Freelance features

Explore State College and the rest of Centre County with me through my assignments in Town&Gown:

Today's Seniors: Longtime lovebirds

Finding and sticking with “the one” takes commitment, love, respect, laughter, fate, and a little bit of luck. These three long-married couples living in the Centre County region share their memories of their lives together and advice for others.

They say you’ll find love when you aren’t looking. Mark Brackenbury was twenty-six years old and working as a reporter in Connecticut when he briefly met Paula, a reporter for a competing newspaper.

Mediterranean, Your Way ... at Mezeh

For many, healthy eating can be a struggle during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether you’re running errands or preparing for a full day of work, finding a quick and healthy option for lunch or dinner can sometimes be a formidable task.

For Mezeh, it’s what they do.

One of the company’s leaders, partner Steve Walker, said Mezeh fills a void with Mediterranean food, offers a healthy fast casual option, and gives people an opportunity to try unique concepts on a tight schedule.

A Passion for Decorating

Sarah Bryan grew up helping her mother and grandmother in the kitchen, but never really thought of it as a career. As a teenager, though, she became increasingly interested in reading recipes and learning about the ingredients and techniques used in each dish.

“I was really interested in the whole thing, cooking and especially baking,” she says.

Bryan continued helping prepare meals and desserts for her family dinners, learning more from her grandmother.

Grab a Plate at Bonfire BBQ

Brisket and ribs on the grill at Bonfire (Photo by Hannah Pollock)

Walking into Bonfire Old-Fashioned BBQ is like walking into a backyard neighborhood party. There are no strangers. Everyone who enters is family.

The welcoming atmosphere is key to the business’s success, according to co-owner Josh Kunig.

“It’s like that relaxing time in your backyard,” he says. “You bring everyone over. It’s that hospitality—you want to have a great feel with it.”

Kokoro Offers Japanese-Style Food with a Focus on Fresh

When diners visit Kokoro, they will more than likely see Shariful Mintu both helping in the kitchen and talking with everyone in the dining room.

“I always liked feeding people,” says Mintu, the restaurant’s leader. “I like to see people happy.”

Kokoro, a BYOB Japanese-style restaurant offering a variety of dishes, is tucked along Calder Way in downtown State College. It opened in late 2022 and has since grown into a popular spot for locals and college students alike.

Taste of the Month: Worth the weekly wait at Crumbl

The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, gift giving and, of course, cookies. Everyone can find unique versions of their favorite cookies at State College’s sweetest new addition, Crumbl Cookies.

Crumbl offers a rotating variety of gourmet cookies and ice cream at its storefront on Colonnade Way in State College, one of the newest outlets of the popular national chain. The cookie confectionary opened in late September, drawing a strong following, according to co-owner Adam Coughran.

'The Perfect Level of Sweetness' at Chew Chew Bun

Skye Chang noticed something was missing from the food offerings in downtown State College. He saw an opportunity for sharing the sweet and savory baked goods he enjoyed at bakeries in Taiwan and from his mother’s kitchen.

He’s now filling that gap—one bun at a time—with Chew Chew Bun, an Asian bakery that offers Taiwanese-inspired baked goods.

“This is how we grew up in Taiwan,” Chang explains. “If you walk down the street, almost every couple of blocks, there’s an Asian bakery.”

Crafted from History: Steve Strouse’s artwork begins with wood salvaged from memorable trees

Steve Strouse crafts Shaker boxes, kitchen utensils, keepsakes, and other items from wood taken from memorable Centre County trees. (Photo by Chuck Fong)

Where a homeowner may see a mess to clean up, Steve Strouse sees an opportunity to create meaningful art. He finds his canvases in what many consider to be disposable fallen trees, transforming them into boxes, kitchen tools, clocks, and more.

Tiny Café. Big Flavor.

To kickstart your day, consider taking a trip to Pleasant Gap to check out the Tiny Tavern Café.

The café fills the former bottle shop at the Red Horse Tavern on the corner of Main Street and College Avenue. The Red Horse owners had contemplated what to do in the front space of the building. They considered reopening the bottle shop but opted against it due to rising prices and competition.

“It just didn’t seem like it was needed or cost-effective,” owner Natalie Valdivia says.

Carter’s Table: a delicious twist on the simple taco

Shawn Carter started at the Downtown State College Farmers Market and now has customers flocking to his new restaurant. (Photo by Hannah Pollock)

Shawn Carter had built a successful catering business serving a worldwide variety of foods and flavors when he decided to try out the Downtown State College Farmers Market in April 2022.

Carter, a Penn State alumnus, remembered walking through the market on his way to campus and thought his cooking could add something new to the offerings.

Best Bites for Li'l Appetites: Tasty local kids' meals

Picking a restaurant where every member of the family will be satisfied can be tricky. Luckily, Happy Valley is home to a wide variety of eateries where kids can enjoy a tasty meal, whether they’re adventurous eaters or refuse anything but chicken fingers. Some pint-sized diners may have a more refined palate but don’t necessarily need the whole adult portion, so kids’ meals fit the bill. And Mom and Dad don’t have to pay the adult portion price!