Who are these people?
How did they get here and what the heck does "Bolete" mean anyway?
We (Lee Chizmar and Erin Shea) are enjoying the culmination of years of training, a lifetime of dreaming and the joy of finding a partner with the same passion. The Chef, Lee Chizmar, is originally from Allentown and attended Salisbury High School&emdash;less than a mile from our restaurant. He has always had a strong relationship with food, maybe it was his introduction to oysters (still his favorite food) at the ripe age of three. After graduating from the CIA in 2000 he traveled to San Francisco to work at Bradley Ogden's Lark Creek Inn in Marin County. There he developed his love for, appreciation of and dedication to serving local, seasonal ingredients. He visited farmers' markets where the tomatoes were enjoyed like apples and the back door of the kitchen was a rotating door of local farmers peddling their perfect produce. He spent four years being mentored by the then Chef Jeremy Sewall and took the call when Sewall was putting together his "dream team" to travel back East and open Great Bay for Chef Michael Schlow and celebrated restaurant guru Christopher Myers. Great Bay received great accolades upon opening, including "Best New Restaurant in the Country" by John Mariani of Esquire magazine. After quickly being promoted from sous chef to chef de cuisine in the first 9 months, he was then asked to take the reins when Jeremy left to open his own restaurant, Lineage, in Brookline. It was in Boston that he was introduced to New England's bounty of the sea, local fisherman that had some of the best oysters, lobsters and fish offered in the world on any given day. He also discovered what we think is the perfect oyster, Skip Bennett's Island Creek; something we brought with us to the valley. As Chef, Lee was featured in Boston Magazine, the Boston Globe and several travel guides. It is here that he ran into me, Erin.
It should have been a clear indication that I would end up here when, at the age of six, I opened Maggie's Café in my basement and tried to make my own wine (nearly sending my little sister to the emergency room). It was not as clear a path, though. Growing up in the small, seaside town of Marion, MA had solidified my relationship with fresh local ingredients at an early age. Many a summer afternoon was spent digging for Quahogs or getting more meat out of a lobster than once thought humanly possible. After graduating from Georgetown I decided to abandon my dream of being a prison warden (really) and decided to take this whole love of food thing seriously. A summer on Martha's Vineyard working at Harvey Weinstein's Balance Restaurant put me in touch with some great restaurant owners, and now friends, Liz and Nick Zappia of the Blue Room in Cambridge. It was here that I learned the art of "unconditional hospitality." With this under my belt she approached friend Christopher Myers about getting a whack at being the head honcho, and I landed at the then recently opened Great Bay. And the rest is history...or in this case the beginning.
After deciding that we wanted a life together it was time to decide what that life would look like. A restaurant of our own? Of course, but where? Well, although Boston was the obvious choice there was a surprise suggestion from Lee's Dad to leave the city and return to the beautiful Lehigh Valley. And we had to check out this old Inn that wasn't on the market, but everything has a price (at least that is what Al said). A trip to Boston for the Neumeyers, one million and one phone conversations, a single peek at the place for the couple, matching Mustangs and they had their first restaurant! After a "gentle facelift" for the 200-year-old building, the doors were open.
Now we are enjoying our new home and restaurant. With the help of a great team that we consider family and great guests that seem to be loving what we are offering, we are all having a blast. We look forward to a long stay here in Bethlehem and our future projects in the Lehigh Valley.
Now for Bolete (pronounced bo-leet). It is a latin (yes, the dead language) word for a wild mushroom — often referring specifically to a cepe or a porcini. This does not mean that the menu centers around mushrooms, although you will see homage paid in some places (our pickled mushroom martini). Mystery solved.