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September 30, 2019
Fresh Face: Coal Lounge & Grill
The moment you step inside Coal Lounge & Grill, you know it’s a special place. “Coming to Coal,” says chef Kofi Armah, as he chops fresh ginger for the evening rush, “is like coming to my house.” There’s an indoor garden, a cozy and inviting lounge for friends to hang. Group seating is made from repurposed pallets, upholstered in richly colored fabrics. There’s music: a direct-from-Ghana vibe of classic and contemporary beats. And then there’s the food: Ghanaian street food, created just for you by the chef. “Everything here is custom made,” says Kofi. “We’re not telling you, hey, this is authentic, you have to eat it like that—we’re presenting it to you and letting you pick what you’ll fall in love with from the cuisine.”
Born in New Jersey, raised in Ghana by his uncle (“I was raised by a bachelor, I just had to do the cooking”), Kofi attended Moravian College for two years, then transferred to and graduated from Montclair State University in 2016. All along, Kofi dreamed of opening his own restaurant. Only he didn’t expect it to happen so soon. He planned to continue his education to become a surgeon, but in 2018, he made a choice. He could always go back to school—but he couldn’t always have the first Ghanaian restaurant in the Lehigh Valley.
He’s passionate about food, about sharing fantastic flavors and experiences with customers, and he’s grateful for the people who brought Coal to life, starting with his business partner and Coal’s general manager Jomana Hanna. From The Hotel Bethlehem, where, Kofi says, “I learned everything I know about the restaurant industry,” to his sous chef and servers to the city of Bethlehem, to architects Phillips & Donovan, to the family and friends who helped create the space, Coal is built on community.
Kofi hopes the restaurant spreads awareness of the cuisine of West Africa, and for Coal to be a place where friends and family gather to enjoy his simple but intensely flavorful fusion street food. “Even for Africans,” he says, “it’s something different. We put a little twist—and there are other people like us, looking to taste something special.”