For the first time since it burned to the ground on Jan. 22 last year, Youell’s Oyster House, an iconic Lehigh Valley restaurant, will be open for business today.
It took more than 13 months to rebuild the restaurant, according to owner Christian Filipos, who said insurance negotiations and the bad winter weather led to multiple construction delays. But now, he said, he's looking at all of the delays as a positive.
"We're pretty well organized," he said this morning. "The delays from the weather gave us time to prepare better."
Longtime fans of the restaurant, which has been in operation since 1905, will see changes. The restaurant, while on the same physical footprint at the intersection of South 23rd and Walnut streets in Allentown, is slightly larger with a second floor mezzanine added for seating. The second floor adds roughly 30 additional seats to the roughly 120 on the main floor.
Filipos said the additional space gives the seafood restaurant more flexibility so that it can host events such as a rehearsal dinner without having to close off a dining area.
He has also brought on extra staff – in addition to the returning Youell's employees – to handle extra volume.
The changes aren't the first for the restaurant. Youell's was founded in Easton, and the Filipos family moved it to Allentown in 1992.
But while his restaurant is "new and improved," Filipos said he was very mindful that many of his longtime customers are families that have been patronizing Youell's for generations. They want to see their old favorites maintained, he said.
He said he was careful to retain the crab cakes and seafood combination dinners the restaurant is known for, but he also made changes by expanding the daily specials and small plate offerings for the more modern diner that trends toward sampling and variety.
One example of that will be an expanded raw bar. Filipos said he plans to offer a wide variety of in-season oysters instead of the one or two varieties the restaurant previously served.
He also has plans for wine and beer sampling in the restaurant bar.