Classic Bellevue Restaurant Pogacha Re-Opens on Mercer Island

December 16, 2020 | by Naomi Tomky

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Ribbon cutting with owners Brad and Lisa Cassidy | Photo courtesy Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce

Few restaurants last three years in the fast-moving Seattle region but Pogacha has been bringing flavors of Croatia and the Northwest to diners for more than three decades, and it is now doing so from a new home on Mercer Island. After construction delays and the pandemic kept the restaurant from a planned spring opening, the restaurant has finally opened this week.

Pogacha’s Croatian Flatbread | Photo courtesy Pogacha

Pogacha’s name comes from the soft, chewy Croatian flatbread that stars on the menu, honoring the original owner’s heritage. Husband and wife team Brad and Lisa Cassidy met working in the restaurant business and purchased Pogacha, which they happily ran for 23 years in Bellevue. But when their lease came to an end, they struggled for more than a year to find it a new home. Then, in February, they connected to the former Island Broiler space and suddenly the slow crawl toward a move switched gears. Within three weeks, Brad struck what he calls a win-win deal with the landlord. “We’re excited,” he says of the new space and community. “It was a great fit.”

Things started moving fast and they hoped to open in early May. But the pandemic hit, slowing the restaurant industry in general, while the changes they wanted to put into place in the space took longer than they expected – they ended up having to put in a hood for their very old, 2000-pound wood-fired oven. Brad estimates the oven might be about 40 years old, and he almost gave up and left it when he had to pull it out of the old location with a Sawzall. But the extra time meant they could get it refurbished before installing it in the new location.

Pogacha’s Dobar Chicken | Photo courtesy Pogacha

The restaurant is using the move as an opportunity to make a few other changes, too. Instead of the dried pasta they used previously, the pasta will all be made from scratch in the kitchen. They plan to double down on their commitment to sourcing high-quality ingredients as part of a smaller menu that focuses on doing a few things well. And while none of the signature gluten-heavy, creamy standards that their regulars love are going anywhere, Brad also says they’re looking to add a few new items that are geared toward people with restricted diets, including gluten-free and lighter options.

One thing that will stay the same, though is the staff. “It’s all based on the people,” says Brad. He has managers, servers, and chefs who have been with the restaurant for decades, some even before he owned it. “I can dream stuff up,” he says, “But I can’t plug all the holes.” He kept some employed throughout the extended closure and looks forward to others returning now that they are opening. He recognizes that the employees are the ones who create the restaurant, and give it the warm, friendly feeling that has earned the restaurant such staying power and 23 years of success. “We want to keep doing this,” he says of the community they’ve built around the Pogacha. “To take care of our people.” The only difference is now they’ll be doing it from Mercer Island – and for takeout only, until the Coronavirus restrictions get lifted.

Pogacha is open 4 pm to 9 pm nightly. The restaurant is located at 2707 78th Ave SE. Learn more and place orders online at: www.pogacha.com

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