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‘Let’s see if we can survive’-Local eatery does just that and then some

The well-known adage says, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” When you own a restaurant and a pandemic hits, you have to do more than make lemonade. You have to think outside the box so your eatery’s business can continue, and, in the case of Pat’s Pizza and Bistro, also dish up a heaping serving of help to the local community combatting COVID-19.

Owner Yianni Kyziridis first opened Pat’s doors at 1426 W. Broad St., Bethlehem, in November 2017. Less than two and a half years later, he never contemplated shuttering those doors completely in the age of COVID-19.

Kyziridis celebrated his birthday March 15 – his last day off – and Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all bars and restaurants to close their dine-in facilities the next day.

Kyziridis immediately convened a staff meeting.

“We closed the dining room and stayed open for takeout and delivery,” he said. “I wasn’t going to give up and close right away, I’m not a quitter. I said, ‘let’s see if we can survive.’”

Kyziridis, who employs a staff of 22 people, clearly values his employees.

“I told them if anyone did not feel safe to keep working I understood,” he said, adding they’d always have the opportunity to come back. Most have stayed, except a few who have elderly or vulnerable family members at home, and a few minors whose parents made the decision they wouldn’t continue working.

COVID-19 protocols were immediately put in place, including not having many people in the same area, limiting hours of operation and everyone wearing masks and gloves all day.

Kyziridis would come in at 6 a.m. to do the required preparation; one person worked the pizza table; one answered the phone; one worked in the kitchen and one acted as delivery driver.

With many local businesses closed, the lunch trade slowed.

“The first month was a weird time,” Kyziridis said. “There were new rules and regulations every day.”

Customers picked up their orders in the parking lot, and no cash was accepted the first three months as a sanitary precaution. At nighttime, a delivery driver hit the road with disinfecting wipes in the vehicle.

“We’ve had contactless delivery since day one,” Kyziridis said. “It’s been really, really hard. But I thought we’re not as busy as we used to be, and the community is suffering, what can we do for them?”

So Kyziridis got in touch with some building principals in the Bethlehem Area School District and provided them with 200 prepackaged lunches. He basically did it himself, coming in at 4 a.m. and working alone as another precaution, to prepare meals such as rice and turkey with gravy.

“They were already giving food away from the schools, but there were no hot meal options.” Marvine ES and Nitschmann MS each received 100 meals.

In late March, the eatery launched the “Pay It Forward” initiative to help those in need in the community. Pat’s encouraged customers through social media to make monetary donations for a “grab and go” pop-up food pantry in the parking lot. The goal was to have enough supplies to create 60 meal baskets, but donations allowed them to create 110 baskets.

“We raised $1,300 in three days, and I converted that money to buy things like rice, eggs, flour, pasta, bagels, extra virgin olive oil and cereal,” Kyziridis said. A tent was set up in the parking lot and soda and water were offered to those people who came to pick up a basket. Some deliveries were made to elderly folks.

Pat’s also helped local health care heroes through gift cards – for every $50 of gift cards purchased, Kyziridis donated a pizza to Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s University Health Network.

“They sold like cupcakes,” Kyziridis said. “We gave away hundreds of pizzas.

“I consider myself part of the community. If the community needs help, I will always be here – reach out to me and I’ll make it happen.”

Pat’s also hosted an outdoor comedy night in September as a fundraiser for the girls soccer team of Bethlehem Catholic HS. The evening, which featured the coach as one of the comedians, drew 100 patrons.

As life took at least a small step closer to normal in June with the availability of outdoor dining, Pat’s was ready. A large white tent was erected in the parking lot, with COVID-19 protocols in place, including social distancing and required mask wearing. Employees get daily temperature checks and wear masks and gloves. Tables and chairs are disinfected after each use, and disposable menus and utensils are used.

Kyziridis had been planning to launch Sunday brunch on March 22, and though COVID-19 sidetracked that plan, the brunch recently debuted.

“We’ve had a great response, and I hope it grows.” He explained as Pat’s is BYOB, brunch guests can bring their alcohol of choice and the eatery provides a bar and mixers and makes the drinks for them.

Kyziridis hasn’t changed the menu during the pandemic, but has suspended the daily special for now. Diners can nosh on such dishes as artisanal style pizza, fresh pasta dishes and homemade bread.

“The big question now is the weather getting chillier,” Kyziridis said. His plans include enclosing the outdoor tent and equipping it with a floor and heater. Kyziridis believes winterizing the tent is important because “we don’t know when COVID-19 will go away.”

Kyziridis said when weather permits, customers prefer to sit outside, though indoor dining is available with all the COVID-19 protocols in place. Indoor dining is currently at 25 percent capacity, but restaurants can apply and be certified for 50 percent capacity, which Pat’s has done.

Sitting in the parking lot tent festooned with sparkling lights at night, customers can now enjoy live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings.

“We feature individuals or groups that are food and family oriented,” Kyziridis said.

The second weekend of October showcased country singer and award-winning songwriter Kendal Conrad on Friday, while Saturday’s customers enjoyed the sounds of Emmitt Harris playing jazz, R&B and Motown.

Pat’s has been a large part of Kyziridis’ life for two decades. He began as a dishwasher and pizza maker at a Delaware location in 2000, working his way up through “hard work and dedication.” He said Pat’s began as a family owned business in New Jersey in 1974, and he is one of the few partial owners who is not a family member.

“I’m really thankful that my staff has stood by me, helping to keep the doors open, provide for our families and be an active member of the community,” Kyziridis said. “I’m not taking credit, it’s them, not me. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Pat’s is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

For more information call 610-419-8100, or visit https://www.patsbistro.com/; https://www.facebook.com/patspizzabethlehem/; and https://www.instagram.com/patsbethlehem/.

PRESS PHOTOS BY TAMU QUIGLEY Pausing on a busy Friday evening at Pat's Pizza and Bistro, Bethlehem Oct. 16 are, from left, Ralph Gonzalez, manager; Yianni Kyziridis, owner; Christina Rivera, manager; Leila Youssef, server; Victoria Panik, cashier; and Danielle Goff, server.
Owner Yianni Kyziridis, standing, greets frequent customers Oct. 16; from left, Dwayne and Noreen Wartman and Pat and Ken Irvine. The couples are regulars at the eatery and reserve their corner table when they visit.
Patrons of Pat's Pizza and Bistro, Bethlehem, enjoy Kendal Conrad, country singer and award-winning songwriter, perform Oct. 9 under Pat's outside tent bedecked for Halloween.