A New Face for a Southside Icon

Lehigh Pizza is an iconic fixture on Bethlehem’s Southside. It has served the Lehigh community for decades, and when owner George Lioudis thought about updating and remodeling his restaurant, he realized that his cashier was a Lehigh architecture major. When he asked Janelle Laros ’21 if she and her classmates could help, Laros said she practically ran all the way back to the architecture studio, excited about the possibilities.  It turned out to be an invaluable hands-on experience that a traditional classroom could not have provided.

Laros recruited fellow art, architecture and design (AAD) student Ella Fabozzi ’22, and an “A-team” of students who delved into materials, color palettes, lighting, space configurations, the City of Bethlehem zoning code, and more. Laros, who will be on campus next semester, and the student team, are taking the project into the fall, when they will collaborate with AAD design students and business and real estate majors in the College of Business and Economics. 

“It’s been a perfect segue for life after Lehigh,” said their adviser Nik Nikolov, associate professor of architecture and a practicing registered architect. “This group has been fantastic. They obviously learned a lot of collaboration and about the design process, both of which are a big part of working in the ‘real world.’”

A summer job at Lehigh Pizza appealed to Hawaii resident Laros, who wanted to work at an east coast pizza shop (plus she could walk there). Born and raised in the town of Kona, her father’s family is from the Bethlehem area and there are strong connections to Lehigh. Older brother Russell ’18  was a computer science and business major, and younger brother Alexander is a member of this fall’s entering first-year class. Laros had started in mechanical engineering, the Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences (IDEAS), and switched majors in the fall of her sophomore year to take more classes in subjects such as history and art history.

A resident of Concord, N.H., Fabozzi also started at Lehigh intending to study engineering. The architecture program, she said, “applies art in a more purposeful and industrial setting.” The benefit of the Lehigh architecture program, she said, is “we know our professors, it is easier to find your own voice.”

The other architecture majors on the team were Avi Runge, Anastasia Citsay and Mikhail Kosser, working with Skylar McCabe, a finance and marketing major and Natasha Heyer, a finance major, some of whom will be back next semester.

Lehigh Pizza has been a reliable favorite of the Southside and college community from 1976, first at the corner of 4th Street and Broadway. It has been in the same family at its current location, the corner of 3rd and New Street, since October 1996., surviving the closure of Bethlehem Steel, and the recent pandemic. The two-story building, decked in ornamentation on its facade, was last expanded in 2003, and is known for its iconic red and green striped awning. Although the permissible colors of red and green often evolved into red tape, the team is committed to reflecting the history of the Queen Anne-style building in its design.

During the group’s end-of-semester presentation they showed how they had considered a steel awning – bringing in the steel workers’ legacy, but it was costly and not Queen Anne style.

“We had to take a step back to work within the style, not slap on something,” Fabozzi said. “How do you make it modern without looking too modern? There is a tendency to be trendy. The danger is, trendy goes out of fashion.”

The team considered more modern columns; outdoor seating, and a configuration where the kitchen would move to the side. They considered an exterior palette that includes more red, and one with the Lehigh colors brown and yellow. They analyzed the space, and who is using it and found the customer space tends to be crowded. “We are trying to understand how much space people need to do their jobs. The entrance is a problem area. The goal is less congestion between workers and customers,” said Fabozzi. One design includes a curved counter she calls “the scoop.” 

And they considered the business model. Should patrons linger or should tables turn over quickly? “We need to understand the movement in space, the customer flow. We looked at what does it look like being an employee. What areas have the most sales, how to design for a more efficient flow,” said Fabozzi.

The overriding goal of the project has evolved, the students explained. “In the beginning, the goal was to redesign the exterior, and refurbish and modernize inside. “It is an extremely tricky space,” said Laros. “But us being architects and designers, one thing led to another, as we brainstormed.  After showing him (the owner) what we could do, he realized the potential. By now, it has taken on a whole other realm, as we understand his vision.”

Lioudis, who happens to have a mechanical engineering background, explained that the biggest change in his vision is how he looks at expansion. Originally, he thought he would just add seats, but he is now considering reconfiguring the kitchen, he said. 

“They went in with a big vision, but they are learning and growing, as it should be. It was definitely a good experience,” he said. Lioudis will implement some recommendations before next year’s final presentation, like changing the lighting in the dining room. 

The next steps will include researching soundproof materials and new dining room furniture Lehigh’s Fusion student design agency will tackle the logo and graphic design. A real estate student and business student will also be brought on board.

Whatever Lioudis ultimately implements, the project was a success for all. “I think it  brings a lot of people together, working with different majors, tying us to the community of Southside Bethlehem, looking at Bethlehem architecture as a whole,” said Fabozzi.

Nikolov said the group asked the right questions. The best design, he explained, “is born out of the diversity of the team members, of their collaboration among themselves and with the owners, and out of an intimate engagement with the site and the community around it. It’s a learning experience whichever way you look at it. It’s all about growth for everyone involved, while leaving a positive mark on our town.”

Photo courtesy of Brown & White/Jessica Mellon