You can take this business to the bank

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First Posted: 6/24/2013

If the enormous bank vault to the right as you walk in won’t transport you to another place entirely, perhaps the high windows, warm colors, mezzanine seating, or gorgeous ceiling will. Stepping foot into Mea’s Restaurant, Bar, and Conference Center is a guarantee that, for the time you’re there, you won’t feel like you’re in Hazleton anymore.

The restaurant, owned and operated by brothers Jim and Ed Kulish, is celebrating its five-year anniversary this month.

The brothers find a perfect balance in Mea’s: Ed, who was a chef at a Hazleton restaurant for 15 years prior to opening his own, delves into the creative side of things, while Jim takes care of and is trained in the business end.

Merely one year after its opening in 2009, Mea’s earned three diamonds from AAA, making it the highest rated restaurant in town. The business has maintained such quality since, though not without challenges along the way.

One of the most difficult challenges Mea’s has faced over the years is something completely out of their hands – the construction up and down Broad Street, which makes traversing to the restaurant a little difficult.

“It’s definitely impacted us,” Jim said. “It’s been brutal, but you just keep looking ahead to the point where you say, ‘You know what? When it’s done, it’s going to be gorgeous.”

Mea’s, like most every business today, has also seen quite a bit of change due to the economy.

The menu is certainly still fine dining, what Jim calls American contemporary, but it has endured changes over the years.

“We started and our scope was high, high end, which we were and we did,” Jim said, “but we found ourselves, out of necessity, evolving to take off the frills. Today, we are still fine dining, but at a price point that still attracts people and that they can afford.”

The food is just one piece of the beautiful picture that is Mea’s. The building itself is a strong draw. It once home to the Markle Bank and Trust Company, and lay vacant in 2000, but it was bought by George Hayden, who gutted it and restored what he could. Mea’s plays host to one of the most marvelous pieces of restoration: an all-plaster ceiling that’s intricately designed.

“Right now, that’s insured for about three million dollars,” Jim noted.

The most stunning part of the restaurant is what patrons see the second they walk in: an enormous bank vault that is over 100 years old.

“It’s still operational,” Jim said. “It’s all mechanical timers, so you crank it up like a grandfather clock, set the dials, it engages the pistons. It may still operate, but we made sure that it can’t close.”

The bar is built close enough to the vault that the door would be unable to swing inward, but who would want to shut out something that looks so cool inside, and that’s so useful?

The vault serves as part supply closet, part wine cellar, with all the original material still intact. The only change is the coat of blue paint over the four inches of plate steel on the inside, which was becoming rusty.

There’s a specific feel that the Kulish brothers went for in designing Mea’s in both décor and menu: a metropolitan atmosphere.

“That’s the nicest comment, and the one we love the most,” Jim said. “It’s your night out, after all, and we love it when people leave and say, ‘Wow, not only was the food great, but I feel like I was anywhere else but downtown Hazleton.’”

Yet, Hazleton itself is the driving factor in why the brothers, who grew up in the city, adore their business so much.

“What we love so much about this place is that it’s a piece of history,” Jim said. “It’s from a point of time in Hazleton when coal was king and certain families had tons of money. It’s nice to be able to preserve that, and share it with other people.”