The Black Box Cafe sets the stage for a comfortable dining experience.
Located in the historic Ritz Theater building, 222 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, the cafe originally was limited to coffees and prepackaged items. But today, it provides the downtown with breakfast items, sandwiches, daily specials and more.
Chef’s Table recently chatted with Michael Melcher, who owns the cafe and also runs the Creative and Performing Arts Academy of NEPA in the Ritz with his wife, Sheri.
Q: When did you open?
A: We began our soft open in January 2020 with our grand opening scheduled for March 2020. COVID-19 restrictions forced us to reschedule, and we are (fingers crossed) anticipating that we will be able to officially launch in February or March 2021.
Q: What is the history of the restaurant?
A: The kernel of the Black Box Café began in early 2019 as a meeting space for CaPAA (the Creative and Performing Arts Academy) students and a parent lounge. As CaPAA grew, students were spending more time at the Ritz and (there was a) demand for more diverse offerings. We had an available kitchen but had never utilized it to its full potential. As we continued to grow, we found a symbiotic relationship between all the things the theater can offer and what the Black Box Café could do to grow with it and also stand on its own.
Q: Describe the food you serve and what is available for special diets.
A: “Comfort food with an artistic twist” is where we constantly find ourselves. We offer everything from Mac & Cheese to a Fried Chicken Sandwich, but we are always adding a bit here and there to them, making them unique and not easily found elsewhere. We recently purchased a commercial smoker and are now offering smoked pork, chicken, beef and turkey that have all been given our Chef Mike’s secret Black Box Signature Rub. We have vegan options available, and since 99.9% of everything is made-to-order, we can handle special requests pretty easily.
Q: What are your most-ordered menu items?
A: They are called comfort foods for a reason. Our Grilled Cheese and Tomato Bisque, Fried Chicken Sandwich, chips and salsa, and nachos as well as all of our smoked meat specials (soon to be on our new menu full-time) have been performing well beyond our expectations. Our chips and nachos benefit from making the tortilla chips as they are ordered, which give them a light and crisp flavor you do not get from pre-packaged and bulk-fried versions.
Q: How did your menu come to be?
A: It is organic growth and always evolving. Two of the biggest mistakes a restaurant can make is being complacent with what you have or radically changing what you have. It is a tightrope, because you want to grow your audience while staying true to the audience you have already found.
Q: How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
A: Our restaurant is tied to the theater, and we have now nurtured our theater to be tied to the restaurant. COVID, oddly enough, channeled us into an opportunity we had been looking at for some time: bringing a delicious dining experience to your arts encounter. We now have three “stages” within the historic Ritz Theater that can cater to whatever crowd size you have. And between those stages we can, thanks to our years of performing-arts stage settings, adapt our atmosphere to whatever an event needs. While we are open for breakfast and lunch to the at-will public, we do not ever see ourselves as a regular dinner restaurant. What we offer is the “dinner and a movie/musical/play/event” that no longer needs to be separated by an “and.”
Q: What type of seating do you offer?
A: We offer numerous and flexible seating areas (all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compliant) including the first floor café and outdoor seating. Our mezzanine (the Poli Lounge) has a full bar and cozy seating, and our beautiful theater has been altered to offer a one-of-a-kind dinner theater/event. Ultimately, we have four seating spaces that can accommodate different and diverse requests.
Q: What kinds of promotions do you offer?
A: We have a daily special that has not been repeated since we began offering it. On our Facebook page, you can find out what the special is for that day, and it is offered only for that day since we usually sell out. Although, if there was something you liked, you can always ask us.
Q: Do you offer catering, event space, etc.?
A: Thanks to our four seating areas and a full theater stage, we are a fully functional event center.
Q: Where do you see the restaurant headed in the future?
A: We want to continue being a great place for your breakfast and lunch needs, but it is our sincerest hope that we are known as the place to go for a dinner/theater event which leaves you at an impasse in trying to decide which you liked better (the food or the entertainment).
Q: Do you offer delivery, takeout or curbside pickup?
A: All of the above. We offer DoorDash and GrubHub for delivery. We also offer free breakfast and lunch delivery to businesses in downtown Scranton. You can always call ahead and come in to pick (it) up, or we would be happy to run your meal out to your car.
Laura Rysz is the features copy editor and calendar editor at The Times-Tribune and runs the Talk of the Times column, which focuses on local fundraisers and other events. She also writes Chef’s Table that profiles restaurants around the region. Additionally, Laura curates events online on AccessNEPA.com. Laura is involved in the special Mother’s Day edition and curates occasional features Marry Memories and Times Travelers. She is a graduate of Haddonfield Memorial High School, New Jersey, and earned an English professional writing degree with a minor in mass communications from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre. She also earned a certificate in Social Media Marketing from Rutgers Business School. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5228.