Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where should he open a Middle Eastern restaurant in the Lehigh Valley?

I received a reader email this week from a woman whose nephew very wants to open a small, family-run restaurant with a modern middle eastern menu. She writes:
"He will be putting all of his savings into this venture. I know how fickle the restaurant biz is. Do you have any advice for him as to anew growth location ...a bad location... where growth is going? Is the area around Lehigh University...a good location? what do you think??? any advice is great. Thank so much. Aunt Sharon"
First of all - Aunt Sharon, you are awesome. If/when your nephew's place opens, I'd like to share a modern middle eastern meal with you, whatever that means! Second, I think now is an awesome time to start a business, especially if you don't need bank financing. Your nephew can even get advice from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Lehigh University. The SBDC provides consulting services and educational programs to entrepreneurs wanting to start or grow a small business. Their consultants can help test a new business proposition, shape a business plan, or find funding. If I were going to open a small business, I'd look to the areas where other young entrepreneurs are finding success. One test? If a business with a demographic to my target market has renewed its lease (maybe more than once!). So, a young, first-time business owner wants to serve up Middle Eastern cuisine, with modern vibe. A few neighborhoods come to mind.

  • First, check out Seventh Street in Allentown. If your nephew wants to be along the Valley's "ethnic restaurant row," this is it. It's where many people go to find authentic Caribbean, Chinese, Mediterranean, Thai, Mexican, Central American, Italian, and southern cuisine. Call Peter Lewnes at 7th Street.

  • Next, look at the south side of Bethlehem. Businesses like Loose Threads, Homebase, Eskandalo, and Shuze have found that proximity to Lehigh University and Moravian College, as well as a growing shopping/dining/arts district, means good foot traffic for reasonable rents. Ethnic restaurants like General Zapata, Tulum, Nawab, Thai Kitchen and Olive Branch do brisk take-out and eat-in business. Call Samantha Schwartz at the Downtown Bethlehem Association.

  • Finally, research downtown Easton. The food scene in Easton is arguably the best in the Valley. Many Easton restaurants have a full book on Friday and Saturday nights. Lafayette College is nearby, and Easton's proximity to New Jersey (and its residents' taste for food they've tasted in New York and its suburbs) means you've got a decently sophisticated palette to work with. There is already one good Middle Eastern restaurant, Phoenicia, but that shouldn't preclude you from calling Kim Kmetz at Easton Main Street.
Readers - any thoughts? Especially business owners?


  1. Anonymous11/24/2010

    2000 Census data shows that Allentown has a high Syrian population 1.8% and also Lebanese .3%, Arabic .6%. Compared to Bethlehem which is .2% Syrian, .2& Lebanese, .2% Arabic. Since Allentown also has 35,000 more people it is clear it has a substantially higher ethnic base for a mid eastern restaurant. I am no restaurateur but the stats are interesting. I got them from

  2. Anonymous11/25/2010

    I would argue that southside bethlehem near Lehigh is probably the current area which would be most amenable to a middle eastern restaurant and also is underrepresented (only the Olive Branch). Allentown actually already has quite a few great middle eastern restaurants, and though I do think Easton's restaurant scene is pretty great, there is a considerably bigger market in Southside Bethlehem.

  3. thanks for the nod - I have a couple of interesting locations for this gentleman to look at on 7th if he's still in the market for opening a restaurant. Just yesterday someone mentioned we needed a Middle Eastern restaurant on the street.