Greater Lehigh Valley restaurants ready to dive in to dine-in service

PJ Whelihan’s in Lehighton is in Carbon County, which has already had indoor dining for a few weeks. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –


It’s June 26, the day that the Greater Lehigh Valley goes green in the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan.

And, it’s the day area restaurants can begin offering indoor dining for the first time since mid-March.

Because of the dramatic loss in revenue some restaurants, like the Ritz Barbeque, a longtime Allentown favorite, were forced to close. But for those that survived, there’s hope that going green will help them get back into the black even if they have to operate at 50% capacity.

John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, said this day has been much anticipated.

“Six weeks ago when I was talking to restaurant owners it was a pretty discouraging time,” he said. “The mood is now significantly shifted.”

For the past few months many restaurants got by on their takeout or delivery business. During the shutdown, Chris Webb, vice president of Design and Development for PJW Restaurant Group, said their takeout increased dramatically over what they would traditionally see, which was mostly just an occasional order or two. Still, with no inside seating, that only recouped around 15% of the restaurants’ normal revenue. Most of the staff had to be laid off.

For Biaggio’s, a pizzeria and Family restaurant in South Whitehall Township, takeout was always a large part of their business so owner Joe Ruffino was able to keep staff working, and working hard. But the dining room at Biaggio’s was usually full most days, so it was still a large loss.

The restaurants are happy for the extra revenue indoor seating will allow. Web has already seen how things worked at PJ’s Lehighton location, which went green a few weeks ago. The open indoor tables were quickly filled when it reopened. He also found that demand for takeout didn’t drop off. The restaurant now had two sources of income. Web expects the same when the chain opens its Allentown, Bethlehem and Walbert’s locations in the Lehigh Valley today.

Longstreet said that is a key to restaurants regaining lost revenue – capitalizing on the new sources of revenue that were created by the pandemic. A restaurant owner in Erie who has been open for a few weeks already, told him they were doing the same in sales as this time last year when they were at 100% capacity because of the additional takeout revenue.

“That’s good news,” Longstreet said. “This will help them get over the hump of this devastating loss of revenue.”

Webb said most of the municipalities where PJ’s has restaurants have been extremely helpful with zoning changes and allowing things such as outdoor dining – some cities have even shut down streets to accommodate tables.

“The municipalities have been great. Some made changes without us even having to ask for help,” he said.

He hopes those municipalities will let some of those special exceptions continue so that the restaurants have additional seating outside to make up for the loss of seating indoors. “We hope we would be able to keep those tables open through Halloween.”

Longstreet said that limited seating will be a challenge and restaurants will have to be creative on how they rearrange their operations to accommodate social distancing.

Fifty percent capacity is based on fire codes and it might be difficult for many restaurants to actually get a whole 50% and still abide by social distancing regulations, he said. Ruffino, for example, thinks he will be able to accommodate seating for 24, much less than half of his normal 72.

Longstreet said other restaurants have tried things like adding tables to waiting areas, which can’t be used as is because congregating isn’t allowed.

“Tables can be placed there and add seating,” he said.

Ruffino has no such area, but said he will continue to use the small amount of tables he has on the sidewalk outside his restaurant. But his greatest concern, with his small space, is helping customers understand the need for social distancing and mask wearing.

It’s a challenge they are addressing at PJ’s as well. They’ll have masks for those who forget theirs and will enforce mask wearing rules.

Ruffino said it’s important to be strict with the rule, but to do it kindly, and he’s worked with his staff on “controlling the situation” if there is a customer who enters the restaurant without a mask.

“You have to have courteous control,” he said. “People who have been working through this whole scenario act differently than people who have been at home all this time. They might not think about it as much.”

He said he’s told his staff if they expect a good response they’re more likely to get it and he reminds everyone that they should just concentrate on how happy they are to be dining out again.

Mount Airy Casino Resort to reopen Monday

Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono is reopening June 22. PHOTO/FILE –


Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono said it’s reopening on Monday, June 22. It has been closed since March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it did reopen its golf club on May 2.

