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Louie Belletieri, owner of landmark Allentown restaurant, dies

Louis Belletieri

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Louie Belletieri, the colorful restaurateur who ran the landmark Louie’s Italian Restaurant in the city for decades, has died.

Belletieri’s restaurant was an Allentown institution founded by his parents at 12th and Chew streets in 1958. He took over in 1986 and was a fixture until its closing at the end of 2019.

  • Belletieri, 76, closed Louie's Italian Restaurant at the end of 2019
  • He took over the business from his parents, who founded it in 1958
  • In 2007 he moved the restaurant from 12th and Chew streets to south Allentown

Belletieri, 76, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was set to begin chemotherapy early this year, according to his Facebook.

Tony Iannelli, a friend and President/CEO of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Belletieri was a link to both the old and new Allentown as the city grew and transformed.

“Louie was a character,” Ianelli said. “I wrote to one of my friends, it makes me sad that we’re missing all these unique characters of the past. I guess you could say like all of us he wasn’t flawless but he did make life interesting.”

Two years after he closed Louie’s in South Allentown, Belletieri in January 2022 pleaded guilty to charges that he failed to pay $89,000 in sales taxes from the business to the state. He was sentenced in Lehigh County Court to two years’ probation and ordered to pay restitution to the state Department of Revenue.

“Lou always had these great ideas. He was a really good idea guy.”
Tony Hanna, friend and business partner

Belletieri was involved in local politics, running for mayor of Allentown and once launching a bid for Lehigh County commissioner before eventually withdrawing from the race. He lost in the Democratic primary for mayor against eventual Mayor Ed Pawlowski.

But it was his family and their restaurant that he loved most, friends said. He moved the business from 12th and Chew to 31st Street in South Allentown in 2007.

Tony Hanna, retired executive director of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, got to know Belletieri best while working for the city governments in Allentown and Bethlehem.

He and Belletieri were involved in a few business ventures together over the years.

“Lou always had these great ideas. He was a really good idea guy,” Hanna said.

When they decided to open a retro diner called Blue Moon at the old Thomas’ Diner at 18th and Tilghman streets in Allentown, it was Belletieri who came up with the nostalgic concept.

“The cool thing was he wanted to put a 1957 Chevy, intact, on the roof,” Hanna said. “We had to get cranes. It was this big thing. That was Louie’s idea. He had a baker in the basement of the diner who made the best pastries in the world. He was always surrounded by characters.”

Belletieri and Hanna also went into business on Subs & Stuff – a place where you could buy fresh-made hoagies and groceries. Hanna said it was Belletieri’s idea before the proliferation of Wawa.

“My wife and I would go to his restaurant on the South Side once a week. He always acted like you hadn’t seen him in a year,” Hanna said. “Just a real nice person. He loved his family. You always felt comfortable. He’d sit with you and chat. I don’t think I ever heard anyone say anything bad about Lou.

"We had our ups and downs in terms of our business relationship. But he was a lovable guy. You couldn’t get mad at him."

'You thought (he'd) be here forever'

Iannelli said Belletieri enjoyed the pace of the restaurant business and greeting customers, new and old.

“When you own a restaurant and you’re feeding people, you meet a lot of people,” said Iannelli, whose family like the Belletieris was in the food business. “Back when Louie started, there weren’t many varied restaurants in Allentown like there is now. There was traditional American or German food.

“Louie connected with a lot of people,” he said. “He had a lot of people come for his Italian food. He was the personality guy. God gave him a great personality. Louie was one of those guys in the Lehigh Valley you thought would be here forever.

“When you lose someone like that it makes you pause that the world and our lives are changing.”

Hanna said he was shocked when he learned of his friend’s death Thursday. He said he called to check on Belletieri just a couple of weeks ago.

“He was going through chemo. We just caught up and reminisced,” Hanna said. “He said he was doing great. He said he thought he was going to beat this. I’m so glad I had that opportunity to speak with him. Lots of good memories.”