The smell of sweet, freshly sliced plantains mixes with the aroma of Spanish rice, beans and queso simmering atop the griddle. Laughter echoes in the kitchen behind the order counter, as multiple hands delicately sprinkle mozzarella-filled empanadas with sugar.
William and Marylou Seixas, the married couple who own Couchpota.doh! Kitchen, casually converse with customers across the counter, catching up with friendly faces that stop in to support the new business. Their teenage son explains unfamiliar dishes and their health benefits to newcomers.
In a corner building that was formerly a thrift store, this couple from New York introduces the South Side community to food on an Ecuadorian plate.
The Bethlehem restaurant has an unusual yet intentional name, originating from the style of their cooking: comfort food. William said the use of “couch potato” refers to the food’s heaviness, and the “doh!” reflects the popular empanadas they craft–word play for “dough.” The unique punctuation was chosen with the intention of later branching out to add new levels to the company, which began with the couple’s shift from food trucks to the new Bethlehem kitchen.
The name also highlights a crucial aspect of Ecuadorian meals: potato.
“It makes you want to sit back,” Marylou said of the food. “The potato is frowned upon by a lot of people, but it’s actually good for you. It has a lot of nutrients.”
Her husband agrees; the restaurant uses no additives in its french fries, but the potato still proves to be important.
“After you eat it, you just want to lay down, you want to be a couch potato because the food is heavy,” William said. “But it is authentic Ecuadorian… It’s not ‘Couchpota.doh!’ and only sells potato(es), we serve Ecuadorian cuisine.”
William is Ecuadorian. He said that the kitchen makes its salads half an hour before serving because he wants to preserve the “crunch” for ultimate customer satisfaction. When preparing seared mash plates, whether it features chicken, pork or beef, William likes to “deconstruct the plate,” so that the customer can get a sense of the “levels” of their food.
The family used to reside in New York, where their food truck idea was born. However acquiring the necessary permits and licenses were hard to navigate, causing the family to look elsewhere for a new place to settle down.
The Seixas family visited friends in the Lehigh Valley years back. They loved it, began to search for a house and discovered the South Side of Bethlehem.
The company began as Couchpota.doh! Food Truck in Bethlehem seven years ago, where they first served their recipes before the transition to their first restaurant on 306 Brodhead Ave. Couchpota.doh! Kitchen’s grand opening was January 21, 2022.
It is a true family operation. Marylou cooks in the kitchen, William works front of house and their 15-year-old son Ethan is the “first on the line,” as William said, and also cooks to help his parents.
“Right now it is the family business, but especially in today’s world, you tend to find that the students, if it’s not tech-inspired, then it’s no longer something they think they can strive for,” William said. “Thankfully, one out of the five of our children is going in that direction.”
According to William, Ethan is a Serv-Safe certified Food Handler and has shown interest in potentially taking over the family restaurant business. William said that Ethan should feel free to change the business in any way he chooses in the future, even if that means it is no longer solely Ecuadorian food.
The restaurant’s recipes have been passed down three generations and could last four or five generations if Ethan someday inherits the business.
“He is on his way to hopefully being a chef in his own world,” William said. “But if he can take our company and expand it in his way, then that’s even better.”
The Seixas children have contributed to the family business, and even helped build the original food truck, William said.
William credits the community and local schools for helping the business get its start in Bethlehem.
The restaurant hopes to give back to Lehigh University students, as well as the larger community by remaining open until late at night, William said. The owners look to eventually lengthen the availability of healthy meals and snacks for students and South Side residents alike, potentially until midnight or 1 a.m.
While it has been a cold first few weeks on campus, William and Marylou hope that as the weather grows warmer, more students will visit Couchpota.doh! Kitchen on the weekends for a late night bite.
“I don’t want to knock the pizza world,” William said. “But thankfully, with our Ecuadorian food, we can bring something new, something fresh, something delicious to the community as well as to the Lehigh students.”
Through their restaurant, the couple aims to make healthy meals affordable. William said that they understand going out to dinner can be financially challenging, so they also provide free samples to customers.
“We have five kids, so we understand when we go out to eat, it kind of hurts sometimes,” William said. “We don’t want the customers to feel that way.”
Restaurant customers, Karla Lino and Kelly Muschlitz came to Couchpota.doh! to bond over a pork plate after not having a sit-down meal together since the pandemic began two years ago.
Lino, who is also Ecuadorian, said that she had been to the Seixas family’s food truck during the summer. She came in with her longtime friend and coworker, Muschlitz, as soon as she saw an article in The Morning Call about the new restaurant’s opening.
“They (William and Marylou) welcome you right in, so I think that’s very nice,” Muschlitz said.
Muschlitz said she found William and Marylou very enthusiastic as the two friends stepped into the establishment for the first time.
“You can see the humbleness from them,” Lino added. “The food was more than we expected, I really enjoyed it.”
Working toward obtaining the space for the next step up from the food truck took patience and effort, but the family’s mindset helped them persevere through moments of uncertainty. The family avoids the use of the word “problem,” at all costs, William said. He prefers the word “situation” as situations can readily be fixed.
William said that he is grateful that he is able to wake up every morning, and work another day to fulfill the dream of owning a restaurant that showcases Ecuadorian food.
“Things don’t happen overnight. In today’s world, everything is fast,” William said. “If you take your time, you put your mind to it, and push that will that we all have, you will be successful.”
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“We’re going to start off with some chicken breasts. We’ll season them with salt and pepper. Then we’ll take our garlic and smash it into the chicken breast. And then we’ll add some olive oil and butter.” – Chef Chris