Lutron tries to harvest more than just profits -- pears, too

Author: , Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published: Oct 09 2011 08:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Oct 11 2011 05:55:10 AM EDT
COOPERSBURG, Pa. -

It's a Lehigh Valley company known for dazzling lighting systems, but did you know that Lutron Electronics is also in the business of growing pears?

Tom Sacks never thought he'd be running an orchard, but that was before he tasted the sweet nectar that is the Asian pear.

"It gave you a feeling of being weak in your knees," he said. "You couldn't believe a flavor like that existed."

Sacks is the general manager of Subarashii Kudamono -- Japanese for "wonderful fruit." Tucked into a quiet corner of Northwest Lehigh County, it is one of the very few Asian pear orchards in the United States.

"When you have an Asian pear, you're going to say to yourself, 'Man, where has this been all my life?'"

They look like honey-colored apples, but with a surprising taste and texture. Also surprising? The owner: Lutron, the international lighting conglomerate based in Coopersburg known for designing the light systems for Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field and the New York Times building. Lutron's founder, Joel Spira, invented the light dimmer in 1959.

Spira and his wife discovered the Asian pear on business trips to Japan.

"At the end of meetings with the vendor, they would have an Asian pear as a sign of friendship," said Sacks.

To understand the Asian pear, you have to taste it. It has a sweet, but not saccarine, taste that lacks the tartness of an apple.

Tom Sacks' story is an unlikely as this orchard itself, but then again, life has a funny way of coming full circle. He grew up in nearby New Tripoli; Sacks' mother actually worked on this orchard when it was a dairy farm years ago. He became an electronics executive working in Japan, and now, he is home -- tending that sweet nectar that still gets him weak in the knees.

"These are the best fruits, and I wouldn't lie to you," he said with a laugh.

Subarashii Kudamono pears are sold at Wegman's supermarkets in our area, as well as various grocers in New York City. The orchard also makes wine and unaged brandy, which are available at PCB liquor stores in Pennsylvania. You can also buy directly from the orchard's website.
The orchard is also hosting a four-course Asian pair tasting dinner on October 20 at the Farmhouse Restaurant in Emmaus.