Phil Noto of Palmer Township is a self-appointed food fraud expert. While stationed in Germany during his years in the Army, he made countless visits to Italy where he was able to enjoy "quality Italian dishes."
"I got spoiled," says 62-year-old Noto. "When I'd come back to the U.S., I felt like I was eating garbage."
Noto, president and co-owner of Santisi Imports, says the business started in 2005 as more of a hobby to bring extra virgin olive oil produced by his cousin's factory in Sicily (Santisi is named after the street the factory is on) back to America. After selling the product primarily to friends and family out of his garage, he began to sell to commercial customers.
"I needed more space," says Noto, who started to store oil in his basement and barbershop.
In 2006, Noto and his original co-owners, Frank Oieni and Gino Giunta, moved their inventory, which now includes oregano and other Italian specialties, to a warehouse at 601 Stones Crossing Road in Palmer Township. They operated out of that space until 2011, when they expanded again into a larger warehouse on the same property. During that transition, they added a business office, showroom and tasting room adjacent to the new warehouse. Now, they're growing yet again.
"Many of our private customers have been requesting a retail location for a while," says Noto. "It was the next step as many people don't want to buy in bulk."
Noto, along with Oieni and new co-owners, Vince Sciascia and Mario Vicidomini, spent the last three months renovating three rooms on the property for use as Santisi Imports' retail store. The shop, which held a soft opening Saturday offers a wide variety of premium Italian foods, including pastas, balsamic vinegars, canned tomatoes (grown in the volcanic soil of Mount Vesuvius), grilled artichokes and tuna-stuffed peppers.
Everything that is sold Noto and his partners have seen personally made in Italy. They typically make two trips per year, and do not buy from agents or distributors, but rather from artisan, family-owned producers.
According to Noto, Santisi's carefully selected products have found their way into several Lehigh Valley restaurants, including Melt in Center Valley, Edge in Bethlehem, Blue in Bethlehem Township and Sagra in Hellertown. Seasons Olive Oil and Vinegar Taproom in Bethlehem is also a loyal customer.
"Most restaurants want pasta for 99 cents per bag and don't care where it comes from," says Noto. "We've found our niche in highly trained chefs with highly developed palates."
Videos showing how the products are made and where they come from are proudly shown in the store. Customers may also sample every product before purchasing.
"Our business is based on two words: quality and honesty," Noto says.
The store is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday (closed Sundays). Info: 610-438-5478 or http://www.santisi-usa.com.
Northeast of Santisi Imports, a different business focused on quality-made products held a grand opening May 11 in downtown Easton. Crayton's Creations at 249 Northampton St. sells artisan jewelry that is meticulously hand-crafted from carefully selected materials, as well as handmade leather and fashion hand bags. Services offered include: general repairs, pearl knotting, jewelry matching, cleaning and restyling.
Owner Jennifer Crayton of Phillipsburg says the store is an opportunity for self-expression. "Not only are my pieces designed to compliment one's outfit, they are crafted to emphasize personal colors, and make a statement about who each person is," she says.
Info: 201-970-4937 or http://www.craytonscreations.com.
For the folks trying to get swimsuit-ready, two businesses in the Park Plaza at Sullivan Trail (1800 Sullivan Trail) in Forks Township may be able to help.
GymtiME, in Suite 145, began conducting programs in its 625-square-foot addition on April 1. The fitness facility, which opened in September, offers children and adult fitness classes.
Meghan Ibach, who co-owns GymtiME with her husband, Ben, says the new space is being utilized for children's classes, including ZumbAtomic, hip hop and ballet, as well as adult classes, including Zumba, Zumba GOLD, kickboxing and yoga. Info: 610-250-7755 or http://www.gymtimepa.com.
Combative Arts Institute in Suite 420 held a grand opening May 3. The unisex martial arts academy, open to adults and children, specializes in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, mixed martial arts and kickboxing. All are welcome as established programs are in place to help individuals attain their fitness goals. Info: 610-829-1022 or email@example.com.
Moving on to some Lehigh County developments, my colleague Patrick Lester informed me that a sign reading "Mixie's Yogurt Cafe coming soon" has been placed on the former The Finish Line Running Store at 10 S. Fourth St. in Emmaus.
According to borough zoning officer Jim Farnsworth, a permit was issued on April 11 to the business' owner Wiesia Piotrowski. I was unable to contact Piotrowski, but Farnsworth says he is still working on the space and expects it to open within the next couple of months.
Rich Matus of Lower Saucon Township is one of many retail watchers who has inquired about the status of the Spring Valley Inn at 1355 Station Ave. in Upper Saucon Township. Well, I have some good news.
The restaurant, closed since 2008, is expected to reopen in August or September as the Spring Valley Tavern.
Sewell, N.J., residents Kim McCartney and her husband, Frank, as well as another couple, Donna and Warren Walters of Hellertown, purchased the property in December. According to Kim McCartney, renovations began in January and the couples were originally aiming to open in July. Unforeseen issues, however, delayed that anticipated opening date.
"Since the building wasn't properly winterized and just sat for four years, we had to make a lot of mechanical repairs," McCartney says. "It also wasn't secured, so there was some vandalism that needed to be addressed."
A recent news release from the supermarket chain stated the 130-capacity full-service restaurant and bar will serve internationally inspired cuisine using fresh ingredients sold on-site in the store. Offerings will include everything from soups, sandwiches, pizzas and salads to ethnic cuisine and entrees such as farm-raised Atlantic salmon with sauteed spinach and Amore steak with Yukon potatoes.
Wine, cocktails and a wide variety of local, domestic and international craft beers will also be available. Expect more on this new dining destination when I get an exact opening date.
Retail Watch keeps track of new store, restaurant and bank development in the Lehigh Valley. Have a question about a retail construction project, a store opening or a chain you'd like to see come to the area? Call features reporter Ryan Kneller at 610-820-6597 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Retail Watch appears every Sunday.