Baker City Cafe’s new owners add dinner menu

By ED MERRIMAN Baker City Herald March 17, 2010 11:37 am

You won’t find Guido guarding the front door, but inside the Baker City Cafe, there’s a taste of Italy on the new dinner menu to go along with the house favorite clam chowder and the Hog Gobbler Grinder.

New owners Matthew Clark, Brian Olson, Josh DeCarl and Debbie Fisher purchased the Baker City Cafe Feb. 1.

And although they’ve kept the cafe’s successful lunch menu, they’re now open for dinner Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings until 10 o’clock.

“We had been talking with Josh and his wife about opening a restaurant when we got a call from Brandi Ulrey (the cafe’s former owner) saying she was moving out of town in three weeks and had to sell the restaurant,” said Olson, who along with Clark owns the Clark and Company furniture and home decorations store on Broadway Street.

“Brandi had a job offer in the Tacoma area — one that she couldn’t pass up,” Olson said. “We paid a fair price — fair market value.”

The Ulreys had recently obtained a license to serve beer and wine, something the new owners also want to add to the menu before summer.

Olson said while the traditional fare at restaurants in Baker City is good, he saw a need for more ethnic variety besides Chinese and Mexican.

The new dinner menu features a variety of Italian entrees, and Olson said specials will also give diners a taste of Thai, Greek and other ethnic cuisine.

Over the next few months, the most popular of those will be incorporated into the dinner menu.

DeCarl said that when he got the call from Ulrey, he had already bought the building that adjoins Baker City Cafe along Resort Street, and he planned to open a cafe featuring rotisserie chicken to go once the city’s central park, Leo Adler Parkway and Resort Street improvements are completed.

However, when the opportunity arose to buy Baker City Cafe and the Ulreys’ recipes, DeCarl and Fisher decided to team up with Clark and Olson.

“Why start over from scratch when this restaurant already has a really good lunch following?” DeCarl said.

The lunch menu is unchanged, other than the addition of a pulled pork sandwich.

Business hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Olson said he and Clark are optimistic about Baker City’s future, after two successful years operating Clark and Company.

For much of the day Sunday and after closing hours on Monday, the new owners were busy painting over the yellow ceiling with a chocolate brown, which Fisher said creates a warmer feel by drawing the focus to the historic brick interior walls.

The building, constructed in the late 19th century, has housed a variety of bars and restaurants over the years, including the Frontier Cafe and Woody’s Place.

Olson brings 20 years of restaurant experience in the Portland metro area to his role managing the Baker City Cafe and filling in wherever he’s needed. His roles range from chef to waiting tables, serving and cashiering.

Olson said he wants to thank customers for their patience during the transition. With two new cooks on board now, he said the service is improving and will be topnotch with the addition of a third chef coming soon.

“We’re advertising in Boise and the Reno area for a third chef” with expertise in preparing Italian and a variety of other ethnic cuisine, Olson said.

“I have a chef from Reno coming in for an interview this week,” he said.

DeCarl said the Italian portion of the menu is developing first with help from his brother, who is a chef in Italy.

 In the meantime, during the search for a new dinner chef, Olson has arranged to bring in some guest chefs he knows from the Portland area to prepare some of their signature dishes, such as the Moroccan lamb featured last week.

“As we get comfortable with our dinner menu, we will add new things every couple of weeks,” DeCarl said. “We didn’t want to overwhelm the kitchen with 20 new dishes all at once.

“Hopefully by this summer we will have a fully unique dinner menu,” DeCarl said.

“We all believe in making things from scratch. We’re serving brisket of beef for Saint Patrick’s Day, and we have the beef soaking in brine, so it will be authentic,” Olson said.

“All of our soups are homemade,” Olson said.

In addition to a special soup of the day, Olson said clam chowder is always on the menu.

“Baker City Cafe was famous for their clam chowder, so we serve that every day,” Olson said. ‘We’re also bringing back the gourmet pizzas,” which are available on the new dinner menu.

Sometime between now and summer,  the new owners are hoping to extend dinner service at the Baker City Cafe to six days a week, Olson said.