When I started writing the Retail Watch column last fall, I worried that I'd never be able to dig up enough new information each week to pass along to Morning Call readers.
Boy, was I wrong. I had no idea just how bustling the retail scene is here in the Lehigh Valley nor had I truly realized how big the Valley had grown. I quickly learned that restaurants and other retail establishments open and close faster than can possibly be monitored by any one person.
And that's where you, our readers, came in. Since I couldn't be everywhere at once, you came to my aid. You became my eyes and my ears, sending retail-watching tips from all over the region.
Some of the biggest stories, like the sudden closing of Paolo's Restaurant in Northampton, came from tips from readers. I can't thank you enough for that.
You waited patiently for my return last fall and winter, after I was disabled by a bad fall. You welcomed me back like family.
Now, as much as I enjoy Retail Watch and working with all of you, I regret telling you that I'm moving on and retiring from this position. I'm ready for new adventures in a new stage of my life and hope you will understand. Nothing lasts forever — although it pretty much seems that way for me. I've been at The Morning Call more than 33 years. It's time for a change.
So, I hope you'll welcome our new Retail Watch writer, Ryan Kneller, as enthusiastically as you welcomed me. I know he'll do a great job because he's eager to get started and he'll have so many good "assistants" — you.
For my last column, I decided to lead with something yummy — and what could be more yummy than self-serve frozen yogurt, especially now that the weather has warmed up.
A new Menchie's Frozen Yogurt franchise will open Wednesday at Airport Center shopping plaza in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, the Valley's latest hot spot for new retailers. It will be the second Menchie's for franchise owners Richard and Kevin Ryan, a father-son team who opened their first Menchie's franchise last summer at the Shops at Cedar Point on Hamilton Boulevard along Cedar Crest Boulevard, just north of Hamilton in South Whitehall Township. The new location will be at 943 Airport Center Drive (between Old Navy and Vision Works).
It actually will be the third Menchie's in the Lehigh Valley. Another franchisee has a location on Route 512 in Bethlehem Township.
With 260 locations across the country and 400 more in development, national chain Menchie's offers a choice of about 16 flavors of self-serve soft yogurt with more than 50 toppings, from fresh fruit and granola to syrups, nuts and sprinkles. Richard Ryan said he shops at the Allentown Farmers Market each week for fresh local fruit for the toppings.
Menchie's at Cedar Point, he said, "has become a real destination. People come from miles and miles away." The shop has been so busy that he and his son were inspired to open their second location at Airport Center, he said. They plan to have fun events, like karaoke nights, just as they have at their South Whitehall location. Both locations have party rooms that customers can book for birthdays and other events.
Although the new Menchie's will have a soft opening Wednesday, a weeklong grand opening celebration is planned beginning April 27 that will feature special appearances and frozen yogurt specials.
While we're on the topic of food-focused chains, let's keep rolling.
PrimoHoagies, another chain restaurant, is expanding in the Lehigh Valley as well. Two new locations will open in the next few months — one off Hamilton Boulevard in Trexlertown (near Redners), hopefully within four to six weeks, and one on Third Street in south Bethlehem, in about three months, says company spokesman Mike Aruanno.
"We are so proud of how well these stores are doing. All three are killing it," Aruanno said.
The first Pennsylvania location of Rodizio Grill, a Brazilian steakhouse chain, is slated to open on Mother's Day at the old Bob Evans site at 2805 Lehigh St. in Allentown, according to Steve Cihylik of the Frederick Group, the real estate firm involved in the deal. Construction efforts to expand and renovate the building have been underway for weeks, and signs are posted that they are now hiring.
Rodizio offers authentic Brazilian cuisine, with more than 15 rotisserie-grilled meats carved tableside by Brazilian Gauchos. It also has unlimited appetizers, more than 30 gourmet salads and a wide variety of homemade desserts.
It will be owned and operated by restaurateurs Kevin O'Leary and Charlie La Rosa. "We are excited to bring a little bit of Brazilian culture to the Lehigh Valley," said O'Leary. Get a sneak peak of what Rodizio Grill will have to offer: http://www.rodiziogrill.com/allentown.