Good news for seafood fans who have been eagerly awaiting word on the fate of longtime local favorite Youell's Oyster House in Allentown.
The restaurant, which was destroyed by fire in January, should be back in business by the end of December.
Christian Filipos, whose family owns the more than 100-year-old business, said construction should begin next week now that he has obtained the permits to rebuild on the site of the former structure.
The family needed variances from the city to rebuild in the residential neighborhood in West Allentown, where the restaurant has been operating the past 21 years. Youell's, founded in Easton in 1905, was purchased by the Filipos in 1984 and moved to South 23rd and Walnut Street in Allentown in 1992.
The property was grandfathered in to the neighborhood's zoning because it had been operating as a restaurant since long before the Filipos family took over the property. It had previously been operated as the Sirloin Pub and the Florentine Inn.
However, because of the economics of rebuilding, Filipos sought to build a larger restaurant on the site, adding a mezzanine with 30 additional seats to the roughly 120 on the main floor. Those changes needed approval.
"We had some hiccups, but we never felt like we wouldn't get approval," he said.
The new structure is being built by Ondra-Huyett Associates. There will be 3,800 square feet on the first floor and 1,000 square feet on the second floor mezzanine, which will overlook the main dining area.
Filipos said he has mostly had support from the surrounding neighbors.
"We don't have a great impact on them," he said – noting that most of the restaurant's patrons are older and tend to be a quiet crowd. He doesn't think the increased size will change that.
In addition to a larger size, the new restaurant will give Filipos a chance to expand the bar area, adding more craft beers and a larger wine selection, he said.
He also is tweaking the menu, retaining longtime favorites of oysters and crab cakes but adding a few gastro pub-style offerings to meet the changing tastes of the dining public.
Filipos said he's glad that the ball is officially rolling.
He said he had considered the possibility of opening at a different, less-residential location. He had looked at the former Lupo's Bar and Grill down the block, and several patrons and friends suggested he make a bid for the former King George Inn property on Hamilton Boulevard that is facing demolition.
But Filipos said the best idea was always to build on the same property, which he owns and which he said is in his heart.