Chef and noted Lehigh Valley restaurateur Joe Grisafi is no stranger to Italian cuisine. As the former owner of A Taste of Italy and Roma Ristorante in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, as well as downtown Bethlehem’s Corked and several other local dining establishments, his culinary creations have tickled the tastebuds of many area residents.
Grisafi is now preparing to bring his formidable talents to Hellertown, where he plans to open an as-yet unnamed Italian restaurant at 639 Main Street in early to mid April.
The space in which the restaurant will be located has housed two Italian restaurants over the past 12 years. Bella’s Ristorante was located there from 2011 to 2019, and from the summer of 2019 to April 2022 Ella’s Ristorante occupied the space.
After taking a break from the restaurant business over the last couple of years, Grisafi said he missed it and decided to start fresh in Hellertown in part because he lives nearby.
As a resident of Center Valley for the past decade, he’s familiar with the area and said there is a strong market here for the kind of dining experience he’s developed over the years.
His new Hellertown eatery will be “not (just) another Italian restaurant,” Grisafi said.
“We’re going to be very similar to my dad’s restaurant, which is Vivo,” he said, referring to Vivo Italian Kitchen on Crackersport Road in South Whitehall Township.
With a family-friendly ambience, Grisafi said there will be pizza on his menu, but emphasized that Italian cuisine will take center stage. Patrons should expect to find dishes he has served at some of his former establishments on the new menu; dishes such as Chicken Giuseppe, Shrimp Limoncello, Veal Frangelico and Shrimp & Scallops Spedini, which features a veal cutlet, shrimp, scallops and portabella mushrooms in a pink vodka sauce.
Sauces and bread will be made from scratch and everything on the menu will be be prepared fresh to order, he said, adding that the pasta served will either be fresh-made or imported from Italy.
For guests with a gluten intolerance, there will be a gluten-free pasta, and dishes will be modified upon request to remove any ingredients that may contain wheat.
Grisafi said he’s not sure whether the restaurant will be open for dinner only or for lunch and dinner, but he expects it to be closed Sunday, which he said is reserved for time with his family.
Use of the former Cafe Erica which is attached to the restaurant space is not part of Grisafi’s current plans, which include seating for approximately 120 to 130 guests.
The main dining room will accommodate 70 patrons, he said, while two smaller rooms will hold 25 to 30 each. Those rooms–one of which is upstairs–will be used primarily for larger parties, special occasion gatherings and overflow seating.
Visitors to the restaurant will notice that the main dining area is now more open, with a wall that separated table seating from the former main entrance at the rear now removed.
Grisafi has moved the main entrance to the front of the building, where he said he plans to have outdoor table seating once the weather is warmer.
Use of the restaurant’s back patio is part of his long-term plans, he said.
Grisafi said he is currently hiring for all positions, including servers, and encouraged anyone who is interested to stop by the restaurant to apply on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
When it opens, the restaurant will be BYOB, with reservations available via the Resi and/or OpenTable apps.
Once a name has been chosen and an opening day determined, Grisafi said, he plans to move quickly to create social media accounts and a website to help spread the word.