The West End of Allentown is about to get a little more culinarily relevant with the advent of the Allentown area’s first ever gastro club. A team of two are looking to do pop-ups, across the West End and help some charities along the way.
It all makes sense, considering Luis Loayza and Chef Tim Howells grew up in the very area they intend to do their cooking in. Howells’ resume runs long, including graduating NCC’s culinary program with high honors and moving onto such establishments as the high-end Manor House Inn and on to Bethlehem staple Starfish Brasserie and now landing at Wegmans as a chef and corporate trainer. Loayza’s resume is similarly impressive, working at spots across the area starting at 15. Assistant manager at O’Malley’s, bartending at Ringer’s Roost and Don Pablo’s, bartender/trainer/manager at Outback, and now ending up as Starfish Brasserie’s wine/bar/beverage manager.
Pop-ups admittedly aren’t a new concept, but they’re certainly taking off in recent years. What started as sometimes underground dining clubs where chefs would cook in either secret spaces, their houses, or even the guest’s houses (and sometimes using banned or illicit ingredients) has become mainstream. You now have chefs coming in and doing kitchen takeovers for a day at other people’s restaurants, TV shows about pop-ups, and more. The Lehigh Valley saw one of its first dinner club-style eateries when Wendy Landiak of Balasia opened her Honey Underground club for business in the back of the Hereford Fire Company. So what’s the motivation behind starting the West End Gastro Club?
As Loayza puts it, it seems mainly out of frustration. Taking a look at property prices and the way trying to get a loan is right now, things just weren’t feasible to find their own spot to operate out of. Hoping to do something new and memorable on the West End, they decided they would pair up with local businesses and kitchens to do dinners in places that the kitchens aren’t used, or take over an existing restaurant for a night. One of the first spots mentioned was doing higher-end dinners at the West End Youth Center. There’s a large space available and Loayza said that the center has been very receptive to the idea thus far. Part of the proceeds for these dinners would be donated back into the youth center. It seems like charity is a key part of this project, as the West End Alliance and local softball teams were also mentioned as possible benefactors for dinners.
The first pop-up dinner is tentatively set for Jack Callaghan’s Ale House in Allentown. It will feature Irish pub cuisine with a modern flair, and talks are ongoing about trying to get new Allentown brewer Hijinx in the mix. Also mentioned were Face-off Dinners, where the team would challenge another chef from the valley and diners would vote on their chef of choice for the meal. Loayza says to keep your eyes peeled for recipes with wine/beer pairings, PLCB deals, and more in the future. It seems like exciting things are coming to the West End and we’ll keep you updated as information is available.