a project to renovate Lehigh Pizza. Janelle Laros, ‘21, an architecture major, started working at Lehigh Pizza last summer as a cashier.
One day during her shift, Laros was approached by one of the owners who asked if she would be willing to aid in the pizzeria’s renovation, knowing she was an architecture major. Eager at the opportunity, Laros agreed.
“I was enthralled with the experience of working there and it is also a very historic building, so I immediately noticed that there is a lot that could be done redesign-wise,” Laros said.
Together, with fellow architecture student Ella Fabozzi, ‘22, the two began writing a proposal to earn academic credit from Lehigh for the project and coordinated with other interested peers.
Seven total students—five architecture and design students, and two business students—have been working throughout the spring semester on this interdisciplinary project to improve the South Bethlehem businesses.
Lehigh Pizza’s owners presented the group with some preliminary requests and a budget of $50,000.
“The goal of the project is to renovate the building and modernize the place, but without losing the South Side feel of it so as to attract more Lehigh students and maintain the South Side community customers,” said architecture major Mikhail Kossir, ‘21.
The team’s design goals consisted of opening up the interior lobby space, painting the building’s exterior, redesigning new awnings, attempting to buy the adjacent parking lot from the city, creating outdoor dining spaces and recreating the pizza box logo.
Fabozzi said the project posed as a great opportunity for architecture majors to not only get real-life experience, but also to have access to a studio in person, which was an anomaly the past year as most architecture classes were taught remotely due to COVID-19.
The pandemic took an even bigger toll on the group as nearly every member of the group contracted the virus at the beginning of the semester, halting the project’s initial progression.
Fabozzi, Kossir and Laros all agreed that working remotely slowed the team significantly. The team was eventually able to meet on Mountaintop Campus to review critiques and coordinate designs together in a more efficient way.
“If COVID weren’t a thing, then we could all be on Mountaintop Campus in Building C together every day, pulling all-nighters and designing together,” Kossir said.
Progressively throughout the semester the team has coordinated renovation outlines, with the guidance of Fabozzi, who serves as the project’s director of design management, and improved designs with critique from class supervisor, Professor Nik Nikolov, and other Art, Architecture and Design faculty members.
Laros said the team had many design trials and errors within their process, but she said they collectively adopted the mindset of “every no is one step closer to yes.”
“This was a shot in the dark,” Laros said. “We had no idea how this was going to turn out, we are totally admitting to not knowing everything, but we are completely committed to problem solving.”
The project is nearing its end-of-semester presentation, but Laros plans to continue finalizing the designs over the coming summer and into next semester.
She said many people who are interested in helping with the project have reached out to the team.
Fusion, Lehigh’s student-led graphic design agency, also has made a connection with the team and plans to coordinate future efforts to finalize the Lehigh Pizza redesign.
“I am hoping that this is the beginning of more South Side businesses using the resources that Lehigh can offer to them,” Fabozzi said.
Laros, who still works at Lehigh Pizza on the weekends, said the project made her realize how interdisciplinary life is.
She said the project has made her time working at Lehigh Pizza more fun and her time at Lehigh more worthwhile.
“Lehigh has the resources to improve the South Side community,” Laros said. “We must support each other and improve together.”