Lehigh Valley restaurant owners spent the end of last week scrambling to make accommodations for new dining restrictions, which were announced by Gov. Tom Wolf last Thursday. The short-notice and frantic modifications are something local restaurant owners have grown accustomed to throughout the course of the COVID pandemic.
“We’ve had to change our business model nine times in the last nine months,” said Rachel Griffith, who owns the Apollo Grill in downtown Bethlehem.
Griffith, like many restaurant owners, was looking forward to making it through what is commonly the busiest time of year for the restaurant industry without any new restrictions. Instead, the governor’s mid-holiday season announcement has tasked state restaurants with continuing to find new ways to safely serve customers.
Apollo Grill has already been utilizing a large tent to serve customers outside. Griffith said the restaurant will now have to continue using it for the next three weeks at least, even through dicey December weather.
“At this point, we’re forced to utilize outdoor dining as long as the December weather cooperates,” she said. “Obviously we can’t predict the weather, and what it’s going to be like next week or the week after that, but we have that tent which we are going to be making sure to utilize.”
Apollo Grill is also offering takeout deals throughout the holidays as a way for people to support the business through the end of the year.
They are offering an ultimate Christmas Eve takeout deal, which includes a few appetizers, a margarita pizza and an assortment of desserts and drinks. Additionally, they continue to offer a VIP takeout deal, which consists of a variety of appetizers and drinks, as well as their regular menu for curbside pickup.
More information about Apollo Grill’s special takeout deals can be found on their website.
As big of a lifeline as takeout and outdoor dining has been, Griffith fears there won’t be enough demand to prevent the restaurant from potentially losing money over the course of the next three weeks.
She hypothesized that restaurants could have saved a lot of money if the governor had given them more than 36 hours to adjust to the new restrictions, which were announced on the afternoon of Dec. 10 and took effect at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 12.
“You can’t tell us Thursday at 4 o’ clock that we are shutting down our indoor dining in the middle of December in 36 hours. We already ordered the food, we’ve already paid for the liquor,” Griffith said. “Things will go bad, so we could potentially be losing thousands and thousands of dollars that we’ve already spent because of the fact that we sell perishable goods.”
Griffith would have been in favor of a complete shutdown of non-life-sustaining businesses along the lines of what the state did in March. Instead, she feels that the restaurant industry is being unnecessarily targeted.
“Why keep picking on the bars and restaurants when we are the only industry that is mandated and policed by the PLCB, the LCE, state health departments, local health departments?” she asked. “Whereas these big box stores are not even wiping surfaces down. There’s lines. There’s crowds of people.”
Griffith said Apollo Grill is fortunate to receive the support it does from the community, and she urged everyone to continue supporting small businesses like hers.
“At this point, the name of the game is just getting the local support of the community,” she said. “The community needs to understand that Amazon is not the answer this year.”
Braveheart Highland Pub in Hellertown has also become accustomed to modifying how they serve customers. Over the summer, the pub put the finishing touches on their new outdoor deck, which has been essential for providing outdoor dining options throughout the pandemic.
Now, the eatery has another creative outdoor dining accommodation: ice fishing tents.
Andy Lee, owner of Braveheart, said a pair of Eskimo-brand ice fishing tents should be ready for dining in this week.
“They’re very structurally sound, actually,” Lee said. “They’re pretty awesome to be honest.”
Lee said each tent could be used to comfortably seat six people. The restaurant has electric heaters for warming the tents, which he said should maintain a comfortable temperature of around 60 degrees.
The deck itself will also undergo modifications to help it maintain a more comfortable temperature throughout the winter. Lee said a door will be installed at its entrance, and the entire deck will be enclosed with high-quality, see-through canvas.
“That will be permanently affixed to the structure, and then in the summer we can just roll the canvas up and open the entire deck,” Lee said.
Lee said the canvas can allow the deck’s temperature to get up to 70 degrees, while still maintaining airflow because of slots beneath the deck.
Braveheart is also offering a holiday takeout deal. Their Scottish sampler includes their meat pie, banger and bridie, and it is already available to be ordered.
“You can make it at home with your assortment of vegetables, mashed potatoes or whatever you want to make with it,” Lee said.
Gift cards for the pub can be ordered from Braveheart’s website.
Yianni’s Taverna, which recently reopened in Lower Saucon Township, is responding to the latest round of restrictions with a new service they’re calling the Yianni’s Experience.
“We will create a personalized, customized menu for you based on your needs, and we will deliver the food and provide the Yianni’s experience in your own home,” said John Kikrilis, who handles media relations for the restaurant.
The service allows Yianni’s customers to order their favorite menu items, which are then delivered hot, along with guidance on how to recreate the Yianni’s experience at home.
“We’ll provide the wine pairings for you. We’ll provide the music playlist. We’ll provide videos that give a tutorial as to how to create the cocktails in your own home,” Kikrilis said. “The chef is going to prepare a list of menu descriptors, so our guests have an understanding as to how to execute the style of service in their own home.”
Kikrilis said the service is also completely contact-less, so guests don’t have to worry about being exposed the same way they might during a regular dining-out experience. Upon delivery, someone from the restaurant will provide customers with the guidance they need from a safe distance.
“The important thing is maintaining our integrity and making sure that the product that you are experiencing in your home reflects the values, virtues and candor of the menu that you would get in the restaurant,” Kikrilis said.
The experience can be ordered for parties of all sizes, however Yianni’s asks that orders are placed with at least 48-hour notice due to the personalized nature of the deal.
The experience can be ordered by calling the restaurant, or by calling Kikrilis directly at (570) 977-6044.
Yianni’s continues to offer outdoor dining on its patio as well.
“We’re being very steadfast about the six-foot distance, and wearing masks,” said Kikrilis. “We have hand sanitizer throughout the restaurant, and, of course, all of the safety components that are necessary in the kitchen and front-of-house are being executed with fidelity.”
Reservations for outdoor dining, as well as gift card purchases can be arranged by calling the restaurant.
Just up the road from Yianni’s, Bolete in Salisbury Township will soon be unveiling their own unique take on outdoor dining. The restaurant has been teasing the arrival of their winter village, which will consist of a variety of cozy cabins for guests to dine in.
Be sure to follow Bolete’s Facebook page for updates on the village, which is being assembled in the restaurant’s parking area.
They are also offering their own version of a take-home experience with their Bolete Christmas at Home deal. Meals must be pre-ordered by Dec. 20, and customers can create their own personalized menu from Bolete’s holiday offerings. Seasonal libations are also offered as part of the service.
Steel Club in Lower Saucon Township will shift its attention to its recently-opened Alley Bar & Grille, a heated outdoor dining venue, following the latest round of restrictions.
“As we have continued to do the past nine months, we are adapting to the fluctuating circumstances,” the restaurant announced in a recent newsletter update.
“The Alley Bar & Grille has quickly become a very popular outdoor, heated venue. The radiant gas heaters in the ceiling provide plenty of warmth, while open sides allow for fresh air circulation,” they announced.
During the course of the next three weeks, Steel Club plans on serving its Beam Yard menu using heated, covered china in the Alley Bar & Grille. The restaurant is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Sundays, brunch is offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with dinner being served from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Steel Club is still planning on hosting their Dinner with Santa event on Wednesday, Dec. 16 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Follow Steel Club on Facebook for updates and developments.