Originally featured in Lancaster County Magazine.
Ever since it was named “America’s Coolest Small Town” in 2013, Lititz has become a fixture on “Best” lists that extoll any number of small-town virtues. Now, thanks to an explosion of new eateries and food/beverage purveyors, Lititz is positioning itself to conquer food-related surveys.
I don’t know if it’s an urban legend or a true story, but 40-something years ago, a limo was seen cruising the streets of Lititz. Its passenger, a relatively new singer named Elton John, would roll down the window and stop pedestrians to ask for directions to Clair Bros. Those he questioned had no idea what he was talking about.
Today, the opposite would be true. Rock Lititz – a collaboration of 30+ live-event specialists, plus businesses devoted to food and fitness – is developing into a community all its own. It’s not only contributing to Lititz’s economy, but it’s stimulating new business start-ups.
Other new ventures are also having an impact on Lititz. The iconic Wilbur Chocolate building is the county’s newest example of adaptive reuse. The former factory building will be home to a Hilton Tapestry Collection hotel and a restaurant, condominiums and a food hall-style marketplace that will host six vendors. The Wilbur project is being developed by Oak Tree Development Group.
The Lititz Shirt Factory is another example of adaptive reuse. The 100+ year-old warehouse that Lititz native and New York television newsman Jim Hoffer is developing will feature craft beer, live entertainment, art events and more. He is working with the TONO Group on the project that got underway in the spring.
The Warwick to Ephrata Rail-Trail, as well as other green spaces, are attracting hiking and biking enthusiasts. “More bike racks are coming,” says Holly DeKarske, the executive director of Venture Lititz, referring to the town’s effort to make itself bike-friendly.
“Between the restaurants, beverage destinations, food-related shops and our festivals, Lititz is definitely becoming a foodie town,” says Holly. “Lititz is already a destination, and food represents one more piece of the puzzle” that will take it to another level. “It’s exciting what’s taking place here,” she says.
Lititz’s line-up of festivals is also becoming very food-oriented. “People really look forward to exploring what the 25 food trucks that are part of Lititz Fire & Ice have to offer,” Holly relates of the February event. “And, the chili cook-off becomes the ‘hottest’ ticket in town during the festival.”
The Taste of Lititz event, which is held in June, is always a sellout. Ditto for the Lititz Craft Beer Fest, which takes place this month and sold out in a mere 90 minutes when tickets became available in early summer.
The Lititz Pretzel Fest, held in May, treats ticket holders to pretzel creations that deliver sweet, savory, spicy and surprising taste sensations. The Mela Indian American Fusion Community Festival, held in June, provides a great way for attendees to experience all aspects of Indian culture.
Of course, the main event continues to be the Lititz Chocolate Walk. This year’s date is October 12, which prompts the pre-Halloween event to be referred to as “Trick or Treat for adults.” This year, 25 locations throughout the downtown area will be hosting chefs, chocolatiers, bakers and candy makers who will share tastes of their creations with ticket holders. Ice cream shops will also be participating. The Wilbur Hotel, which is slated to open October 1, will be one of the stops for the 18th annual tour, proceeds from which have helped to raise more than $400,000 for area nonprofit organizations since its inception. There are only 2,000 tickets available and, if history is any indication, it will be a sell-out. (For details, visit lititzchocolatewalk.com.)
History of the culinary kind also lures visitors to Lititz. It begins with the Moravians, who settled the area in search of religious freedom. One tradition they brought from what is now the Czech Republic is the sweet treat known as the Moravian Sugar Cake. The yeast-raised cake, in which butter, sugar and cinnamon pool in its “dimpled” crust, was primarily a treat associated with Easter. Today, the cake is enjoyed in Moravian communities throughout the year. A post on Trip Advisor proclaimed Zig’s Bakery & Café’s version to be “melt in your mouth yumminess!”
Speaking of Moravians, it seems Lititz’s beer tradition started when church officials encouraged the malting of grain for brewing purposes in the hopes that it would discourage the townspeople’s increasing fondness for distilled liquor. Homage to beer is paid at the Bull’s Head Pub, Appalachian Brewing Company and Fetish Brewing Company.
The distilling tradition is also alive and well, as Stoll & Wolfe Distillery, which makes its home in a 19th century grain mill, recalls Lancaster’s role in this country’s distilling industry that dates to the mid-1700s.
Lititz also introduced America to that favorite snack food, pretzels. Julius Sturgis is regarded as America’s oldest commercial pretzel bakery, as it dates to 1861. Sturgis pretzels even fortified Civil War soldiers. Take the tour – it’s interesting and tasty!
Last, but not least, are the beloved Wilbur Buds, which made their debut in 1894. Available in milk and semisweet chocolate, they can be purchased at the Wilbur Chocolate Candy Store that sits opposite of the former factory on North Broad Street.
What follows is a sampling of restaurants, food/beverage purveyors and other enterprises that are contributing to Lititz’s growing reputation as a foodie town.
