Restaurant owner Steve Sleasman grew up in Westport at 1818 S. Olympia St. His latest venture has him working at 1818 Fourth Ave. in Olympia. Read whatever you want into that bit of information, but for Sleasman it’s just another sign that it was meant to be.
“This is supposed to happen,” said Sleasman, 47, who opened Cafe 186 inside the Olympia Elks Lodge this month. Business is getting better every day, he said, and before long he envisions providing food off-site to the homeless one day a month and something he calls “wandering chefs,” with regional chefs rotating through the business.
For the moment, though, it’s Sleasman and his staff of six. He is a member of the Elks lodge and an officer, he said, so bringing people to the cafe, which is open to the public, may act as a “soft pledge drive,” he said. The Elks lodge has about 300 members, Sleasman said.
The menu, which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, including seafood, could be described as comfort food with handmade ingredients.
Burger patties are made with ground chuck, Italian sausage, eggs and seasoning, while diners can always expect to find clam chowder on the menu.
“We’re in the Pacific Northwest,” he said, emphasizing clam chowder should be a fixture on the menu, not just once a week.
It’s been a long, mostly food-filled career for Sleasman.
Growing up in Westport, he spent one summer peeling bark for his father’s logging business and quickly realized that he never wanted to do that again, so he ventured off to restaurant work.
He worked in food distribution, ran his own restaurants, including a former pizza business in Tacoma. He left the industry for a time to be a consultant, but then came back to it. “I really missed being in the kitchen,” he said.
Sleasman considered opening an Italian restaurant in Lacey, but that plan fell through. Then he discovered the available kitchen and dining area at the Elks lodge and struck a deal. The restaurant serves the public, but also has private events at the lodge.
The business opened April 11, and he prepared food that week for Easter Sunday. He made more food than he needed, so the next day, he packed it all up and surprised homeless people by pulling up in his car and handing it out.
Sleasman served razor clams, meatloaf, scalloped potatoes and a peanut butter, jelly, banana and bacon Monte Cristo, or his version of it. Sleasman became emotional as he described the smiles and excitement he encountered.