Chambersburg's The Orchards cooks up casual food and revamps look for its 25th year

PUBLISHED BY: Amber South, Chambersburg Public OpinionPublished 6:00 a.m. ET April 29, 2019

The ultimate casual food is the key ingredient in a local fine-dining restaurant's recipe for evolution. 

The Orchards put pizza on its menu just over a week ago. The addition is part of the 25-year-old business's growth from a traditional fine-dining establishment into a trendy and cool restaurant. 

“Fine dining is a tricky thing,” said Mike Kalathas, owner of The Orchards. He described how the industry has changed over the years, going from white table clothes and stuffy appearances to more casual and modern. That cultural shift is as true in New York City as it is in Franklin County, he said. 

“It’s still very phenomenal food, but you can go in with a hat, shorts and flip-flops and be treated awesome."

The restaurant offers five artisan pizza recipes,  Kalathas said. All are made in its new brick oven in its new open kitchen in its new 1580 Lounge.

Named for the restaurant’s address, 1580 Orchard Ave., the 1580 Lounge was previously known as the Civil War Lounge. In addition to design and functionality changes, some featured artworks of scenes from the Civil War have been moved into one of The Orchards' several themed meeting rooms.

The lounge still has a bar and plenty of seating, but a highlight of the space is now the open pizza kitchen. 

Guests can watch as Chef Kolton Regi or one of his colleagues create pizzas, from rolling out and spinning the dough to pouring on tomato sauce to sprinkling on cheese and other toppings to pushing the pie into the oven and checking it periodically until its cooked to perfection.

"You talk about what's in today - open kitchens are in," Kalathas said. "I think people just like to see the place alive. They love to see the chefs and watching them make the food instead of not knowing what's behind the scenes."

Kalathas said he's always loved gourmet brick-oven pizza. His decisions to revamp the lounge and introduce pizza to the menu happened concurrently.  He said he hired the owner of Cork and Fork - which uses what it calls the finest ingredients to create pizzas and other dishes at its Camp Hill and Harrisburg locations - to teach his staff how "to make the bread, sauce, the whole nine yards." 

All in the family

The Kalathas family are well known for their role in the local restaurant industry. The family owns seven establishments in the region today, according to The Orchards website. 

The family came to the area from Greece in the 1960s. Kalathas said his great uncle got into the restaurant business locally, and relatives followed suit.

His father, Charlie, and uncle, Tom, opened the Historic Texas Lunch diner on Lincoln Way West nearly 50 years ago, and still own it today. They went on to open The Orchards in 1994.

After spending their younger years around the family businesses, Kalathas and two of his cousins went to the Culinary Institute of America in 2000. They took over The Orchards soon after. They created Relax Lounge, a casual bar and grill connected to The Orchards - but not to be confused with the 1580 Lounge - in 2001.

Kalathas and his brother Bill took over The Orchards in 2011. 

Kalathas has also been working to share his family's passion with local teens through the Costa Academy, a culinary and food service school founded by Kalathas and a partner in 2016 that is based at The Orchards. Students get school credits and usually get offered a job by Kalathas upon graduation. 

A milestone anniversary

The Orchards will have a two-week celebration in June to mark its 25th anniversary. 

While Kalathas is confident that the restaurant’s evolution and offerings will keep it going strong for years to come, he pointed out that other local restaurants have not been so lucky as of late.

He pointed to the closures of Dilly’s at the point on U.S. 30 and EJ’s Grille in downtown Chambersburg. Another small business, The Cottage on Wayne Avenue, “got lucky,” he said, when a new owner was found.

“I honestly feel that everybody should support local businesses,” he said.