When your cafe is in a location that gets little or no pedestrian or drive-by traffic, success can be elusive.
Somehow, Tricia and Jeremy Pollard are finding a way to make it work at their 2nd Street Eats & Sweets.
A health-conscious deli that also incorporates a chocolate business, Tricia's True Confections, this tiny store is achieving a level of business that Tricia admits “is beyond what we could have imagined."
Since taking over the former Brown Bag Deli in November 2011, the couple has found patronage among many office and government workers, who appreciate the speedy and low-cost breakfasts and lunches offered at 2nd Street.
Low cost? Consider that nothing on the menu is priced higher than $7.50.
That includes an oversized hoagie roll stuffed with crispy bacon, turkey and melted Swiss cheese; and a generous salad topped with slices of Philadelphia cheese steak.
The Pollards, who met in Oregon in the mid-1990s when Jeremy was a student at Portland's Western Culinary Institute, moved to Bend in 2005 after a decade on the Delaware shore.
Jeremy worked at such local establishments as McMenamins' Old St. Francis School, Giuseppe's and Brasada Ranch. Tricia, once their two children (now 15 and 12) were old enough to stand on their own two feet, pursued her passion for candy making. They did some joint catering, but when the Brown Bag was offered for sale, they were delighted to launch their own business.
This is a cozy space, to be sure. And it's a little hard to find the first time you come searching. Located in a tiny strip mall at the corner of Northeast Second Street and Norton Avenue, a block behind the 2nd Street Theatre and the church-like Platypus Pub, it is easiest to spot by the picnic table that occupies a spot in the parking lot.
Decor is minimal. An eclectic variety of tables seats 14 people, several of them on an old church pew. Other than a push-pinned U.S. map and a bulletin board of business cards, the center of attention is Tricia's chocolate display case against a far wall.
To be honest, the food does not rock my world, although I am a bigger fan than my frequent dining companion. The breakfast burritos and bagel sandwiches, the soups and sandwiches and BLT wraps, are all very ordinary. I would not recommend them over those of other favorite cafes.
There was nothing wrong with the dishes. But as my companion said about one plate, “It is what it says it is. It's just nothing to write home about."
This was certainly true of our breakfast. My breakfast burrito was a simple wrap with egg, cheese and bacon. My companion had a lightly toasted bagel fashioned into a sandwich, also with egg, mozzarella and bacon. The bagel itself was fresh and yeasty — made with organic flour, boiled and baked in New York style.
Salad and soup
I suppose I enjoyed the main part of the menu a little more than my friend did. My Philly steak salad, for instance, was even better than if I had made it myself.
The bed of mixed greens, dominated by chopped romaine lettuce, also featured halved slices of Roma tomato, thinly sliced cucumber, onion and ribbons of tangy pepperoncini. Slices of flank steak prepared as if for a Philly cheese-steak sandwich (also on the menu) were laid upon the top with a touch of provolone cheese.
There are always a couple of soups du jour available. On one visit, I found the split pea potage very tasty, although there was some ingredient that didn't appeal to my friend. Flavored with small bits of ham, carrot and potato, along with a healthy sprinkle of fresh thyme, this was a nice soup.
But I liked a curried peanut soup even better. Made with coconut milk and mild red curry paste like a Thai sauce, it also included bits of apple, celery and carrot to give it extra texture. The spice level was very moderate.
The chicken-salad sandwich, served on toasted sourdough bread with lettuce and tomato, would have benefited from more seasoning. Although the house-made salad mix — which blended minced bits of celery and red bell pepper — was thickly spread on the bread, it required salt to bring out the flavors. My companion liked it much better after that.
My hot turkey, bacon and Swiss sandwich, which Tricia Pollard said was a bestseller in the cafe, wasn't toasted. Instead, the plump hoagie bun was heated to melt the Swiss cheese that was layered within the roll with crispy bacon and a generous amount of sliced turkey. Dressed with mayonnaise, the hoagie was so full, it was left half open, with cold lettuce and sliced tomatoes floating on top.
When my friend bit into her egg-salad BLT wrap, made with hard-boiled egg as well as bacon, lettuce and tomato, she was nonplussed. “I could have made this at home," she said. I enjoyed a bite, but I'd have to agree with her.
I don't think either of us could have easily made the potato or macaroni salads that are offered as accompaniments to each sandwich. The creamy and peppery elbow macaroni came with a small amount of carrot and celery. The chunky potato salad had both of those vegetables, as well as hard-boiled egg. And both had a generous amount of thyme. Jeremy Pollard admits that it is one of his go-to ingredients.
Chocolate lovers might find it impossible to escape this little deli without a couple bites of Tricia's True Confections. These are mostly truffles and tiny chocolate bars.
Tricia's key-lime and white-chocolate ganache truffle — dipped in white chocolate and rolled in crushed Graham crackers — won first place in the 2011 Oregon Chocolate Festival. Hazelnut and ginger truffles were strongly flavored but similarly delicious.
And although I am not a chocolate connoisseur, I thoroughly enjoyed a 2-inch bar of semi-sweet chocolate flavored with orange zest and ancho and cayenne chili powders.
Even if the sandwiches are somewhat ordinary, the memory of palate-tickling chocolate chilies will draw me back to this pocket deli on Second Street.