Software Company Joins Downtown Allentown’s Growing Tech Entrepreneur Community
By Colin McEvoy on April 21, 2015
When Sebastian Serra was still trying to get his restaurant software company off the ground, he repeatedly visited Allentown from Boston over the span of several months to meet with Trifecta Technologies, a software firm that was helping develop the technology.
Inspired by the growth of the city’s downtown, the region’s strong workforce, its close proximity to major Northeastern markets, and its enthusiastic support for entrepreneurs, Serra decided to relocate the company from Boston to Allentown and move his entire family to the Lehigh Valley.
“I just got really excited about all the development and everything the city was doing here,” said Serra, founder and CEO of Sarbari. “I wanted to be part of that right from the beginning. I can’t explain it, but there was just an entrepreneurial energy in the air.”
Sarbari provides web-based restaurant software to improve business efficiencies and productivity for restaurants and food service operations. The company moved into 806 Hamilton Street in October, and while they started with two employees, they now have 15, a dozen of which are Lehigh Valley employees.
Their presence aligns with efforts by City Center Lehigh Valley and others to carve out a niche for tech entrepreneurs and small startups in downtown Allentown – particularly through City Center’s co-working space Velocity – along with all the other development taking place as part of the city’s ongoing revitalization due to the Neighborhood Improvement Zone.
“City Center aims to empower entrepreneurs who are passionate about cultivating their ideas here as another strategy for transforming downtown Allentown into a vibrant urban core,” said J.B. Reilly, City Center founder and president. “Through Velocity, we also plan to network with the rich pool of colleges and universities in the Lehigh Valley.”
Serra has also found the workforce available in the Lehigh Valley to be excellent, but believes a great deal of local talent interested in tech positons have previously been leaving the region for jobs in New York City and Philadelphia. Now, he said, they are finding new options locally.
“Giving that talent the opportunity to work in the same place they live was very attractive to us,” Serra said. “People were willing to take a chance with a start-up company if it meant the chance to live and work near their home, which I thought was very exciting and unique.”
Serra was first inspired to move to Allentown after Reilly suggested Sarbari move to Velocity at 532 Hamilton Street, which offers affordable leases and built-in networking opportunities for startups. Sarbari outgrew the space before they even moved in, but they believed in the City Center’s vision, so Reilly helped them find their new space.
With a modern architecture of glass, wood and exposed brick, Velocity opened in May 2014, offering 6,300 square-feet on the second and third floor of a rehabilitated retail property. It currently houses such startups as The Social Station, a marketing technology company; Eleven Eleven Social, a social media marketing agency; and Rising Tide Therapeutics, a biotechnology company developing therapies to treat rare diseases.
“Not only are these tenants all doing leading work in their fields, they all have plans to grow and create jobs, and many of them have committed to living downtown as well,” Reilly said. “Their innovative thinking, passion for their businesses and commitment to the success of downtown Allentown will make a big impact here in the years to come.”
Sarbari was also attracted to the Lehigh Valley due to its proximity to larger urban markets where perspective clients live, like New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., said marketing director Michael Corr. Sarbari serves about 200 customers, including many of the downtown Allentown restaurants, such as Roar, Fegley’s Brew Works, Billy’s Downtown Diner, and The Hamilton Kitchen & Bar.
Serra has spent about 25 years in the food industry, and started his own food distribution business out of college. He believed that although restaurants have started taking advantage of the Internet and technology, most of the focus has been on the front of the house, not in the kitchens and the back end.
“If you’re ever in the back of most restaurants, you’ll see they’re still antiquated; they’re operating with clipboards and sheets of paper hanging everywhere,” he said. “It’s really not automated at all. An efficiency has been lacking there, and so I had the idea of developing software to automate that process.”
Founded in 2009, Sarbari software creates a customized product list, standardizes purchasing, and provides complete transparency and visibility around pricing, invoices, and order history. It comparison shops for items, seeks the best value for products, and places orders to all suppliers in a quick fashion.
Studies have shown most food service operators waste up to 20 percent to 25 percent of their time on non-productive, non-revenue-producing activities, according to the company. Serra said having Sarbari is like adding a full-time purchasing equipment to staff without the expense.
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