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One of Lehigh Valley’s most popular restaurants is bringing back its outdoor dining area permanently

The Shelby will be opening its new outdoor dining area in mid-May. Above, an artist's rendering of what the final construction will look like. (Courtesy The Shelby)
The Shelby will be opening its new outdoor dining area in mid-May. Above, an artist’s rendering of what the final construction will look like. (Courtesy The Shelby)
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What started as a coronavirus pandemic workaround — a white tent hoisted outside with airflow and tables far enough away from each other to ensure social distancing — is about to become a more permanent, outdoor eating experience at The Shelby.

The popular restaurant featuring modern American fare in the Hamilton Crossings shopping center is set to unveil a project in mid-May that co-owner Ashley Petridis said has been in development for “over two years”: an outdoor, protected dining area that will expand the restaurant’s footprint and create a unique, dual environment eating experience.

Petridis said she and her husband, co-owner Don Petridis, never imagined a patio would be part of their restaurant’s layout. When The Shelby opened, Petridis said, a narrow strip of concrete overlooking the high-traffic intersection of Route 222 and North Krocks Road along the side of the building served as the restaurant’s outdoor area.

Then COVID hit and the Petridises were forced to reimagine their space. The couple hired Smith Bros. Tent Rentals — which often install tents for weddings and other events — to put up a temporary tent right outside their restaurant with some picnic tables to start off.

To the couple’s surprise, the tent was immensely popular.

“It changed our business,” Petridis said. “The tent really opened our eyes to what we could do here.”

The couple decked the tent out with ceiling fans, more permanent seating and plants, creating one of the most elaborate outdoor dining experiences in the Lehigh Valley.

When the pandemic restrictions ended in September 2022, so too did the tent. But diners and the Petridises alike missed the tent.

“It was so open and airy and people loved to come and eat here,” she said. “We wanted to mimic the tent with something more permanent.” The couple got approval for construction in the fall.

The Shelby’s expansion into an outdoor space is one of the biggest projects in the Lehigh Valley to turn COVID-era dining restrictions of socially distanced, outdoor eating into a post-COVID dining experience. Restaurants across the country have tried to recapture the outdoor dining experience that offered a ray of hope (and literal sunshine) during the darkest days of the pandemic.

The Shelby’s resulting space is “1600ish square feet, with 100ish seats,” Petridis said, with plans for garage doors to allow airflow on nicer days and screens to protect diners from harsher elements if need be. The outdoor dining area, which will have the same menu as the indoor dining area, will spill into a more lounge-y area where a limited, bar-focused menu will allow customers to gather around fire pits.

The goal is to have the new section open most of the year.

“We’re looking at this as a three — maybe four? — season thing,” Petridis said. “We’ve got infrared heating and air conditioning and unless it’s really hot or in the negatives, we should be able to handle it.”

Part of the original restaurant will be restructured near the kitchen to accommodate wait staff as they bring food back and forth.

On Monday, workers were busy installing a trellis for future plants and louvers that will help protect diners from rain or extreme sunshine. Petridis said she was nervously awaiting some patio furniture being shipped in from Europe but was otherwise looking forward to opening the new outdoor section soon.

“We couldn’t have imagined this when we opened but now it just makes so much sense,” Petridis said.

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