City Center names first food merchants for downtown market

City Center Investment Corp. named four merchants that are expected to be among the first for the $3.5 million Downtown Allentown Market set to open in September.

The Downtown Allentown Market will include a number of different food merchants when it opens in September. (Submitted) –

The merchants include three ith local business ties and a startup: a homemade ice cream maker.

They are:

  • Shinsen, a sushi/poke bowl concept from the owners of Asian Bistros II in Bethlehem;
  • Zahra, a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean concept from the family who owns Aladdin restaurant in Allentown;
  • Little Miss Korea, an authentic, fresh Korean bowl concept with a location in the Allentown Farmers Market;
  • Batch Microcreamery, a startup offering homemade premium ice cream handcrafted on-site with fresh ingredients.

Rick Pongracz, owner of Batch Microcreamery, said he had been trying to land a spot in the market for a while.

“It was always a big thing to open a store in Allentown where I was born and raised,” Pongracz said.

He grew up in South Allentown and now lives with his wife and son in Bethlehem.

His labor of love has been something he’s been doing for about a decade now.

He honed his ice cream making skills at a culinary school in New Jersey about nine years ago, rented space in a church in Bethlehem, and bought a batch freezer to make his product.

“The whole goal was to get the community to taste it,” Pongracz said. “It was my hobby.”

However, he eventually decided to turn his hobby into a full-time job and left his corporate career behind.

“I fell in love with making ice cream from scratch,” Pongracz said. “It became a hit; people were like, ‘when are you going to open?’”

Once he started getting strong demand, he knew he had to find a place to sell it. The timing of the opening of the Allentown Market couldn’t be better, he said.

His venue will include a commercial ice cream-making machine that will produce ice cream in small batches with rotating flavors.

While he said he would concentrate on ice cream, he will also offer sorbets, Italian ices, sundaes, and non-dairy options.

He also plans to offer specialty shakes that will include alcohol.

The market will have a liquor license for the space, which vendors have the option to use, he added.

The indoor market has five merchant bays left and City Center is negotiating with potential tenants, said Natalia Stezenko, City Center’s retail leasing and activation manager.

“We are close to having all of them signed,” Stezenko said. “Variety was very important in selecting who we were going with.”

Stezenko said she wanted to bring in merchants who offered something different. City Center selected some of the tenants from a request it had posted on its website and others came from reaching out to them directly, Stezenko said.

The market will be in a 12,000-square-foot space below the Strata West apartments along the ArtsWalk, a pedestrian walkway connecting the Allentown Renaissance Hotel and PPL Center on Seventh Street with the Allentown Art Museum.

Once it opens, the market will have nine booths for local and regional food merchants. Potential vendors include those offering baked goods, coffee, soups, salads, sandwiches, craft beer and wine.

North Star Construction of Allentown is the construction firm working on renovating the space.

Brian Pedersen
Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh.

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