If variety is the spice of life, then Lebanon County’s collective taste buds are in for a treat. A new restaurant in Annville possesses the power to expand the palate of local diners.

Room 101 The Med (35 W. Main St., Annville) is believed to be one of the first restaurants in Lebanon County to specialize in Mediterranean cuisine.

Room 101 The Med is located on West Main Street in Annville, just steps away from the Lebanon Valley College campus. Its name evokes both a collegiate ‘101’ class as well as the restaurant’s role in sharing a new cuisine with Lebanon County diners. (Jeff Falk)

Room 101 The Med is aptly named on several fronts. Not only does its name hearken to the collegiate setting only a stone’s throw away at Lebanon Valley College, but the restaurant also seeks to introduce locals to the varied cuisine that is ‘Mediterranean.’

Vito Mannino is both Room 101 The Med’s owner and head chef.

“The closest that comes to Mediterranean is Italian food,” said Mannino. “Twenty-one countries touch the Mediterranean (Sea), and we’re drawing from that many different cultures. It gives us a much broader range to build our menu.”

Mannino said diners are already familiar with many of the flavors.

“It’s a mix of Italian, Greek food, and Spanish food. A lot of our foods are imported from Italy. When you walk in the door, we really want to make you feel like you’re being transported into that area of the world.”

Vito Mannino attends a brick-oven pizza at Room 101 The Med. The restaurant opens to the public on Tuesday, June 13. (Jeff Falk)

Room 101 The Med conducted a soft opening on May 9 as a way to introduce the new business to family and friends. June 13 will mark the beginning of the restaurant’s grand-opening week.

Room 101 The Med is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“Things aren’t going too bad,” said Mannino, a 36-year-old resident of Annville. “We expected them to be slow at first. We’re trying to spread the word. The soft opening has given us a chance to iron out the wrinkles. We knew the first couple of months that we’d be changing some things around. It gives us a chance to solidify the menu. I’ve tried to lean towards my style. It’s kind of like making this little picture in my head a reality.”

“I love the small-town feel to the location,” added Mannino. “You see people walking by the front window, and Annville offers a parking lot in the back for us. It’s on the main street, and Annville, to me, became the best area to host the restaurant.”

Room 101 The Med’s menu features a wide assortment of appetizers, soups, salads, hoagies, brick-oven pizzas, pasta, entrees, and desserts. Room 101 The Med will offer a variety of beers but no full bar and customers are encouraged to bring their own wines.

Diners at Room 101 The Med can bring their own wine bottles, and beer can be purchased on-site. Here, Vito Mannino poses in front of a decorative wall in the restaurant. (Jeff Falk)

“One of the keys to success is knowing your customers,” said Mannino. “I’m born and raised in Lebanon. And when I developed the menu, I did it how I wanted to do it, but with local tastes in mind. We try to welcome people with open arms. You also have to be able to develop that good product.”

With an impressively decorated front dining room that peeks into the open kitchen, Room 101 The Med certainly makes a great first impression. A hallway lined with corkboards leads to a smaller rear dining room, which can host private parties. A modest take-out area resides just inside the back door. But Mannino said he knows that’s not enough.

Come into Room 101 The Med with the right mindset, and you may find yourself transported briefly to the Amalfi Coast. (Jeff Falk)

“The place may be amazing, but at the end of the day, the food better be good,” Mannino added. “Knowing the restaurant business is important, and understanding you’re going to start out slow.”

The restaurant can accommodate 65 guests comfortably.

Room 101 The Med’s kitchen is visible through a glass partition, with the brick pizza oven on full display. (Jeff Falk)

Mannino purchased the building, which formally served as a physical therapy outlet for LVC, two years ago, and then completely remodeled and reconfigured it.

“I’ve been in the industry for many years,” said Mannino. “My dad (Salvatore Mannino) taught me the ins and outs of the business. Those kinds of cuisines always drew me in. I always wanted to have a sit-down restaurant. That’s (Mediterranean) the kind of food I love to make.”

“I’ve wanted to own a restaurant since I was probably seven or eight,” Mannino continued. “I remember watching my dad be the person everybody asks questions. I wanted to emulate him, walk in his footsteps, own my own business, and help people out.”

Mannino put his father’s inspiration into practice through the culinary program at Lebanon County Career and Technology School. Then, he attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

Vito Mannino out front at Room 101 The Med. (Jeff Falk)

“You definitely have to inject your personality into your staff,” said Mannino. “You have to be a people person. I’m a people-pleaser. I want people to have a good time and a good experience when they come in. I want to bring positive energy to everything that I do.”

“In some regards, this was a leap of faith,” added Mannino. “But, I believe in my ability to make a good dish. I believe in my skills. But you still need customers coming in and telling us we’re doing a good job. To take on all of this, I definitely need to have a love for it.”

With both short-term and long-term goals for Room 101 The Med, Mannino understands progress is related to a process. Because certain things simply can’t be rushed, patience is required.

“Over the short term, we want to become a staple in the community,” said Mannino. “I want people to know they can come here and get a good meal and have a great experience. In the future, I’d like to offer cooking lessons. I hope this is my first place and that we can add another one someday. I want to be part of Lebanon’s growth and add new flavors to the town.”

“I love being part of this community,” concluded Mannino. “I want to bring something new and delicious to it. My dad always tried to provide a good product for the right price. I would love to be part of people’s events.”

And the way to a community’s heart is through its stomach.

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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...

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