The casino does need to get Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approval.

With that approval, the casino will open at noon with social distancing and safety measures in place.

To meet CDC guidelines the casino floor and restaurants will be limited to 50% capacity for now.

“We have made a commitment to providing our guests with the highest standards of cleanliness and safety,” said Glenn Cademartori, vice president of marketing at Mount Airy. “The safety and well-being of our team members and guests are our top priority and we are confident that the measures in place will ensure a safe, clean and enjoyable experience for all. In working with the PGCB and regional healthcare professionals, we have implemented a multitude of new policies and procedures that will keep everyone safe but still allow them to experience the many things they love about our resort.”

He noted that the casino resort has undergone an extensive sanitizing and staff have been trained in upgraded cleaning protocol.

Guests and staff will be required to wear masks while on property.

Hand sanitizing stations have been added throughout the property to ensure that all guests and staff are cleaning their hands as frequently as possible

There will also be disinfecting wipes to clean machines.

The casino resort also installed plexiglass dividers at all transactional locations.

Other preventative measures include temperature checks, spacing between slot machines and seats at table games.

The poker room and sports book will remain closed until further notice. The spa and fitness center will be open following CDC guidelines.

Bethlehem business leaders launch #BacktoBethlehem campaign

Screengrab of a video where Angela DelGrosso, senior vice president of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, and other local business leaders encourage the community to support Bethlehem’s small businesses. –


As the Lehigh Valley begins the yellow phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, merchants and restaurants in Bethlehem want people to know they’re open for business and safe to visit.

A #BacktoBethlehem campaign has been launched by the Bethlehem Chamber, Downtown Bethlehem Association, Southside Arts District and Community Action Development Corp. of Bethlehem.

The effort is to support small businesses in their reopening efforts and to get business owners to pledge to the “Vow of the Valley” that they will adhere to all of the CDC guidelines on sanitizing and social distancing.

“The reason we are doing this is that our local organizations have been doing a great job at getting businesses ready, but we want the public to know that, and we want the public to know what is expected of them,” said Angela DelGrosso, senior vice president of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.

Those businesses participating in the campaign will have signage in their stores and restaurants that remind the public that they need to wear masks to enter their establishments, maintain social distancing and try to have a little patience as businesses adjust to the new protocols.

“This is all mostly so we can make the community feel safe that these businesses have committed to following the CDC guidelines,” DelGrosso said.

The effort is also providing support to the city’s businesses.

The organizers distributed 10,000 masks to businesses for employees to use while on duty. They were donated by DLP Real Estate through the South Carolina-based SC Health.

The Downtown Bethlehem Association has also lent its pop up tents, normally used for events, so that it will be easier for restaurants to have outdoor dining.

A website has been set up so that the community can see which businesses are participating and get more information about business operations in yellow. It can be found at https://www.lehighvalleychamber.org/backtobethlehem.html

Promenade Shops ready for ‘yellow’ reopening

With the Lehigh Valley entering the yellow phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley will be reopening for modified hour. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –


With the Lehigh Valley entering the yellow phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley will be reopening for modified hours, and prepared to accommodate outdoor dining and curbside pickup at retailers.

According to a press release, the mall will be open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 pm. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Some retailers and restaurants, however, may have different hours.

The outdoor lifestyle center said it has created temporary curbside pick-up zones throughout the center and has extended its patio space for the center’s restaurants to use.

Some stores, like the Fresh Market, which is a grocery store have been open during the pandemic shutdown and some of the restaurants have been offering pickup and delivery services which will continue in addition to the availability of outdoor dining.

The center’s management said cleaning staff will be working to clean, sanitize and disinfect common areas throughout the day.

Carbon County celebrates turning ‘yellow’ with ‘Carbon County Strong Day’

Jim Thorpe as seen from the top of Flagstaff Mountain. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES –


The Carbon Chamber & Economic Development Corp. is declaring Saturday Carbon County Strong Day to celebrate the county’s shift to the yellow phase of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation plan starting today.

