For long-time feature filmmaker Zeke Zelker, food has always played a large role in his life. His latest venture is a new café called Zekraft Café on South New Street, which opened on Sept. 9.
As a Lehigh Valley native and adjunct professor at Lehigh, Zelker’s introduction to the food business began with delivering meals to his friend’s daughter at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He went on to serve food at the Easton Farmers’ Market. His next goal was to open a restaurant.
Zekraft offers customers a variety of healthy and local food and drink options. They serve espresso, coffee, tartines, salads, soups, pastries and desserts, including its popular banana pudding.
Zelker said that everything served is made from scratch and all of their coffee is organic and fair trade.
Zelker said a need was recognized for more healthy dining options on the South Side.
“I can’t tell you how many times that people have said, ‘Oh my gosh, we needed this,’” Zelker said.
Zelker said he anticipated a slow start to business, however, he was pleasantly surprised to find the café has been busy from day one, especially during Lehigh’s recent family weekend.
He said he looks forward to meeting more members of the Lehigh community.
Zekraft’s Executive Chef Nate Weida joined the team after many years of experience working for other restaurants in the Lehigh Valley such as Savory Grille, The House & Barn, The Shelby and The Spinnerstown Hotel.
Weida said he has known Zelker for over 20 years and joining Zekraft was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
“We’re just trying to do things right and give back to the community, support local, be sustainable and reduce our carbon footprint,” Weida said.
Zelker said that Zekraft is committed to cleanliness, especially in the wake of COVID-19. He said the interior of the café was specifically designed to allow customers to see their food being made in front of them.
Cleanliness and sustainability are some of the factors that attracted Haley Griner, ‘24, to apply for a job at Zekraft. She said she is happy to work in an environment that aligns with her values.
Being a full-time student, Griner said she appreciates the flexibility she has with scheduling her shifts to prioritize school work. She said this flexibility allows her to maintain a balance between being professional and enjoying time with coworkers.
“They give me creative freedom to help add ideas for the business or new recipes or new design ideas to help things run smoother,” Griner said. “I really like that I can channel that somewhere.”
Zelker said, along with many other businesses, Zekraft’s main concern has been supply chain issues due to the pandemic.
“I’ve been having to source things from different places,” Zelker said. “My biggest issue has been trying to get enough product. I couldn’t find cream. I had to go to six different places to find cream.”
Despite the challenge, Zelker has many goals for the future of Zekfraft, including opening more locations and giving back to the community.
Zelker said Zekraft hosts a buy one, give one campaign at the Easton Farmers’ Market, where for every salad they sell, they donate one to the New Bethany Ministries in Bethlehem. They also plan to hold an event for the Lehigh-Lafayette game because they do business at both the Easton Farmers’ Market and now Bethlehem.
“It’s so cool to see how dedicated they are to this business,” Griner said. “It’s their baby, and it’s awesome to see how passionate they are. It’s not about the money. It is about quality.”