첥Ƶ

Skip to content

Breaking 첥Ƶ

SUBSCRIBER ONLY

Restaurants Food and Drink |
200 pop-ups, 4 years, 1 cafe: How a small neighborhood cafe is helping launch more restaurants, retailers in the Lehigh Valley

Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, at the Allentown restaurant. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)
Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay’s Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, at the Allentown restaurant. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)
Author
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

At first glance, Jay’s Local may seem like any other cafe. Tucked in Allentown’s historic West End and just a quick stroll away from Muhlenberg College, it’s filled with everything you might expect from a neighborhood eatery: coffee in all its forms; bites to eat like burgers, wraps and pastries; and comfy corners to settle in for a bit.

But Jay’s Local is not like most other cafes, or most other businesses, for that matter. Since the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Jay’s Local has encouraged pop-ups within its walls, offering them equipment and space to learn how to run a business on a limited scale and budget before going out into the world.

These trials runs are an invaluable experience for first-time entrepreneurs who are still getting their feet wet in running a business. Rebekah Doyle, whose pop-up Cafe23 is now at Jay’s Local, said the experience is key on her path to opening her own restaurant one day.

“I’m a single mom with three boys — I’m trying not to bite off more than I can chew,” she said in an interview in April. “Jay’s [Local] has been the best experience because the vibe fits my brand and it’s teaching me how to run a whole restaurant.”

The hands-on education of learning how to run a business with very real stakes while being nurtured by a more established business has created an interesting dynamic between Jay’s Local and other small businesses. Instead of competing against each other, these pop-ups offshoot, many times into successful businesses of their own.

“It’s a way of honoring my dad [Jay Scherline, after whom the cafe is named and who died in 2012],” co-owner Lyell Scherline said. “He loved to get people together and give back, and we wanted to continue in his footsteps and pass along what we learned.”

Before Jay’s Local, Scherline had no experience in the food service industry.

“I’ve never worked at a restaurant,” he said. “I used to work in real estate development” — which is how Scherline ended up with the property at 2301 Liberty St. where Jay’s Local stands today. “I wasn’t sure what to do with the building,” he said.

It already held a turnkey restaurant (the former Cafe Frais), but Scherline was hesitant to open something in food without having any experience.

So he reached out to Muhlenberg to see if the school’s entrepreneurship department would be up for working with him in figuring out what to do with the location.

“We teamed up with two entrepreneurship classes to see what students and the community were looking for in the space,” Scherline said. Ideas ranged from a nightclub to a convenience store to a lounge where students and community members could hang out, grab a healthy option to eat, and relax in comfortable seating.

Scherline latched on to the last idea. In October 2019, he, his mom Lorrie, and brother Justin opened Jay’s Local. Its initial concept was a cafe open 12 hours a day, seven days a week for students studying late into the night or early in the morning — just as students wanted.

Despite the cafe’s location and long hours, though, the clientele and vibe changed.

“We had figured that since we were across from Muhlenberg, our clientele was going to be 99% Muhlenberg students,” Scherline said. “The truth is, [our customers are] mainly families from the neighborhood.”

That made the long hours null. And when the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, the spot had to shut down for long periods in response to emergency orders.

Scherline was left with a cafe that was barely open and, even if it was, it wasn’t for the people who had helped influence its design and menu. So he pivoted to pop-ups.

  • Telly Diacogiannis look’s through shirts at his pop up vintage...

    Telly Diacogiannis look’s through shirts at his pop up vintage shop outside of Jay's Local Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Allentown. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage...

    Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage shop outside of Jay's Local Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Allentown. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage...

    Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage shop outside of Jay's Local Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Allentown. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage...

    Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage shop outside of Jay's Local Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Allentown. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Mason Kholi look’s at clothing Sunday, May 19, 2024, at...

    Mason Kholi look’s at clothing Sunday, May 19, 2024, at a vintage pop-up shop by Telly Diacogiannis outside of Jay's Local in Allentown. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Darian Kholi and Mason Kholi look at clothing Sunday, May...

    Darian Kholi and Mason Kholi look at clothing Sunday, May 19, 2024, at a vintage pop-up shop by Telly Diacogiannis outside of Jay's Local in Allentown. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage...

    Telly Diacogiannis talks with customers at his pop up vintage shop outside of Jay's Local Sunday, May 19, 2024, in Allentown. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps...

    Rebekah Doyle, owner of the new Cafe23 pop-up restaurant, helps customers Sunday, May 19, 2024, at Jay's Local in Allentown during a pop-up takeover. She served coffee and a brunch buffet. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy...

    Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May...

    Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, at the Allentown restaurant. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May...

    Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, at the Allentown restaurant. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May...

    Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, at the Allentown restaurant. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May...

    Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, at the Allentown restaurant. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy...

    Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May...

    Lyell Scherline, owner of Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, at the Allentown restaurant. (Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy...

    Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

  • Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy...

    Jay's Local, is seen Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Allentown.(Amy Shortell / 첥Ƶ)

of

Expand

“During COVID, you had businesses shutting down, people getting laid off, and people getting stuck at home trying new passions, like baking,” he said. “We had to limit our hours but we had this space, and we knew people were trying different things. Our space was empty after we closed so why not let any one utilize it?”

And so was born the . Starter businesses can apply for the program with Jay’s, which offers the space to entrepreneurs while Jay’s Local is open or after hours, whatever works for them. The business rents the space , putting down a security deposit for kitchen and equipment use.

