It’s no brief encounter that Melanie Bard’s cafe has been in Bellevue for more than 50 years.
When it first opened in 1957, Brief Encounter was a snug 20-seat cafe, with only five booths and a small breakfast bar with a few stools. Bard, who bought the property in Northtowne Center eight years ago, nearly doubled it to 1,500 square feet.
But even though its structure has changed over the years, its warm environment and community roots have remained the same.
On a recent afternoon, Bard and daughter, Amanda Goodgion, hustled about the café, stopping to refill coffees around the original breakfast bar that still exists with regulars, like Joanne Wright.
Wright and husband, Clariee, have been coming to Brief Encounter four to five times a week since the day Bard took over. That afternoon, Wright enjoyed a gal’s brunch out with sister, Connie Luckenbach, who was visiting from Arizona.
A graduate of Bellevue High School, Luckenbach grew up in Bellevue and also has been coming to the café for many years.
“It’s great. Every time I visit I come here and my daughter who lives in Spokane always comes here, too,” Luckenbach said. “It feels like I’m in my own kitchen and I can talk to everyone.”
The Reporter chatted with Bard about Brief Encounter and how it has made patrons feel right at home.
Reporter: Tell us about the Brief Encounter’s not-so-brief history.
Bard: The owners before me owned the restaurant for seven years and before that Darlene Jordan (who started the café) owned it for 25 years. It was funny because when Darlene sold it, I hired her at the Original Pancake House (in Kirkland). She just sold this and was looking for a job, and I hired her. We became close friends.
Reporter: What brought you to Brief Encounter?
Bard: I originally had a restaurant in Seattle called the Neighborhood Café. I had a business partner and we created our menu for that restaurant in a parking lot at the car wash on a little piece of paper. The menu at Brief Encounter is the same as it was there.
Reporter: What makes Brief Encounter unique?
Bard: Everybody feels like their at home when they come here. That’s one thing I always tell the girls, be nice and just make everybody feel like they’re at home.
People can have anything they want; I have no restrictions. And if people want more of anything, once we’ve charged you, we’re not going to keep charging you for, you know if you have a bacon and egg breakfast and you want more potatoes, we’ll bring you more potatoes. I hate when I go places and they start ‘nickel and diming’ me.
It’s just neat how all the neighbors come here. At Christmas time, three customers who knew each other bought each other gift certificates to the restaurant. They’d say, ‘oh, I’d like to buy a gift certificate and this is for the other person,’ and the other person said the same thing and we were laughing because they didn’t know.
Reporter: What are some favorites on the menu?
Bard: Our breakfast signature items are the Homemade Corn Beef Hash (served with two eggs and toast: $10.99) and Bear Special (Eggs, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, onions and peppers, seasoned sausage and beef mixed with potatoes, cheese and served with toast: $9.99). We make homemade coffee cake and cinnamon rolls every morning.
For lunch, people like our Hot Meatloaf Sandwich (Grandma Mac’s New Hampshire recipe, served with lettuce, tomatoes, green onions and aged Swiss on sourdough: $9.99); our Reuben and Brief Burgers.
Reporter: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Bard: I think it’s a really special place and that’s why a lot of people come here because, like the floor up front is crooked and it has character and we have a lot of characters come in here.
I just think downtown Bellevue with all its new buildings, you lose that character. It’s the sense of community. We’re in a strip mall and it’s different than going into Lincoln Square or something like that. When you come here, you’ve got your shoe store, grocery store, and barber. We’ve all been here forever and when they build these big buildings I think they forget about that.
Carrie Wood can be reached at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.