At one of the most difficult times in the history of the City of Bethlehem, the Fegley family entered the brewing and restaurant business. The Bethlehem Steel plant had been shutting down slowly for years – a dying industrial giant of a bygone day – and the region was suffering the loss hard. The downtown had also been bled by the malls and box stores that promised savings to the consumer in exchange for genuine local culture and community. Yet on April 15th, 1998, the same day the the historic Hotel Bethlehem declared bankruptcy and closed, the Bethlehem Brew Works optimistically opened its doors to the public at the corner of Main and Broad Streets. The one other restaurant in the neighborhood closed the following week.
Bethlehem Brew Works chose to ignore the public exodus, and instead celebrated the history of ‘Steel’ and paid tribute to the region’s working class culture in it’s decor and menu. The Fegley’s believed a transformation was already well underway, and would grow with the city as it came to life. Over the course of a dozen years, the family became more involved in the community, and worked with the downtown shop owners to strengthen the downtown. One by one, new restaurants began open, and stores began to keep longer hours to accommodate the growing crowds. Historic Bethlehem now is home to a burgeoning restaurant row and retail shops of all kinds.
Most importantly, the restaurant and brewery grew as well. The Steelgaarden lounge was added, and quickly became a Valley hotspot, and a few years later, the lounge exanded again, annexing another two shop spaces for more nightlife and event space. The kitchen also tripled in size with new space, and the brewery added additional tanks to keep up with the demand for the brews.
With an eye still on things to come, the family looked west into Allentown. Opportunity was difficult to see in a city who’s retail heyday had ended some years before with the departure of Hess’s department store. But the optimistic Fegleys became smitten with the history of the “Queen city” – from it’s role in the War of Independence, to the great silk industry that supplied the world’s fashions, and the great retail era the followed. “The All-American City” as it was known, seemed to be frosted over – and the Fegleys believed it was about to thaw.
In June 2007, years in the making, the Allentown Brew Works opened on Hamilton Street, housed inside the historic Harold’s Furniture Building. Proud to be part of another resurging downtown, the 400 seat restaurant is a testament to the vibrant heartbeat that thrives in the city. Offering two and a half levels of dining, plus state-of-the-art banquet facilities in The Hamilton Room, and multiple bars offering different atmospheres, as well as an outdoor casual patio, Der Biergarten and a new seductive lower level lounge, Silk. The 15-barrel brewery in the Allentown location boasts seven fermentation tanks and eight serving tanks – built with capacity to add a bottling line and begin outside sales of Fegley’s Brew Works in earnest.
In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies AAA team, the Iron Pigs, opened the new Coca-Cola Park stadium, and added Fegley’s Brew Works to its lineup. With that account in place, and a new sales team behind the brewery sales, Fegley’s Brew Works can now be found at almost 200 locations in the region from Harrisburg to central New Jersey, north to Scranton, and south to Philadelphia where it is very popular.
One of the nation’s leading beer writers and co-founder of Philly Beer Week, Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack), named Hop’Solutely the Beer of the Year.
Becoming supportive and active in the Allentown community, during their first few years the Brew Works saw eateries come and go. In 2010, the tide seemed to change with major restaurants adding to the draw of the city. For some time, the Fegleys had been constantly thinking up good ideas that they would love to see happen in the neighborhood, when it finally struck them that they should just do it themselves. In an effort to continue to move the Fegley brand toward healthy, sustainable “green” practices, they chose concepts that would fit that ideal.
Fegley’s Burrito Works serves all-natural, local, sustainable, organic meats and produce as a quick-service limb of the Allentown Brew Works. In addition, the Coffee Works will be making organic, fair trade, single sourced coffee and espresso – everything from cappuccinos to mocha-caramel lattes.
With the addition of a bottling line, and the growing success of outside accounts the brewery is closing in on it’s capacity, and soon Fegley’s will begin to nose their way to new opportunities. Perhaps there’s another fragrant wallflower ready to dance.