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Fireline Hotel builds on its identity as a local landmark

  • TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS  Pictured outside of the Fireline Hotel in Palmerton are (front) Jane Hower (back, l-r) Ken Huber and Michael DiGirolamo. The restaurant recently celebrated its five-year anniversary.
    TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Pictured outside of the Fireline Hotel in Palmerton are (front) Jane Hower (back, l-r) Ken Huber and Michael DiGirolamo. The restaurant recently celebrated its five-year anniversary.
Published January 17. 2011 05:00PM

It began as nothing more than a casual stop for a hamburger.

Little did Ken Huber know that his decision to stop at the Fireline Hotel in Palmerton over a decade ago would lead to a highly successful foray into the restaurant business.

The business, located at 1065 Fireline Road, recently celebrated its five year anniversary under Huber.

Originally from Jim Thorpe, Huber moved to Wind Gap, and then the Bethlehem area. He worked 30 years in the trucking business, where be became operational manager at Silberline.

A return to Carbon County in the late 1990s led to the purchase of a small farm just up the street from the hotel, which Huber said was done in part for Jane Hower's horses, Sparky and Bandit.

With an eye toward retirement, Huber purchased the hotel in 1999 from the late Louis Borsody, who owned the operation for about 20 years. It wasn't until 2005 that Huber decided to open the business.

"My goal was to bring it back into a family restaurant, and offer different things," Huber said. "That's what we did."

Three months after he opened, Huber said he received a compliment from Ann Smith, who, along with her husband, Clair, owned the then-Smitty's Fireline Hotel in the 1960s and 1970s. He said Smith thanked him "for turning this back into a nice family restaurant."

"My thing is this has been a landmark for years, and my goal is to keep it that way," he said. "If you change it too much, you lose that identity."

When Huber opened the hotel, it served dinners starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, at 2 p.m. Saturday, and at noon on Sunday.

"From day one, we had people waiting in line," he said. "We opened up with a limited menu that was one page, and now we have a six-page dinner menu, a five-page lounge menu and a specials sheet."

The restaurant has clearly grown since then, Huber said.

"We listened to what the people wanted, and we added to the menu," he said. "We still do."

The hotel is now open starting at 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, at noon Fridays and Saturdays, and brunch and dinner on Sundays. While closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, Huber said private parties are held those days.

"We were always busy on weekends when we first opened up," he said. "Now, you pretty much need reservations on Friday and Saturday."

Huber said a team effort, good food, and the overall atmosphere - along with the customers themselves - are what have made the business what it is today.

The menu features an Italian American Cuisine, serving steaks, seafood, pasta, and a real favorite, prime rib melt.

"I'm always told we have big portions and quality food at very moderate prices," he said. "I get told for what I charge, my portions are too big."

Huber praised Hower, who manages the hotel, for her overall know-how, as well as chef Michael DiGirolamo and the other dozen employees for their devotion and dedicated service.

"We assembled the right team," he said. "And we get phenomenal customers."

Huber said he can't thank his customers enough for their patronage.

"The people compliment our decorations for all seasons," he said. "What makes me feel good is parents feel safe enough to have their kids come in here and walk around."

On top of that, Huber said he's been fortunate to catch up with friends and family he lost touch of for several decades.

"I'd like to thank everybody for their support," he said. "I'm getting to see a lot of people I haven't seen in years."

For reservations, call (610) 852-4021.

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