Bremerton's Hi-Lo brings neighborhood together

From left to right, John Thow, Amy Roszak, Corben Roszak and Maddie Roszak enjoy an afternoon meal Tuesday at Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Cafe.  - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
From left to right, John Thow, Amy Roszak, Corben Roszak and Maddie Roszak enjoy an afternoon meal Tuesday at Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Cafe.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

When Heidi and Lowell Yoxsimer set out to open a new restaurant on the corner of Bremerton’s 15th Street and Wycoff Avenue, some didn’t think they had a chance.

“A lot of people told us, ‘You’re crazy’ for opening on this block,” Lowell Yoxsimer said, noting the “ghetto” reputation of the west Bremerton neighborhood.

But the Yoxsimers pressed ahead anyway, opening Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Cafe in 2006. Since then, the breakfast and sandwich shop has established itself as a neighborhood hub, drawing diners to its “moon biscuits” and gravy and green eggs and ham. As the only restaurant in a radius of several blocks, the cafe has weathered the recession by staying true to its working-class and family appeal.

“You come in here and it’s like coming into a family,” said Ron Whittaker, who lives two houses down from the cafe and comes in about once a week. “That and you have good food and decent prices with good service.”

Adorning the restaurant is an eclectic collection of Heidi and Lowell Yoxsimer’s favorite things. As avid collectors and yard sale shoppers, vintage album covers from several different eras are hung throughout the cafe and old advertisements cover the dining tables. The restroom comes complete with a turning disco ball.

“It’s pretty much all our favorite stuff,” Heidi Yoxsimer said. “Hopefully everybody that comes in can find something that they relate to.”

The Hi-Lo is also home of the self-declared “Unofficial Thermos Museum” — between 280 and 300 Thermoses line high-hanging shelves the restaurant and the Yoxsimers have almost 100 more in their collection.

“We think it’s nice and funky,” said Amy Roszack of Bremerton, who ate with her family at Hi-Lo Tuesday. “We love to bring friends here.”

Her daughter, Maddie Roszack, added, “I like the atmosphere.”

Lowell Yoxsimer said the Hi-Lo hasn’t been burned by the economic downturn. It has stayed afloat by keeping its prices low for its blue-collar customer base, he said.

“We wanted people to feel comfortable coming a couple times a week, not once a month,” he said.

Hi-Lo has become a home base for west Bremertonians who run into friends and neighbors there, Lowell Yoxsimer said, likening it to the 1980s TV show, “Cheers.”

“People just started getting a sense of pride, a sense of community,” he said.

Each customer is like a guest in their house, Heidi Yoxsimer said.

“We just set out to be the little corner mom and pop place,” she said.

Noah’s Ark serves new generations

Leticia Ward waited 15 years and traveled 2,000 miles for a special reunion - with a mushroom burger.

Ward enjoyed her Noah’s Ark mushroom burger for the second day in a row Tuesday, with her husband and son from Austin, Texas in tow.

“I just love the mushroom burger,” said Ward, who lived in Bremerton 15 years ago. “It’s so good.”

And now with her family, who ate mushroom burgers and Reuben sandwiches, she can show them what they’ve been missing in Texas.

“We’re definitely a destination restaurant,” said Bianca Garguile, customer service manager at Noah’s Ark on Sixth Street and a member of the family restaurant’s third generation. “We let my family make lunch or dinner for your family.”

Noah’s Ark, named after Bianca Garguile’s great-grandfather, opened in 1974 and has since developed a reputation for its homemade fare, such as the best-selling Ark Burger and Philly steak sandwiches.

Business has slowed down during the recession, Bianca Garguile said, but the restaurant is still sustained by its loyal customers, such as the shipyard workers just blocks away and the teachers and students from the surrounding schools. Many of the same families still come in every Saturday, as they have for years.

As for Leticia Ward’s Texan husband, Richard Ward, he was sold on Noah’s atmosphere and his Reuben.

“It’s got tasty food, nice ambience,” he said.

Leticia Ward said she liked the friendly service.

“The people are nice,” she said.

And that’s what Bianca Garguile hopes will keep hungry customers coming amid the economic decline.

“They can go anywhere to get a hamburger, but we hope they always come here and that they come out feeling good,” she said.

Yes, there is a Kate, and no, she’s not from Jersey.

Kate Reid, co-owner of Kate’s Jersey Subs and Righteous Pie in Manette, says that her deli offers what few others in Kitsap do.

“People can come in and get the East Coast style of food with a West Coast attitude,” she said, describing her sloppy East Coast-style sandwiches made custom to order.

That uniqueness is noted by customers.

“It’s different than most sandwiches,” said Lynette Frum, a Port Orchard resident who sat down with an Italian Stallion sandwich Tuesday. “You get more for your money.”

Perhaps that’s why Reid’s business continues to grow in an economic climate in which most restaurants are suffering. Her deli’s space has been expanded for more seating and she added thin crust pizza to her menu this year.

“Most are grateful to keep the status quo,” Reid said of the recession.

Not bad for someone who’s never been to New Jersey.

Kate’s Jersey Subs opened on East 11th Street in 2003 after the previous restaurant in the building, Pete’s Jersey Subs, closed down. Kate Reid’s husband, Brad Reid, had enjoyed Pete’s sandwiches and wanted to see them continue.

“When it was closed, he decided he needed a sandwich and bought it,” Kate Reid said.

Since then, Kate Reid retained much of Pete’s legacy, continuing the Jersey-style subs and expanding the previous offerings with more cheesesteaks and salads.

Though Kate Reid, a Kitsap native, isn’t from Jersey, the deli’s East Coast flair is still approved by Eastern natives who come to find familiar food.

“Military folks like the flavor of home,” Kate Reid said of her East Coast customers.

For customer Luke Reeves, who ordered a Bremerton Nuke sandwich Tuesday, his penchant for the subs is simple.

“They’re delicious,” he said during his lunch break.

The same went for his co-worker, Sam Kamla.

“Good food, good atmosphere,” he said. “Excellent sandwich.”

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