Gov. Wolf signs bill to bolster outdoor entertainment at bars, restaurants

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1615 into law Monday, a measure that is aimed at making it easier for bars and restaurants to offer outdoor entertainment. 

Now known as Act 67 of 2022, the act allows all liquor license holders to have up to 75 decibels of sound on their property during certain hours, similar to the regulations on wineries. 

 The move has been applauded by the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. 

“During the past two years as a result of COVID, the need for this change grew louder as Pennsylvanians put greater demand on outdoor activities including dining and entertainment,” said Executive Director Chuck Moran. “In the past, any sound on the property line of a bar, tavern, licensed restaurant or club could result in a citation. This essentially caused establishments to hesitate before offering outdoor dining entertainment as part of its outdoor dining experience.” 

 Since the law is effective immediately, now all liquor licensees in counties class 2A through class 8 are permitted up to 75 decibels on their property line from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.   

 “This update to outdated liquor laws is fair. It certainly encourages the use of outdoor dining with a low level of sound such as acoustic music. And we’re sure it will benefit patrons, musicians, and licensed establishments,” said Moran.  


Dave & Buster’s opens at Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall

The much anticipated Dave & Buster’s in Whitehall opens at noon on Monday.

The restaurant, sports bar and game center replaced a number of outbuildings at the Lehigh Valley Mall on Mac Arthur Road, including a former Wendy’s and Friendly’s and an office building that had previously housed tenants such as the Whitehall Area Chamber of Commerce.

The unique destination is expected to be an economic boost to Whitehall’s retail scene as it brings in people from outside of the area.

The closest Dave & Busters’ are in Philadelphia and King of Prussia.

Jeffrey Hartwyk, general manager of the Whitehall Dave & Buster’s, said even before they opened they had people coming to the door trying to come in.

“People aren’t only coming by, but since our phone line has been set up it’s been ringing off the hook,” he said.

People want to know when they’re going to be open, what specials they have and most importantly – what are the safety precautions being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Although the pandemic didn’t stop the opening of the location, it has changed the opening and added challenges for Hartwyk.

He not only has to sell Dave & Buster’s as a destination for fun – something the chain is used to doing – he has to sell it as a place people will be safe while having that fun.

Hartwyk said they have many of the more common safety protocol in place. Mask-wearing will be required for both staff and guest, unless they’re sitting at a table and eating.

Seating will be kept 6-feet apart and the location will only let in 670 people at a time compared to the 1,350 the space can normally serve.

But because part of the fun is playing games, Hartwyk said they’ve had to go further.

Games that are close together will only have every other game working.

There will be sanitation stands where guests can grab gloves and use hand sanitizer.

There is also dedicated staff, called captains, who will be part security and part greeter and will make rounds through the gaming area to make sure masks are worn and everyone is social distancing properly.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Dave & Buster’s concept, Hartwyk said he’s heard people describe it as a Chuck E. Cheese for adults.

“But, I think we’re a bit more than that,” he said. “We’re really a place to come see a game in our bar. And, we don’t serve bar food, we have a full menu of restaurant quality food.”

The restaurant area has everything from entrees to sandwiches and salads, but Hartwyk said the most popular item on the menu tends to be their chicken nachos, which features marinated, shredded tinga chicken over house-made nachos with plenty of toppings and cheese.

They also have a full line of specialty cocktails. He said the favorite seems to be the strawberry margarita, which is made with strawberry ice cubes, so the flavor gets better as the ice melts.

The midway area, he said, has something for everyone.

Generation Xers will find some classic video games like Space Invaders and Pac Man.

For those seeking the most modern gaming there are virtual reality platform games, including Jedi Dojo, where players get to wield a light saber.

There of course is also a wide variety of carnival-style games where players can earn tickets to redeem in the prize shop.

Because of COVID-19 hours have been reduced to meet state guidelines.

The bar will be open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Pocono theater puts video games on the big screen

A staffer plays a video game at the Casino Theatre in Mount Pocono. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –


If you go to the Casino Theatre in Mount Pocono you’ll find Mario Kart instead of “Casablanca”.

The movie theater and entertainment complex is now offering its big screens for video games to bring in fresh revenue while the movie industry is in a lull.

The Casino Theatre was faced the same problem every other movie theater in Pennsylvania has had from the COVID-19 pandemic: limits on seating would cut into profits if there were any new movies to show or people coming in to watch them.

