Business

Mike's Grill splices gourmet with everyday

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SNOQUALMIE - Although he is 40 years old, Mike Brown is still playing restaurant.

Ever since he was a boy growing up in Southern California, Brown liked to imagine he was working at a restaurant - taking orders, cooking meals, showing people to their table.

Now he has a big new playground in the city's Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood. Last month, Brown opened Mike's Cascade Grill and he is asking Valley residents to come play with him.

"I just love the restaurant business," Brown said.

While Brown has played restaurant since he was a child, he started getting paid for working at one when he was 16. He first worked as a bus boy and moved up to positions waiting tables and bartending. He liked the work so much that he eventually moved on to management.

Brown's longest stint was from 1988-1997 when he worked for California Pizza Kitchen, opening up restaurants in Las Vegas and the chain's first East Coast restaurant in Washington D.C. In 1995, he opened the company's Bellevue restaurant and moved to Washington. After California Pizza Kitchen, Brown worked in management at other restaurants in the Puget Sound area. For the past five years he's worked for Milestones, a Canadian company that opened its first U.S. restaurant in Kirkland. He said his experience with Milestones taught him a lot about the kind of company he wanted to work for and, moreover, the kind of restaurant leader he wanted to be.

"I thought I was ready to do this [open a restaurant] five years ago," Brown said. "But I learned a lot at Milestones about honesty and integrity. They propelled me to do this."

When Milestones closed its Kirkland location, Brown saw it as an opportunity to do what he wanted, open his own restaurant.

"This was a calling card. I had four kids; I was about to turn 40. It was time to do this," he said. "I had been thinking of my own restaurant since I was 9."

While talking with an investment group in Seattle, he heard about the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood from one of the investors who lived there. Once Brown saw Snoqualmie and the location on the corner of Center Boulevard and Mayrand Lane Southeast, he knew he had found the right spot.

"Once I saw this [location], I never looked back," he said.

Brown was able to persuade some old colleagues to come along with him, including his chef, Adan Reyes, who Brown worked with at California Pizza Kitchen. He had not seen Reyes since they both left the company, but Brown fortuitously ran into him at Crossroads Mall while developing his new restaurant. Brown was also able to snag an old colleague from Milestones, Erin Whittington, to be his assistant manager.

Once he secured the location, Brown wanted to create an environment that went with his motto: "Hospitality served daily." The first thing Brown looked for when he hired his staff was a friendly attitude; and he made the interior décor warm and light so people would feel at home. There is even an overlay of Mount Si in the restaurant's bar. In the future, Brown wants to take further advantage of his location on Center Boulevard with its view of Mount Si by building a deck out front with outdoor seating.

"The best will be a June night at about 7:30 p.m. [on the deck]," he said. "It could be the most spectacular setting on the Eastside."

The menu is Brown's greatest hits and he serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. He said he does not like to drown anything with sauce and wants to make simple meals great. That is why he offers something as basic as meat loaf or a turkey club sandwich, and nothing on the breakfast menu is more than $10.

"In restaurants, it has become overly complicated and doesn't need to be," Brown said.

There are higher-end specialties, however, with steak dishes and a wide variety of seafood. Salads, pastas, sandwiches and burgers can also be found on the menu.

As owner, Brown was able to throw in some personal touches. His Jane's Seafood Linguine is named after Brown's mother, who was a gourmet cook in Los Angeles. Mr. Tuupos Hawaiian Style Chicken got its flavor and name from the "best chicken" Brown ever had, served at a cookout hosted by his son's teacher.

There is full bar and a dessert menu that features the Cascade Cookie, a giant, chocolate, chocolate-chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and powdered sugar.

Although Mike's Cascade Grill has been in business less than a month, he believes he must be doing something right. While his first day on May 14 was a little shaky, Brown said the restaurant has since filled up during all of the breakfast, lunch and dinner rushes.

"It's getting better every day," Brown said.

It looks as though Brown is here to stay, even if he is just playing around.

* Mike's Cascade Grill is located at 7727 Center Blvd. S.E. in Snoqualmie. Call (425) 888-5085 or visit www.cascadegrill.com for information.

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