Chance meetings can turn into productive partnerships. In the winter of 2019, amidst the hubbub and clamor of halftime at a Lafayette men’s basketball game one such interaction planted a fruitful seed.
Chris Brown, Bon Appétit at Lafayette College’s general manager, happened to bump into Dr. Allison Byerly, Lafayette’s president. The conversation was fleeting, but Allison casually mentioned that plans for a new dining location were in the works. Lafayette, Allison explained, was planning to expand its campus, set on Easton, Pennsylvania’s picturesque College Hill, and wanted to create a unique dining experience for students and city residents alike.
What started as a vague conversation at a concession stand turned into a years-long, coordinated effort between Bon Appétit and Lafayette team members, during a pandemic, to design and build a home-style diner.
The diner that would eventually become The Trolley Stop was initially dreamed up as a retro, 1950s-themed eatery with milkshakes and burgers, but quickly morphed into something much more historically significant. Chris and his counterpart, Lafayette’s Director of Business Services Greg Scofield got in touch with the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society and dug deep into Easton’s past for inspiration. They unearthed a story of a trolley railcar that used to connect the city’s College Hill neighborhood and downtown.
Fast forward to today’s “Easton renaissance,” as many locals call it, as happenings up and down the hill are intersecting with greater frequency. Hearkening back to the mode of transportation that facilitated similar connections more than a century ago felt fitting to Chris and Greg.
As the construction of the diner was underway, Campus Executive Chef John Soder and Trolley Stop Executive Chef Jaimie Inzillo worked together to create a menu that features ingredients from almost 15 Farm to Fork vendors, including the Lafayette College Farm, or LaFarm, as it’s called on campus. Dishes such as eastern Pennsylvania staples like pork roll and pierogis and salads featuring local greens were diligently tested at Lafayette’s from-scratch, made-to-order lunchtime spot, Gilbert’s Café. “Working with seasonal, local ingredients during the menu development process gives you the flexibility to experiment,” John said. “The Trolley Stop provides an entirely new, elevated platform to showcase the amazing local farmers and artisans we work with.”
[Bon Appetit’s] professionalism and experience shows through in the final product, they were a true partner throughout the process. – Greg Scofield, Lafayette College Director of Business Services
While the menu was being built, and construction was underway, pandemic-induced delays hampered the project. COVID-19 prevented the diner from opening in winter of 2020, and again that summer, as fears mounted about a second wave of cases and most students stayed home to learn remotely over the fall semester. “While the repeated delayed openings were not ideal, we were able to use the time to perfect the menu, and to promote internally to create a stellar operations team,” said Chris. These promotions included Executive Chef Jaimie Inzillo, who for more than a decade progressively worked her way up in culinary roles at Lafayette, and Manager Sam Larosa, a serial restaurateur in Easton, best known as the once-proprietor of a cheery riverside restaurant frequented by the veritable who’s who of the area.
I know our community will love having a full-service restaurant that offers up-to-date, sustainable, and locally sourced menu items. – Dr. Allison Byerly, Lafayette College President
“It was an exciting moment to walk in the Trolley Stop Diner and see the venue we had imagined and planned for finally brought to life,” said Dr. Byerly. “I know our community will love having a full-service restaurant that offers up-to-date, sustainable, and locally sourced menu items. The setting is terrific, too, with its comfortable ambience and inclusion of elements of the local Easton history that gave the diner its name. I know that Chris Brown and other members of the Bon Appetit team had their hands more than full managing the complexities of regular student meal service under COVID conditions, and I am very appreciative of the additional work that went into executing this vision so beautifully. Having this new venue will be a great boost for our community at the end of a challenging year.”
When it came time to open the Trolley Stop’s doors this April, the Bon Appétit team was ready. Guests were greeted with historic photos of Easton’s trolley system that line the diner’s walls, which are made from the upcycled brick of buildings that formerly occupied the site. The team arranged to have an actual trolley stationed outside of the diner for the big occasion and welcomed Easton’s Mayor, Sal Panto, as well as President Byerly and her husband Stephen Jensen for the diner’s inaugural meal. Everyone had a wonderful time!