But stuck with old movies as a substitute for the normal summer blockbusters movies studios have put on hold, Karen Struckle, owner of the Casino Theatre, said they’ve been getting nowhere close to the limit of 25 people in each of their two theaters.

In fact, more often than not, the theaters, which were designed to hold 165 and 135 people, have less than a half dozen people during a showing.

“We had to reinvent ourselves to get through this God-knows-how-long-it-will-last pandemic,” Struckle said. “Everything has changed because there are just no new movies.”

Luckily for Struckle, the Casino Theatre is more than just a movie theater, it’s an entertainment destination with a 50s malt shop-themed dining area, a 60-flavor ice cream shop, party room and mini-golf.

But without that big movie draw, attendance and revenue were way down said Struckle, so her husband, Don, found a way to connect video gaming systems to their two movie projectors. Now, instead of movies they’re booking video game parties where groups of up to 25 people play games on a Nintendo Switch, or bring in their own system to play their favorite games on the big 32-foot screens.

While the intent is for parties, Struckle said anyone can rent one of the two theaters for up to three hours. Games can be played by a single person, or there are a total of eight switch controllers so friends can play in a group.

“We have a Mario Cart game, but you can bring other switch games. You can even bring in another system and my husband will hook it up to the projectors,” she said.

The theaters can be rented for $100 for the first hour and then $25 for each additional hour. There are food packages available for groups and parties.

Struckle hopes the new offering will help bring needed revenue to the theater on Route 611, which her family has owned since 1975.

She noted that the name, Casino Theatre, has nothing to do with the nearby Mount Airy Casino Resort. Instead, the word Casino comes from the Italian word meaning “gathering place.” With the new giant video game screen offerings, she hopes the business can remain a gathering place into the future.

“We’re trying something different that’s not just old movies,” she said.

PPL Center earns fourth spot on national arena ranking list

Allentown’s PPL Center recently earned a top spot among the world’s major concert venues following Pollstar’s 2019 Year-End Rankings. (File photo)

Allentown’s PPL Center recently earned a top spot among the world’s major concert venues following Pollstar’s 2019 Year-End Rankings.


Pollstar, a worldwide trade publication for the concert industry, released its year-end report revealing worldwide rankings for number of tickets sold for venues of all sizes across the globe. Among the arena venues reported worldwide, PPL Center ranked as the fourth highest arena in the United States with 10,000 seats or fewer, according to a news release.

Further, PPL Center has retained its title of Pennsylvania’s third highest arena on Pollstar’s chart for Top 200 Arenas for a second consecutive year, behind only Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center and PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

“We have welcomed a number of remarkable events to PPL Center in the past five years and we will continue to strive to provide a diverse line-up in the years to come,” said Gunnar Fox, vice president and general manager of PPL Center, in a statement. “We have built great relationships with promoters and agents who help us make the magic happen, and we are all looking forward to an exciting line-up for 2020 and beyond, continuing to turn events into memorable experiences for our guests.”

“To be listed among these amazing venues is an incredibly exciting honor for our team and downtown Allentown as a whole,” Fox said. “This recognition simply would not have been possible without the Lehigh Valley community who attends our events each year, in turn, supporting our ongoing efforts and the role PPL Center plays in the revitalization of the downtown.”

Many officials view the arena at PPL Center, which opened in 2014, as a major contributor to the revitalization and growth of the city’s downtown.

The arena draws more than 500,000 fans to downtown each year.

PPL Center closed 2019 as the busiest concert year since the arena opened.

Grant aids ArtsQuest effort to build new cultural center

ArtsQuest has plans for an 80,000-square-foot cultural center at the Banana Factory site that will include the adaptive reuse of two buildings, as well as new construction, resulting in a three-story, contemporary arts facility. (Submitted) –

ArtsQuest earned an additional investment in its plan to build an $18 million cultural center on the site of the Banana Factory in South Bethlehem.

The nonprofit arts organization received a $45,000 Community Improvement Grant from Northampton County and plans to use the matching grant from the county’s Community Investment Partnership Program toward the construction of the new cultural center, which is in the planning phases.

The new, 80,000-square-foot cultural center will include the adaptive reuse of two buildings, as well as new construction, resulting in a three-story, contemporary arts facility, said Mark Demko, senior director of communications for ArtsQuest.

