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Pogacha Restaurant & Bar

A long-time favorite returns!

Peka, the wood-fired oven at Pogacha that has baked four million handmade bread items since 1987 is back! The one-ton custom oven was made near Tuscany and has recently been installed in its new home with a new hood, ready for the next 30 years.

Thirty-four years ago, Helen Brocard opened Pogacha in Bellevue. She sold the restaurant in 1997 to Brad and Lisa Cassidy who have run it ever since. In 1999 they opened Pogacha Issaquah, partnering with Steve King. In 2003, Lisa and Brad opened Café Pogacha in Bellevue. Steve sold the Issaquah location in early 2020. Their Bellevue lease expired; their last day was February 1, 2020.

Lisa and Brad Cassidy

"I spent 14 months looking for a new location," recalls Brad. "A friend contacted me about a spot on Mercer Island. At first I wasn't interested but liked that the space already had a kitchen (the former Island Broiler), parking, easy access to the freeway, and was the end unit with space for outdoor dining, We finalized a deal in three weeks, and signed on March 2, 2020. Then COVID hit."

With openings there are always unexpected slowdowns (besides a pandemic). They were required to get a high-end hood for the oven vs. the chimney vent they'd had in Bellevue. Plus they had to add structure on the roof and below the oven, due to its weight. Brad had three glass doors designed for the front to open the space up. When they got into it, there was a solid cement wall that had to be cut out. "That was not a good surprise, but it's turned out well as we added a fourth glass doors and moved the front door, giving better access and really opening the restaurant up. December 14 was our opening day for takeout, curbside, and delivery."

Brad has created a brunch menu with long-time chefs Victor Caamal (10 years) and Randy Robinson (20+ years). "It includes Pogacha-style Dutch babies that don't take too long to bake. Eventually we'll bring fresh fruit to the table on a cart or tray to accompany the dish; right now we're unable to do that. We'll have Fra' Mani (ham) and 5 Cheese Bread Pudding (savory), and more bread pudding-like dishes, as well as standard brunch items. Lunch will be similar to what we were doing in Bellevue. The big change for lunch and dinner is that we started experimenting a year ago on homemade pasta: ravioli, fettuccine, penne, casarecce. We also have "BIG FISH" fish and chips for Sunday and Monday nights only." The Pogacha concept has always been based on high quality food, fresh ingredients, and scratch-made items. Making their own pasta is one more leap to increasing quality. "It's doable because of the great talent we have in the kitchen." Dinner only has been available since December. "We have items in development that will be added in once we can re-open the dining room. Then we'll open for brunch, followed by lunch.

"We do weekly to 10-day specials and monthly specials during the holidays. Specials should be just that, so we work hard on those and get great ingredients. Some past specials have been East Coast Diver Scallops, and Osso Bucco." Their wine list is primarily Washington, Oregon, California, with some European wines. "We want to offer wines that people often can't get in stores. We want people to get that double 'wow!' - great taste, reasonable price. Lisa and Mario Bucio have created our wine list. Mario's front of the house, but also can handle any job in the kitchen as well."

In late December, they took delivery of electric vehicles to use for delivery. "We did self-delivery for two reasons: 1) It's a way to keep our employees working while dining rooms are shut down, and 2) Marketing - you can get up to 50,000 impressions a day when people see a wrapped delivery car."

An unexpected restaurant lifer, Brad graduated from Central Washington University with an accounting degree in 1979. Realizing he didn't want to be an accountant, he answered a call from RSI Co. - Mick McHugh and Tim Firnstahl. He went through their management training program and spent 15 years with the company. He and Lisa met while working at RSI. "Long before I worked with them, I had thought I'd like to own a restaurant; funny how things work out. It was Mick who told me that Helen wanted to sell Pogacha. She was very innovative and ahead of her time; the food was high quality and fresh and she did a good job with high volume. I liked that she was doing things like homemade bread, which I had never done. She made hand-squeezed lemon vinaigrette and the Dobar Chicken that was written up in Bon Appetit magazine. I had always been into cooking, so I trained with the kitchen staff at Pogacha for 30 days, then worked in the kitchen the first five years."

Dobar chicken

"We love our regular customers; some have been coming since 1997 and maybe longer. We work hard to treat them well. Looking back, I have been selfish at times. Now I want to make sure we're more community-driven. We partner with Eastside Academy, providing food for teachers and kids. We're known for great food and service; I also want to be known for our charitable side."

Originally, Brad had a goal of owning seven restaurants. "Now there's less ego and more desire to have fun. Mario will run Mercer Island on a day-to-day basis, although I'll be in frequently. I've found I really enjoy teaching so I may find some opportunities there. And if someone has a great restaurant idea, I might help them get started with guidance and financial assistance, but they'd run things. I may not do another restaurant, but I hate saying 'never.' If I do another restaurant, it probably will be a Pogacha." Good news for all of us.

January 2021/Connie Adams

2707 78th Ave SE
Mercer Island, WA 98040

Café Pogacha
10885 NE 4th St, #110
Bellevue, WA 98004

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