Because the county is going yellow, some businesses will be able to open starting today.

Child care centers, in-person retail and outdoor recreation can reopen following CDC guidelines for virus prevention.

Alice Wanamaker, assistant vice president of the Carbon Chamber said Jim Thorpe, in particular, is planning for a big weekend with most of its small shops, including the 5 and 10, Nature’s Trail and Wear It Again Boutique reopening along with most of its eateries offering takeout.

The move to yellow couldn’t come at a better time, Wanamaker said. “Memorial Day weekend is normally one of our biggest weekends and we’re looking forward to a really big weekend in Jim Thorpe,” she said.

The chamber has been working with businesses to make sure they’re educated on safety protocol and emboldened to enforce it.

“We’re telling them if someone tries to come into your shop without a mask kick them out. It’s your space,” she said.

The chamber is urging the public to use caution and have patience. Some may have to wait to get into some shops to avoid overcrowding.  Handwashing stations will be available throughout the downtown.

Some businesses will not be reopening. Gyms, salons and spas will remain closed under the guidelines. Gatherings of more than 25 people remain prohibited.

Even with some businesses reopening, the Carbon Strong event Saturday will be held virtually.

Celebration participants are encouraged to wear their Carbon County Strong T-shirts, which have been sold through the Carbon County Chamber website as a fundraiser for local businesses that have been struggling during the shutdown.

Those who don’t have one are asked to wear shirts that have the name of Carbon County businesses they support, or their local school. The chamber is also asking visitors post a photo on social media using the hashtag #CarbonCountyStrong.

DelVal plans reopening of campus for fall semester

Delaware Valley University in Doylestown announced today that it is creating plans to hold classes on campus for the fall 2020 semester.

“We will follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania regarding how we open campus,” said DelVal President Dr. Maria Gallo. “There is no question that our students, faculty and staff want to be together as a community again.”

In a press release the school said that its senior administration is working to develop a specific reopening plan.

“We will provide updates over the coming weeks as we work through the details for opening the campus to students,” she said.

An implementation task force will coordinate those plans with strategies for social distancing and other protocols that may be required for a safe opening.

Pa. mostly relying on citizens to ‘self-enforce’ pandemic restrictions

Pennsylvania State Police are giving written warnings to Pennsylvanians who don’t comply with Gov. Tom Wolf’s order to wear a mask, but state officials are mostly relying on Pennsylvanians to “self enforcing” the directive.

In addition, Wolf said there is no one-size-fits-all plan to reopen the state. The Governor set May 8 as a target date to relax some restrictions, but said that some counties will be ready to open before others.

While Pennsylvania has joined neighboring states on a shared data taskforce to help guide the reopening, Wolf said that Pennsylvania will have its own timeline.

“Data won’t be determined by what New York is doing or any other state,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take into account that we share borders with other states. The virus doesn’t recognize state borders.”

Pennsylvania joins neighboring states to plan a return to normal

As the infection rate of the coronavirus shows signs of flattening, Gov. Tom Wolf has joined with the governors of five neighboring states to begin planning how the region’s economy will re-open.

Led by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware, are forming a joint task force to design a reopening plan for each state.

The coordinating group will work together to develop a fully integrated regional framework to gradually lift the states’ stay at home orders while minimizing the risk of increased spread of the virus.

“We are creating a plan to let people know that we indeed do have a future,” Wolf said. “We have to restore the hope that this pandemic has taken from us…and do what it takes to re-enter and get our economies moving again.”

Each state will name a public health official, economic development official, and chief of staff to serve on the task force, which will begin work immediately. The task force will share a database because the populations of the six states are connected, Cuomo said.

The group will create a framework using every tool available to accomplish the goal of easing social isolation without triggering renewed spread – including testing, contact tracing, treatment and social distancing – and will rely on the best available scientific, statistical, social and economic information to manage and evaluate those tools.