The new center will include a pre-K arts-based education program, a 125-seat comedy club, a 5,000-square-foot glass studio, and new digital, print, fiber arts, video, woodworking and other studios.

MKSD architects of South Whitehall Township is the architect for the project.

The new center will also allow ArtsQuest to increase its resident artist studio spaces by 25 percent, as well as feature two art plazas, outdoor classrooms and digital design displays, Demko said. The organization also received state funds from the state’s Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program to support the two outdoor plazas, he added.

“Plans continue to shape up well,” Demko said. “We are still working through the approval process. We are still in the development stages.”

The organization does not have an exact construction start date but Demko said it could possibly begin in 2021.

However, the organization is also working on a renovation project at its main campus that’s expected to be completed much sooner than that.

Patrick Brogan, chief programming officer at ArtsQuest, said the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks is undergoing a first floor renovation that should be complete in May 2020.

The project is part of ArtsQuest’s capital campaign.

Brogan said ArtsQuest is looking to re-open that space with a new kitchen with a full-scale restaurant called Palette & Pour in the space where the William Yee Connect Zone is. It will also build an outdoor bar area called Central Tap, which will be at the back of the Air Products Town Square stage.

“We are also moving the gift shop and putting in a better staging area for local and national artists,” Brogan said. “We are investing in better acoustics to increase the quality so it’s a place you want to come and hear a concert.”

In addition, a larger bar will replace the current concession stand on the first floor.

The Stacks Shop (gift shop) will have some merchandise available at the new box office.

“We are going to add some elements of the gift shop to the box office and also enhance the gift shop already at the visitors’ center.”

The organization will move the box office to the wall just inside the ArtsQuest Center front doors, which creates a more open space for patrons who enter the building.

What inspired the decision to make these changes?

Brogan said the success of the outdoor concerts at the Levitt Pavilion, which often attract 1,500 guests multiple times per week is a factor. The organization would like to replicate that type of success indoors on a smaller scale.

“Locally and nationally touring acts will offer free concerts,” Brogan said. “We saw an opportunity to redesign the first floor to allow for a better guest experience. Our kitchen on the first floor was not able to offer menu items people were looking for.”

As a result, ArtsQuest’s food and beverage company, Levy Restaurants, based in Chicago, plans to expand their staff, Brogan said.

Though he declined to disclose the estimated construction costs of the renovation project, Brogan said it was a significant investment.

MKSD architects and Boyle Construction of South Whitehall Township are the firms working on the project.



Seeing success with Thai cuisine, restaurateur embarks on next dining venture

With White Orchids restaurant now in its 12th year at the Promenade Shops in Saucon Valley, the owners of that establishment have added a new concept to their portfolio.

Restaurateurs Jeff Virojanapa, along with Chumroon and Pornpun Virojanapa will host an official grand opening of Notch Modern Kitchen & Bar on Oct. 16 with a ribbon cutting at 5:30 p.m. at 5036 Hamilton Blvd. in Lower Macungie Township.

White Orchids owner Jeff Virojanapa has opened a second restaurant in Lower Macungie Township. (Submitted) –

With this new restaurant, the owners will depart from the traditional Thai cuisine featured at White Orchids and offer an American menu with Asian influences.

“We are looking to explore different Asian flavors,” Virojanapa said.

The menu includes variations on familiar American meals such as chicken wings, crab fritters, smoked tuna dip, fried chicken, pork ribs, fish and chips and hamburgers.

A resident of Center Valley, Jeff Virojanapa said he grew up in the Lower Macungie area and he and his folks wanted to own their own property in the township. They decided to start from the ground up and create a new restaurant in a building formerly occupied by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, a real estate firm.

“It was the original first school house in that area,” Virojanapa said. “It has some local history to it. They [the township] wanted to maintain the integrity of the building. We’ve been looking for a spot for the past four years.”

After taking ownership of the building in December 2018, the owners worked with Boyle Construction of South Whitehall Township and Alloy5, an architecture firm in Bethlehem to create the restaurant. DesignPoint Inc. of Hanover Township, Northampton County, was the interior designer.

Virojanapa said the overall total investment in the project is nearly $10 million, including construction costs and the purchase of the building.

