Big plans for Easton’s waterfront: A rooftop restaurant

By Rudy Miller | For | Posted February 11, 2019 at 06:45 AM | Updated February 13, 2019 at 02:40 PM

The Commodore at 100 Northampton St. in Easton will be attached to the Kaplan’s building to its right. (Rendering courtesy of architect Christine Ussler)

Garrett Vassel sees a future where diners sip wine, feel the breeze off the Delaware River and look down on the free bridge from seven stories up.

The New York developer bought the Kaplan’s Awnings building and hopes to preserve it, add onto it and showcase what he calls one of the city’s key gateways.

Garrett Vassel on the roof of the Kaplan’s building. (Rudy Miller | For

His plan for “The Commodore,” a building with a rooftop bar/restaurant, two retailers and 32 apartments, will get its first public review Monday, Feb. 11, by the Easton historic district commission. 

“We are hoping to have a restaurant/bar on the seventh floor overlooking what I believe to be the one of the best views of the Lehigh Valley,” said Vassel, president of the Optima Durant Group. “There will be a lot of glass, great views from bridge to bridge to the falls to the valley. In my opinion it will be one of the great places the community will want to meet for a meal or a drink and get together.”

Courtesy photo

He wants to preserve the building at 100 Northampton Street that dates back to the 1800s. His estimated $12 million to $18 million investment will expand it toward the river and toward the sky.

He said he wants the neighbors, the elected leaders, the tenants and the diners all to embrace the plan. 

“My goal is for the finished product to mean something, to have a positive impact on Easton,” Vassel said.

Rudy Miller | For

The project is at a conceptual stage. The Monday review was set up for the city’s historic district commission to “take the temperature” of the project. He hired the commission’s consultant, Christine Ussler, as his architect. 

While his plan isn’t widely known, he’s already been approached by restauranteurs from Brooklyn to Philadelphia to Connecticut about opening the restaurant. He hasn’t decided whether to bring in an out-of-towner or a local owner, whether to bring on someone experienced or fresh, or even what will be served.

“I don’t want it to just serve one segment that’s interested in feeding themselves. I want it to be a broader offering. I’m trying to think through that,” he said.

The ground floor of the Kaplan’s building. (Rudy Miller | For

The Kaplan family sold the building in July and relocated its awning business to 1298 Spruce St., the former Ealer Electric supply house. The two retail stores Vassel plans at Kaplan’s will go to the left and right of the existing entrance. Vassel said he’s gotten a lot of pitches for the small, ground level retail spaces, including:

  • A bodega for organic food
  • A boutique pharmacy
  • An artisan commercial kitchen
  • A doggie daycare and retail space
  • A shared work space for small entrepreneurs 
  • A dry cleaner
  • A gym
  • A coffee shop
  • A restaurant 

“I don’t quite want to pull the trigger on any one tenant yet,” Vassel said. “The interest is there so I’m very encouraged by that.”

At one point the site had four buildings on it, Vassel said. Now it has just Kaplan’s, although the original 1880 structure has a 1946 rear addition. The addition is in disrepair, Vassel said.

It has a leaky basement. It has a faux-brick façade over a wood frame. “The whole addition is basically a nightmare,” Vassel said. He wants to tear down the addition, restore the original Kaplan’s and build around it.

He’ll put apartments in the second and third floors of Kaplan’s and in floors two through six of the new building. The new construction will wrap around an open-air grass courtyard built onto the roof of the old Kaplan’s.

“The goal is to protect the historically significant part of Kaplan’s while making it worthwhile to build around it and to build a strong, stable new addition to the building,” Vassel said.

Easton has seen its share of historic renovations, but a privately-funded new construction project of this scale hasn’t been seen downtown in decades. A key to its success is its location, Vassel said.

“I characterize it as the gateway to the city of Easton, to the state of Pennsylvania, to the Lehigh Valley,” Vassel said. “We are talking about one of the most significant entrances to the city.”

Plans are tentative, but Vassel envisions a tenants-only entrance at the current Kaplan’s entrance. The new construction will be on a parking lot on the river side of the building. The ground floor in the new building will have about 15 parking spaces for tenants, Vassel said. He’s in the process of finding nearby parking for the other tenants, too.

“I think it’s really important to offer that amenity,” Vassel said. An entrance in the new section will lead to a lobby and elevator exclusively for restaurant patrons. Tenants’ privacy and security are an important consideration, Vassel said.

The apartment plans call for a gym, a tenants-only lobby and maybe even a doorman, Vassel said.

He envisions one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, although most will probably be two bedrooms, Vassel said. He wasn’t ready to commit to what rents he’ll charge, although he mentioned he’s “encouraged” by the rents paid by tenants across the street in the Penn Building. 

A two-bedroom apartment in that building was going for $1,895 a month on Feb. 8. Rents that steep are affordable for empty nesters looking to downsize, New York-metro area professionals looking to Pennsylvania for the cheap cost of living or employees of the new Hearst publications office going in on South Third Street. 

No one has lived in the apartments on the upper floors of the Kaplan’s building for decades, as evidenced by these photos.

As the Kaplan family packed up, they fielded weekly questions from interested tenants looking to reserve their apartment in a building that isn’t even designed yet, Vassel said. (For more information or to put your name on the list, email

Vassel has invested in real estate elsewhere in the Lehigh Valley but always had his eye on Easton due to its proximity to New York and Philadelphia.

“In the long term I think that the Lehigh Valley will become a more desirable to raise a family. It already is,” he said.

He is excited about the possibility of putting his stamp on Easton’s already vibrant residential and restaurant scene with what could be the downtown’s crown jewel. The rooftop restaurant someday might be a wedding destination, a place where Lafayette students take their parents to showcase Easton, a place to wow a client or for a special date.

“In my opinion it will be one of the great places the community will want to meet for a meal or a drink and get together,” Vassel said.

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