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When Lee Chizmar returned to the Lehigh Valley after serving as chef of Great Bay, an upscale seafood restaurant in Boston owned by impresarios Michael Schlow and Christopher Myers, he was coming home to his Pennsylvania roots. But he and Erin Shea—front of house manager at Great Bay, Massachusetts native, and partner (in business and in life) with Lee—were both taking a leap: leaving their home in New England for the chance to create a new one.
The Lehigh Valley was a place where, Erin says, “things seemed more possible.”
In 2007, the couple opened Bolete, a farm-to-table restaurant in a 200-year-old farmhouse, with a menu—influenced by Lee’s training in San Francisco—celebrating the freshest and finest local ingredients. Recognition and accolades have been outstanding: Lee was nominated by the prestigious James Beard Foundation for best chef, Mid-Atlantic region, in 2015. Just this year, the Beard Foundation named Bolete itself a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurant—an honor held by only 20 restaurants in the country. “It’s amazing,” says Erin, especially since it’s “a recognition of the whole restaurant,” and all the work and time and love their community brings to the table.
Creative by nature, Erin and Lee wanted to expand their restaurant group with new cuisine types. That growth began with Mister Lee’s ramen bar in the Easton Public Market in 2016. Now, they’re opening their second concept there: Silvershell Counter, a New England-style clam shack and seafood market inspired by Erin’s south shore Massachusetts upbringing (think: quahogs!). And soon, they’ll be opening a second Mister Lee’s location on Bethlehem’s booming South Side.
Fueled by possibility, creativity, and the strength of community—from the servers to the chefs to the dishwashers, and “the friendships we’ve made with people coming in for food”—Bolete has always been about family. (The couple brought both their newborn daughters home from the hospital to the apartment above Bolete, where they once lived.) “And that’s my favorite part,” says Erin. “The lives we’ve all built together.”