Carlos Rodriguez stands in the kitchen of Sam's Restaurant on March 22, 2024. Sam's Restaurant offers affordably priced food for Lehigh students and Bethlehem residents. (Ruby Chen/B&W Staff)

More than a restaurant: Sam’s Restaurant blends passion for family, food and ministry


When Carlos Rodriguez opened the doors of Sam’s Restaurant at 400 Broadway in South Bethlehem in February, he had more in mind than just offering authentic Puerto Rican food at affordable prices.

“The story starts with my dad,” Carlos Rodriguez said. “My dad has had his restaurant, Munchies, in Brooklyn for over 55 years.”

Taking after their father, Carlos Rodriguez and his two older brothers began working in the food industry. The business first existed as a food truck selling hotdogs with the help of his son on the streets of New York City.

Carlos Rodriguez, however, didn’t stop there.

In the same way his father passed down the food industry to his sons, Carlos Rodriguez opened his first restaurant in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, after surprising his son with the keys to the building.

“I kind of threw him into the fire, like my dad did with me,” Carlos Rodriguez said. “At first he embraced it, but then he didn’t want to do it. It’s a back-and-forth thing. I’m trying to let him know that he has a gift for cooking.”

Samuel Rodriguez — Carlos Rodriguez’s son —  said his nervousness about working at the restaurant has faded over time, and he now enjoys working alongside his dad.

“It doesn’t feel like a job,” Samuel Rodriguez said. “It just feels like I’m helping him out.”

The father-son-duo have taken on the food industry with stride. They moved to Bethlehem after their building in Catasauqua was condemned.

When told the restaurant would be forced to close, Carlos Rodriguez knew he had to find a way to keep the dream alive for his son. He planned to resort back to a food truck, but quickly abandoned the idea after receiving a call that a new location had opened up in Bethlehem.

So far, business for Carlos Rodriguez has exceeded expectations.

“You would have been amazed at what was happening here,” Carlos Rodriguez said. “People were sitting almost at every booth. People standing, people calling, and the food was just getting out there. It’s been tremendous. Yeah, that’s the word: tremendous.”

He compared his prices to those of restaurants in the 1980s and has even started offering a discount for Lehigh students.

Having previously worked as a chef in multiple college dining halls — including Lehigh’s Rathbone Hall — Carlos Rodriguez says he enjoys the energy that comes with being around college students.

While the business is still new to the area, he hopes that Sam’s Restaurant can eventually become a place that busy students gravitate toward to find camaraderie, relaxation and good food.

“It would be great to have them all up in here, making all that noise like they do in the cafeteria,” Carlos Rodriguez said.

While Carlos Rodriguez takes pride in serving authentic Puerto Rican fare, he also includes American food like hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, onion rings and even Philly cheese steaks.

“When people ask, ‘What’s good here?’ I like to say, ‘We have everything except Chinese food and pizza, and we do make pizza pastelillos,’” Carlos Rodriguez said.

At Sam’s Restaurant, both Carlos Rodriguez’s passion for cooking and desire to provide for his family are reflected in the presentation of his food.

“When I present my food to people, I want them to be able to look at it and say, ‘Man, he’s got kids,’” Carlos Rodriguez said. “Joy is probably not even the word to explain it. I don’t think there’s a word to explain how I feel about cooking, especially for people.”

Wanda Ortiz, an employee at Sam’s Restaurant who has known Carlos and Samuel Rodriguez for years, said her favorite part of her job is working alongside the duo.

“(Carlos) treats us like a family,” Ortiz said.“I enjoy my time with him and with his son.”

Carlos Rodriguez is also a minister. He aims to work and live in a way that reflects the character of Jesus.

“I remember my first day open, I prayed for a gentleman that was on drugs right here,” Carlos Rodriguez said. “He came in and asked for prayer, not knowing I was a minister or anything.”

Although Carlos Rodriguez has been able to share his Gospel even while working in the food industry, his plans for the future of Sam’s Restaurant include building a staff reliable enough so that he can venture outside the restaurant to preach the word of God.

“My goal is this: to get a staff here so that I don’t have to be here, so that I can go and stand on corners again, preaching the Gospel,” Carlos Rodriguez said. “That’s what I want to do, 24/7.”

Carlos Rodriguez currently has four locations of his restaurants across multiple states. Sam’s Restaurant is named after his son, Samuel.

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