Billy's brings dining to Allentown

His Downtown Diner opens a bigger second location in the former Sangria spot.

The "not your ordinary diner" concept that's accompanied the popular Billy's Downtown Diner in Bethlehem for more than a decade has officially invaded Allentown.

Owner Billy Kounoupis debuted his second breakfast-and-lunch eatery of the same name Thursday at 840 Hamilton St. in the Alvin H. Butz Corporate Center. The space formerly housed Sangria, a restaurant serving American continental cuisine that closed in July after it ran into financial problems.

"We're bringing what we're known for, but we also want to feel out the neighborhood," said Kounoupis, who opened his original location at 10 E. Broad St. in 2000. "Every downtown is different. Our goal is to sustain the needs of our guests — give them a great meal at a great price in a great atmosphere. Whatever they want, we'll make it happen. I'm here because of them."

Kounoupis and his 45-worker team are offering an identical menu that includes staples such as fresh-squeezed orange juice, cannoli pancakes and the mindfreak burger (stuffed with bacon and American cheese and topped with grilled Idaho potatoes, cheddar cheese, homemade hot sauce, lettuce and tomatoes).

"My tastes change, so everything on the menu has been my favorite at one time," said Kounoupis, while struggling to pick a preferred dish. "But I never tire of the Cuban sandwich."

Blackboard specials, which Kounoupis labels "experimental items lasting about three months," will be the only difference between the locations. Once they are retired from one location, they will then be featured at the other.

"This gives people additional time to enjoy a dish they've come to love," said Kounoupis, who cites the carbonara omelette (made with sausage, crumbled bacon, scallions and exotic cheeses) as a dish people were especially sad to see leave. "I've already gotten hate mail for removing items."

The 9,000-square-foot space seats 250 customers, about four times the amount permitted at the Bethlehem location. Additional outdoor seating is available seasonally.

Minimal work was done to the dining areas, which already featured Brazilian hardwood floors, custom booths and hand-crafted lights. Overhauling the kitchen to make it suitable for "Billy's-style cooking" proved more challenging.

"Sangria served a lot of sauteed and broiled dishes, but that's not how we make eggs," Kounoupis explained. "We needed new griddles and other equipment to execute what we do. We also needed to reconfigure the line to accommodate the volume of food we serve, which is a lot. We serve around 52,000 pounds of home fries a year in Bethlehem."

Kounoupis, who has authored two cookbooks, attributes much of his restaurant's success to his hardworking staff, which has remained largely intact since 2000.

He also credits his wife and business partner, Yanna, and three children — Peter, 12; Georgia, 8; and Michael, 6. "We are definitely a family operation," he said. "The kids help out, and Yanna and I share the same vision on everything."

The new Billy's, which features a private party room, is open 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. seven days a week. Info: billysdiner.com.

Staying on the topic of new eateries being opened by Kounoupis, he anticipates his Bethlehem Burger Bar at 639 Linden St. to open by the end of January.

Work on the space has been "100 percent complete" for about two months, but Kounoupis has been focused on opening his new Billy's location first.

"These will be burgers you won't find anywhere else," he said. "We'll have the classic burger, of course, but our focus will be on unique stuffed burgers."

Kounoupis cites a burger stuffed with gorgonzola cheese and thinly sliced smoked ham topped off with pesto sauce and sun-dried tomatoes as an example of what future diners can expect.

The space, which features a custom-built bar, will seat 35 customers inside and 20 outside. Info: Bethlehem Burger Bar on Facebook.

With Black Friday less than a week away and Santa's delivery (assuming you're on the "nice" list) just over a month away, I thought it to be an appropriate time to highlight a plethora of holiday happenings.

First, the Lehigh Valley Mall in Whitehall Township has welcomed seven holiday tenants: Alpaca World, on lower level next to Teavana and selling alpaca-wool clothing and gifts; Bjorke Designs, in an upper-level kiosk near Macy's and selling hand-sculpted works of art such as vases and bowls; Smart Toys, on upper level near JCPenney and selling new and traditional children's toys; Imagine – Personalized All, on lower level next to Tilly's and selling personalized clothing; Hickory Farms, in a lower-level kiosk near Barnes & Noble and selling gift baskets of sausages, cheeses and other items; Blue Mountain Vineyards, in a lower-level kiosk near Macy's and selling wine; and Go! Calendars, in a lower-level kiosk near Macy's and selling calendars.

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