Situated across from Hamilton Crossings, a large outdoor shopping center, the 6,000-square-foot restaurant can seat up to 200 people in multiple areas.

A second floor balcony can hold up to 65 people and the restaurant includes a raised patio that’s about 20 feet above ground level overlooking Hamilton Boulevard, he added.

The restaurant includes a 20-seat island bar and a variety of specialty cocktails, beer and wine.

Executive chef Tyler Baxter, formerly of Emeril’s Chophouse in Bethlehem, helms the kitchen while beverage manager Joshua Coates leads the bar.

Overall, Notch employs about 50 people, as does White Orchids, he added.

Virojanapa said he also has private dining space on the second floor for private events that can accommodate up to 65 people.

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce will host the ribbon cutting at 5:30 p.m. with an opening party from 5 to 7 p.m.

Former Mary Immaculate Center to be reborn as an agricultural resort and spa

The site of a former Catholic seminary in Lehigh Township will become home to a mixed-use development that includes a hotel, meeting and event space, restaurants, spa and wellness center.

After receiving land development approval for the first part of the project in late August, David Jaindl, owner and president of Jaindl Land Co., said he hopes to begin construction later this year.

Jaindl said he received approvals from the township after four and a half years of working on the project. The first step involved getting the zoning in place and then filing a land development plan for phase one.

The plan calls for converting the former Mary Immaculate Center, part of a 600-acre property at 300 Cherryville Road in Northampton County.

Jaindl Land Co. recently received approval from Lehigh Township for the first part of a redevelopment of the former Mary Immaculate Center. (Submitted) –

“It’s a beautiful structure, it’s in great condition,” Jaindl said. “We are trying to repurpose it. We are keeping the chapel which will be a wedding venue.”

The property, which has been vacant for many years, sits back from the main road and on one of the highest spots in Northampton County.

The plan also includes construction of several detached buildings that will become a hotel with a portion of the rooms inside an existing structure and the remainder in a new building. Overall, he plans to create 206 hotel rooms.

The project includes a 124,000-square-foot main structure in addition to a 9,000-square-foot convent that will become a spa and wellness center.

A barn with a working greenhouse and event space will support farm-to-table dining options, he added.

Jaindl plans to complete the development in early 2022 and announce a formal name for the project at the end of September.

“We do a lot of land development projects from the ground up,” Jaindl said. “We like the structure. We’ve been looking at it for a long time.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia had users that wanted to take the structures down and Jaindl said he did not want to see that happen. He bought the land from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2016.

“We felt it was a great repurpose,” Jaindl said. “It’s an aggressive project, but it’s a project we feel very confident in completing.”

The second phase will feature a 500-unit residential portion, that still requires land development approval. These single-family homes will include some detached and attached units and will give homeowners the ability to access the resort amenities.

Jaindl said he plans to submit a concept plan to the township for the residential units within the next two months and potentially start the approval process. If the economy continues to perform well, he plans to start construction on the housing portion next fall.

“For the resort, we are going to have crop farming, grapevines, and orchards,” Jaindl said. “We have a little bit of experience on the agricultural side. We hired an operator that will be operating the facility.”

He hired Two Roads Hospitality as the operator. Jaindl’s son, Adam, is vice president of land development and serving as project VP.

Jaindl plans to start planting grapevines and orchards this spring and do a lot of organic work with crop farming.

Though he has not hired a general contractor yet to start construction, he plans to bid that project out. He said he did hire a contractor to get a pricing estimate. He also hired a design firm.

He declined to provide an estimated construction cost for the project.

The project could potentially add up to 300 jobs to the region when it opens, he added.

Cindy Miller, vice chair of the Lehigh Township board of supervisors, said the job creation is an important component of the project.

“We are basically a rural area so that’s important to us,” Miller said. “It will bring increases in tax revenue. We are looking for a way to protect the local economy especially when there’s a downturn.”

By improving the infrastructure of the property, it could raise the standard of living for residents of the township, she added. The project also opens opportunities for the township to apply for grants that it wasn’t able to before, she said.

As an example, with the addition of a hotel on the property, the township could qualify for hotel tax funds.

She sees positive benefits with taking a vacant building and repurposing it, particularly since it had been vacant for many years. Now, the project would bring many different amenities to the township.

“There was a potential down the road that this could become blighted,” Miller said.

She described the property as being one of a kind in the valley.