LEBANON, Pa. (WHTM) — A locally owned and operated food and coffee shop called ARE & BE Cafe in Lebanon is serving up unique menu options, with a brand that is focused on motivation.

ARE & BE Cafe is owned and operated by Lebanon County native and Cedar Crest alumni Damian Vargas, who grew up just down the road from his recently opened store front.

ARE & BE Cafe officially opened its doors back on August 14, 2022 and has since dominated the corner on 381 N. 8th Street with a unique atmosphere and a custom menu.

Back during the 2020 pandemic, Vargas began creating and selling t-shirts with his daughter, which is where he first created the phrase and brand “ARE & BE” – which is meant to represent the questions “who ARE you?” and “what are you going to BE?”

“Everyone is being told from a young age who to be,” Vargas said. “But the real question is who do you want to become.”

One day these questions rushed into Vargas’s mind after his daughter asked her dad what he wanted to be — Vargas decided to finally find out.

Since childhood, Vargas walked the streets in Lebanon and always passed by a building on the corner of N. 8th Street and Lehman Street. Years passed, and after two years of vacancy, a friend of Vargas purchased that same corner building. According to Vargas, this is when he decided to take his dream and make it a reality.

“For years I always wanted to run a food truck or a restaurant,” Vargas said. “Once the opportunity came, I felt like if I didn’t do it now then I never would.”

ARE & BE Cafe is about 750 square feet and has the ability seat up to 35 people at once on the inside of the cafe during the winter months. According to Vargas, during the spring and summer months he is able to seat an additional 10 people at an outside section for customers looking for some fresh air while they enjoy their meals or drinks.

Fresh Donut Panini at ARE & BE Cafe

ARE & BE Cafe offers a wide array of original, community focused menu options, such as his Fresh Donut breakfast paninis. These are made using glazed donuts from the popular Lebanon-based donut shop called Fresh Donuts, located on 1202 Cumberland Street. According to Vargas, these Fresh Donut paninis then get packed with fillings like turkey, egg, cheese, bacon, ham, etc. and then pressed together to create a delicious, flavorful combo.

ARE & BE Cafe also offers a wide variety of specialty coffee drinks, snacks, candy and a lot more!

Though ARE and BE Cafe has a wide range of unique food and drink options on the menu, it isn’t the only thing that keeps customers coming back for more.

It’s the atmosphere inside the cafe!

Black Light Arcade room at ARE & BE Cafe

One review of ARE & BE Cafe on google reviews says, “Excellent overall experience great atmosphere and custom food.”

One stand out feature that adds to the inviting atmosphere is ARE & BE Cafe’s free, black light arcade room. According to Vargas, this kid friendly arcade room has 1000’s of games to choose from, spanning across multiple gaming platforms.

In addition to this eye catching feature that is aimed towards creating enjoyment for kids, Vargas also has plans in the future to not just make ARE & BE Cafe a place for food and drinks, or a place for kids to play games – but he wants ARE & BE Cafe to “uplift the community.”

Vargas has discussed starting a program where kids would be rewarded at the cafe for receiving good grades during the school year. Additionally, Vargas is considering beginning an afterschool tutoring program for children who may need further help in school.

Vargas also began holding free cupcake nights for kids and allows the children to decorate the cupcakes themselves.

“I am just looking to be more involved with my community,” Vargas stated.

If you are interested in stopping in to see what ARE & BE Cafe has to offer, their hours of operation are:

  • Tuesdays – Fridays // 7a.m. to 3p.m.
  • Saturdays and Sundays // 9a.m. to 3p.m.