In addition, the new business gets exposure from Jay’s Local’s social media and loyal customer base, and gets to learn how to run a small business without the overhead, bills and expenses that would otherwise be required. Since the program started, Scherline estimates that nearly 200 pop-ups (75 of which are food-oriented) have used Jay’s Local to try out their business.

Pop-ups range in time, product and experience. Jay’s Local holds dedicated “pop-up” days frequently where customers can come in and visit multiple tables of people selling food or products. Some of these last just for the day, while others repeat over the course of time. Selected pop-ups can take over for a period of time, such as Cafe23, which is running through the summer on specific days, or Cafe Sophistique, which ran for a few months last year.

Many local brands have used the experience as a way to establish a brick and mortar location in the real world. Steel City Plant Co. founder Angie DelGrosso Stein, who ran several pop-ups featuring her plants at Jay’s Local, has opened a shop in the new Belleville Baby section of Easton’s Belleville Market featuring plant-based, organic baby products.

“Steel City was our very first pop-up,” Scherline said.

FD Market, which creates sustainable home goods, also had a pop-up at Jay’s Local before opening a storefront at Promenade Saucon Valley, as did Easton Candle Co., now at 117 N. Third St. in Easton.

It’s an invaluable experience for an amateur entrepreneur eager to learn the ropes without losing precious resources. And many go on to found their own standalone businesses.

One example is Melissa Sterner, owner of Sterner’s Stems, the floral design shop at 645 Hamilton St. in Allentown.

“I was just starting my business and still finding direction, just exhibiting my art in different places,” Sterner said. “Lyell reached out to me and I did so well that day [at her pop-up]. Not long afterward, I got the keys to my store.”

Sterner just celebrated three years at her location this May.

She credits Jay’s Local for helping her reach her core audience and understand her own business.

“It was a small version of what I do now,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I could do something like [own a floral shop] before Jay’s Local. But now, I’ve built something from nothing.”

The experience inspired Sterner to mentor community members looking to start their own businesses. She also hosted a terrarium-building workshop in May at Jay’s Local.

Likewise, Sophie Vandecasteele, who goes by Chef Sophie professionally, found her time at Jay’s Local last year useful in understanding what goes into running a French bakery (her pop-up was called Cafe Sophistique).

“I didn’t have the capacity to have a brick and mortar store for myself,” she said. “It was great to have a place where I could try to sell my stuff and see what worked.”

For Vandecasteele, who makes elaborate French baked goods, the experience was eye-opening in seeing what people really wanted and the rules to running a business.

“The things I was baking then were totally different from what I’m doing now,” she said. “I was making these sophisticated French pastries, like tartlets, mousse and eclairs. But people here just really crave croissants.”

Not only was the market research helpful, but so was the access to the kitchen equipment. “I could not have invested in all that,” she said.

It also made her realize what she was good at and what she needed to practice more. “I realized what to do and what not to do,” she said. “Now I feel like I’m ready to own my own shop.” (While she’s hunting for a storefront, Vandecasteele is taking orders Thursdays at the Macungie Farmers Market and Saturdays at the Trexlertown Farmers Market.)

Scherline said the pop-ups that tend to do the best are the ones that offer something “unique” and are locally sourced or made.

“I think a lot of people enjoy plant and candle pop-ups,” he said. “And homemade products like art, crochet and hot sauce do well. We once had someone do diaper cakes and pouches for keeping pacifiers and burpers in and they really did well.”

Not all pop-ups are successful; Vandecasteele said her first pop-up was a failure. But even that was a learning experience, she said. “Lyell convinced me to try again, and I learned a lot” she said.

Scherline said he plans to keep growing the pop-up aspect of Jay’s Local. For him, it’s a way of honoring his dad and giving back to the community he’s readopted as his home, after spending some time during his young adult years in New York.

“We just want to pass along what we’ve learned,” he said.

RECENT POP-UPS

Some pop-ups that have recently run at Jay’s Local:

  • Creations by Full Moon (Instagram: @creationsbyfullmoon): handmade jewelry
  • Curated by the Greek  (Instagram: @curatedbythegreek): hand-selected vintage apparel
  • Yung Esau’s Vintage (Instagram: @yung.esau): Grateful Dead and vintage apparel
  • Ironside (Instagram: @ironsideclo): vintage apparel
  • Threads by Gram (Instagram: @threadsbygram): machine embroidered apparel
  • Allentown Originals (Instagram: @allentownoriginals): Allentown-themed apparel
  • Lashae Candle Co. (Instagram: @lashaecandles): organic artisanal candles
  • Boodelicious Cakes (Instagram @boodeliciouscakes): homebaked goods
  • Nina Boodhansingh (Instagram: @nina_bood): prints, collages, and paintings
  • Leading Articles (Instagram: @leadingarticles): 1950s-1990s vintage goods
  • Thrifty Tee (Instagram: @thriftytee_): vintage clothing
  • Quick Pick (Instagram: @_quickpick): curated streetwear
  • Ettatorials Shops (Instagram: @ettatorialsshop): photo restoration and handmade stationary
  • Hello Fluff (Instagram: @thehellofluffshop): handmade crocheted accessories
  • Furry Tail Creations (Instagram @furrytailcreationsusa): cat goods, accessories, and gifts
  • Cookies Cravings (Instagram: @cookiecravingllc): cookies, including gluten-free options
  • Te Lo Juro Collective (Instagram: @telojuro_collective): Latinx fashion and art

More in Restaurants Food and Drink