Market at The Wilbur
According to Forbes, “Food halls are the new food trucks.” For the past five years, food halls have been the hottest culinary concept in the country. By year’s end, cities such as Washington, D.C., Chicago and Denver will each have a dozen food halls across their cityscapes. Many are located in buildings that having been languishing, their purpose relegated to the past. Food halls, which are comprised of a variety of food and beverage purveyors, provide a fun and casual way for families and groups to dine out and select what appeals to each person. They also provide the ultimate in take-out.
Lititz’s version, which will make its home in the former Wilbur Chocolate factory building, will host six businesses including Rooster Street Butcher & Deli, Whiff Roasters, Waltz Vineyards, Oola Acai Bowls & Smoothies, Presto Pasta and Zig’s Bakery. It is slated to open late summer/early fall.
The Lititz Shirt Factory
One day, Lititz native and New York television newsman Jim Hoffer was riding his bike around Lititz when he spied a sad-looking brick warehouse along Juniper Lane. Visions of what the 100+ year-old building could look like popped into his head. He vowed to learn all he could about the building and ultimately reached out to the owner and negotiated a sale.
Hoffer’s plans for the building are community-oriented. He sees it as a place that can bring people together – over a beer (Collusion Tap Works of York has signed on), through art, music and yoga and, most importantly, through conversation. In his estimation, the possibilities are endless. It anticipates opening next year.
Appalachian Brewing Company
Another example of adaptive reuse, Appalachian Brewing Company’s Lititz location makes its home in a former paper-box factory. It was also the first home of Clair Bros. ABC’s line-up of beer, soda and spirits sets the stage for an extensive menu. 55 N. Water St. Abcbrew.com.
Eat & Drink
Rooster Street Restaurant & Taproom
Kristina and Tony Page’s Rooster Street enterprise is on the grow once again. Ahead of expansion to the Market at The Wilbur, they have transformed the Cedar Street location into a full-fledged restaurant that now offers brews from Spring House (BYOB is also invited). New to the location is outdoor dining. Never fear, the Cedar Street address will continue to be home base for butchering, smoking, food prep and classes. As always, their credo remains “no hormones, no antibiotics, pasture raised and humanely raised.” 11 S. Cedar St. Roosterst.com.
Bull’s Head Public House
Modeled after a traditional English pub, the Bull’s Head is known for its selection of craft brews and pub fare. Its accolades include Best Beer Bar in Pennsylvania (craftbeer.com) and Best Beer Bar in the U.S. (USA Today’s Readers’ Choice survey). 14 E. Main St. Atthesutter.com.
Owner David Stoudt completely revamped the restaurant and cocktail lounge, delivering a modern look via a new color scheme, furnishings and artwork. The cocktail lounge echoes the look and vibe of the dining room. 14 E. Main St. Atthesutter.com.
Owl’s Nest Restaurant & Sippery
Located in Warwick Woodlands (a Moravian Manor community), the restaurant makes its home in the Oaks Campus Center/Woods Apartments building. Open since early June, it specializes in farm-to-table fare as well as treats from the sea. Currently open only for dinner, plans are on the agenda to add breakfast and lunch service. The restaurant is open to the public; however, because it holds a club license, only residents and their guests can be served alcoholic beverages. 600 W. 6th St. Warwickwoodlands.org.
A Tea Affair
If you’re in search of a novel way to celebrate a birthday, fête a bride or mother-to-be, or simply treat yourself to lunch, think tea. Open since 2010, A Tea Affair boasts a lovely tea room where you can revel in sweets, savories and tea. Wear hats and gloves and party like a royal! Tea lovers will also appreciate the shop’s wide selection of loose teas and other items. 8 Sturgis Lane (tea room) and 34 E. Main St. (boutique). Ateaaffairlititz.com.
Chilangos Authentic Mexican Restaurant
Open since 2016, the eatery features an extensive all-things Mexico menu that includes tacos, tamales, tortillas, burritos, fajitas, quesadillas and more. It’s owned and operated by the mother-son team of Leticia Martinez and Erik Suarez. Photographer Jordan Bush stopped by for Summer Tacos Night, which was held July 26 with a start time of 10 p.m. The place was packed! 56 N. Broad St. Chilangosinlititz.com.
Tomato Pie Café
This charming café’s namesake dish is an original from co-owner Karen Fisher’s family. Seasoned red tomatoes are baked in a flaky pie crust and covered with a rich cheese topping. Just reading the menu makes you feel healthier! The café boasts a barista team, with coffee supplied by Passenger Coffee Roaster. 23 N. Broad St. Tomatopiecafe.net.
