Norman Matthews hit a crossroad in his career in 2012. After an accident required him to get back surgery, his days as a truck driver were numbered.
“My wife actually handed me a book that said ‘Norm’s Ideas,’ and it was just a bunch of blank pages,” Matthews said.
As he began jotting down notes, he said the first thing he wrote was “Ice cream shop.”
That same year, Matthews opened the original Dinky’s Ice Cream in Bangor, Pennsylvania, the hometown of Matthews and his wife, Jill.
Jill Matthews said the name “Dinky’s” comes from a nickname that Norman Matthews’ father bestowed upon him as a baby.
In 2019, the couple brought Dinky’s to Bethlehem’s South Side, providing a “mom-and-pop” experience for both Bangor and Bethlehem residents.
With the foot traffic of East Third Street, the surrounding schools and community events, Jill Matthews said even their two sons said they would be stupid to miss out on the opportunity.
“We were just pleasantly surprised at the area,” she said. “We loved the scenery, how they were cleaning everything up and making it really nice. We were both like, ‘maybe it’s time to expand.’”
Norman Matthews recruited his wife to take on a full-time position at Dinky’s. She had always been a part of the business but also worked as a science teacher.
“I just felt like it was time for me to move on and do something different,” Jill Matthews said.
And with that, in 2019, she quit her teaching job and hopped on as co-owner of Dinky’s.
The 1950s-retro theme, along with the restaurant’s name, serve as an ode to Norman Matthews’ childhood. He adored the sitcom “Happy Days” and the movie “Grease,” and he said he wanted to bring that “happy-go-lucky-‘50s energy” to his business.
He said his dream car since he was 7 years old was the 1957 Bel Air two-door Chevy. In 1999, he finally obtained one but later sold it to invest in the opening of the first Dinky’s.
To tie the business back to his love of the ‘50s, he incorporated retro automobile wall art into the decor, as well as red and white tile floors, big red booths and stools, and a jukebox.
Besides ice cream, the menu contains homemade family recipes, like Jill Matthews’ mother’s chocolate chip cookie and macaroni and cheese recipes, as well as Norman Matthews’ mother’s chili recipe.
It also features two burgers inspired by the Matthews’ sons. Jill Matthews asked them what they wanted on a burger, and their responses birthed “The American Fatboy” and “The Bethlehem Beast.”
Jill Matthews said she is all about family, and Dinky’s is family-oriented.
Her favorite part of owning the business is talking to customers. She said she and her husband hope to offer a sense of togetherness by creating a space for people to hang out.
“When you come in, I want you to feel like you belong, like you’re family,” she said.
Izzy Mohammed, ‘22, recently revisited Dinky’s — his favorite ice cream shop in Bethlehem.
Mohammed said he was a consistent customer when he was a student, as the store was conveniently located on his way home from the gym. He would head over around the same time “like clockwork.”
He said the Matthews were always happy to see him, and they even know his order: a large “Kitchen Sink.”
“The Kitchen Sink is the best ice cream flavor I’ve ever had,” Mohammed said. “It’s kind of like this Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-inspired flavor, and I’ve never had it anywhere else.”
The Matthews don’t anticipate expanding to a third location, but they hope to use their recently purchased trailer as an ice cream or food truck.
With the goal of bringing good food and cheerful smiles to customers across Bangor and Bethlehem, the couple said they feel proud of having accomplished what they set out to do.
“We took something that was nothing and made it ours,” Jill Matthews said. “We’re doing it our way and not somebody else’s way.”
The couple agrees they make a great team when it comes to the business.
Despite the ups and downs of owning a business, Norman Matthews said they know they are in it together and working toward the same goal.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said, “and you gotta love it in order to do it.”