Sweets & Treats
Sugar Whipped Bakery
Owner Stephanie Samuel hails from a family of home bakers. When she decided to become a stay-at-home mom, she began baking treats for friends as a way to contribute to her family’s income. The positive response prompted her to become the proprietor of a food truck. Her next step was to open a small shop in Lititz. When she outgrew that location, she moved across Main Street. All-natural ingredients, gluten-free and vegan define the selection of cupcakes, cake pops, whoopie pies, gourmet marshmallows and more. 77 E. Main St. Sugarwhippedbakery.com.
Greco’s Italian Ices & Homemade Ice Cream
Owner Mike Greger uses the freshest and finest of ingredients to make his ice cream, gelato and Italian ices. The flavors cover the spectrum and range from the tried-and-true to what might best be described as adventurous. Sundaes, shakes, splits, floats, etc., are also on the menu. 9 E. Kleine Lane. Find them on Facebook for the day’s flavors.
Wilbur Chocolate Store
Located across Broad Street from the former factory building, the store is the ultimate destination for chocolate lovers. The company’s iconic Wilbur Buds are joined by such delectables as Lititz Sweet & Salty Bark (milk chocolate, Peter’s caramel and pieces of Tom Sturgis pretzels), chocolate-covered cherry cordials, triple-coated almonds and, for coffee lovers, Cocoa Breeze Blend. Lots of yummy items will be in stock for the Halloween season. 45 N. Broad St. Wilburbuds.com.
Just the name makes you smile. Rarely do you drive by and not find the patio filled with people starting their day, enjoying lunch or taking a mid-afternoon break. It truly is the heartbeat of the community. Launched by Marsha Baron in 1988 as a market stand in Shillington, Berks County, it continues to specialize in European-style bread and scrumptious baked goods. Located in Lititz since 1996, it also offers signature coffee blends, artisan sandwiches, salads and more. 45 S. Broad St. Dosiedough.com.
Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery
Visitors can tour the original bakery, take a hands-on lesson in pretzel twisting and watch the pros in action. An on-site store supplies all your pretzel needs. History abounds here! The house in which Sturgis lived and worked dates to 1784 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And, yes, the company continues to be led by members of the Sturgis family. 219 E. Main St. Juliussturgis.com.
Sharon and Jim Landis’ culinary universe is about to expand once again when they take over a neighboring building and transform it into a spice shop. Zest! continues to be the destination to find gourmet gadgets, tools, specialty foods, cocktail accessories and fine linens, all of which are personally selected by the couple during their travels. Who knew there were so many flavors of salt! Zest! also operates a cooking school at the nearby Brighton Village Shoppes. 30 E. Main St. Zestchef.com.
If you’re looking for the exotic – alligator, python, wild boar, ostrich, yak, etc. – Savory Gourmet is the place to go. Now owned by Missy and Bill McMahon, who were long-time customers of the store, the selection of products also includes gourmet cheese and specialty food. After-hours tastings can be arranged for groups of 4-10. 53 N. Broad St. Savorygourmetlititz.com.
Waltz Vineyards Estate Winery
Jan and Kimberly Waltz launched their hand-crafted wine in a garage on their sixth-generation Manheim-area farm in 2000. Since then, they’ve added a European-style tasting room at the winery, as well as tasting rooms in Lititz and Intercourse. Their portfolio of European-style wines is created using select, hand-picked grapes, modern wine-making technology from Italy, and oak barrels sourced in France. Their Lititz location will be making the move to the Market at The Wilbur. Waltzvineyards.com.
Olio Olive Oils & Balsamics
Open since 2012, the shop is a family affair that includes founder Joe Desimone, his wife, Judy, and their son, Pete. All vinegars are sourced in Modena, Italy, while the olive oil is representative of numerous countries. The selection also includes honey, specialty oils/vinegars, gourmet peanut butter, as well as pasta, salts, flavored sugars, seasonings and more. 41 S. Broad St. Oliooliveoil.com.
Stoll & Wolfe Distillery
Dick Stoll, who was trained by C. Everett Beam, once served as the master distiller at the legendary Michter’s in Lebanon County. Erik Wolfe was a marketing executive in New York who ventured into the restaurant industry. Curiosity prompted him to research the legacy of Bomberger’s Distillery. Now, they are creating their own award-winning rye whiskeys and whiskey/bourbon blends in Lititz. 35 N. Cedar St. Stollandwolfe.com.
Venture Lititz’s Holly DeKarske counts the Lititz Farmers Market as an integral part of the town’s food attractions, noting that despite two moves, changes in hours and crazy weather, it is thriving in Lititz Springs Park. “The market has succeeded because of its dedicated vendors – they’re fully committed,” she notes. She adds that the market has become so popular that regular shoppers view it as an evening out. “They first head to the food truck for dinner and then shop. There’s music and family activities, too.” The market also attracts pop-up vendors and is a regular stop for Olivia’s Flower Truck.
Open Thursdays through October 17. Hours: 4:30-8 p.m., with closing time moving to 7:30 p.m. after Labor Day. Hours will resume in the spring. For details, visit lititzfarmersmarket.comor Facebook.