Business Showcase: Bruno's European Restaurant
No matter what his job or the country where he lived, Bruno Tomaszewski always found a way to the kitchen.
The namesake of Bruno’s European Restaurant , Tomaszewski’s love for cooking began as a child in Poland where instead of playing with his siblings he preferred to cook with his grandmother.
“Whenever he was with friends, always he was the one preparing the food,” said Krystyna Tomaszewska, his wife of 30 years.
Seated at a table in the couple’s Lakewood restaurant – a slice of their delectable cheesecake in front of them – the couple switched between English and Polish as they shared the evolution of Bruno’s European Restaurant from a four-table hole in the wall on Pacific Highway to its current location at 10902 Bridgeport Way SW.
The couple moved to Washington after visiting their son and falling in love with the trees, mountains and water.
At the time they were operating a successful restaurant in New Jersey focused on seafood dishes and chowders – a reflection of time spent in Greece – but closed it to move to the Pacific Northwest.
Money was tight, so the couple didn’t immediately get back into the restaurant business. Finally when the timing was right, they kept it small.
“I don’t even know if we should call this (a) restaurant because it’s only four tables,” Krystyna laughed about the tiny restaurant the couple started in Lakewood.
They modeled the business off a typical Southern European restaurant – some place small where diners are part of the family.
“Bruno never wanted big place,” Krystyna said.
Before the doors opened word spread about Bruno’s thanks to a newspaper article in The News Tribune. The first day the couple ran out of food. The same thing happened the next day.
That’s when they knew they had something special.
Despite relocating twice – to Parkland and back to Lakewood in 2015 – two things never changed: authentic cuisine and family atmosphere.
The cuisine is so true to the couple’s Eastern European roots that German-born diners who now live in and around Lakewood place Bruno’s at the top of their dining list when they crave dishes from home.
The best compliment Bruno receives is when diners tell him “your food is like my mom,” he said in his heavy accent.
The nostalgia for traditional Eastern European dishes extends beyond those born and raised there. The restaurant is a perfect destination for military service members and their families stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who formerly lived overseas and long for Pierogis – filled dumplings – or a perfectly prepared schnitzel.
No corners are cut in Tomaszewski’s kitchen – his chefs learn that quickly. All ingredients are fresh and prepared traditionally. He doesn’t skimp on preparation to save time.
The golden breading on his schnitzel doesn’t come from a box. Loaves of bread are cut and dried overnight and then crisped in an oven before their transformation into a textured dust used to batter the perfectly flattened pork loin.
The care that goes into making each dish in the kitchen is extended to the front of the house, where every customer is treated like family.
“We love this place, we love our customers,” Krystyna said. “We really get a lot of appreciation from the community here.
“It’s like family, I think. They feel like family.”
Because of its one-of-a-kind dining experience and its commitment to serving the Lakewood community the Lakewood City Council recognizes Bruno’s European Restaurant as its September 2017 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: Pizza Casa
From its décor to its secret recipes, Pizza Casa offers its customers an unrivaled dining experience.
Tucked into a small shopping strip on Pacific Highway parallel to Interstate 5, stepping into Pizza Casa is like stepping into a time machine. Wood paneling lines the walls and red and white checkered cloths
cover the tables. One-of-a-kind light fixtures hang from the ceiling – and have since they were made in 1972.
“I haven’t changed the basic décor because most of my customers like it,” owner Dan Harris said.
Even when he added on to the restaurant, Harris maintained the wood paneling to keep the 1970s vibe.
In 2018 Pizza Casa, located at 12924 Pacific Highway SW, will celebrate its 60th year. Founded in 1958 by Nello Grassi and his wife Kathryn (Harris’ mother and stepfather), Pizza Casa dates to an era when Elvis Presley monopolized the airwaves and “Leave it to Beaver” was entering its second year on CBS.
Harris grew up in the restaurant. As a result he approaches its operations as more than “just a business” and sees diners as more than just customer. They’re family.
“Here everybody gets a hug,” Harris said.
“We’re into third and fourth generations now,” he said of diners who have eaten at Pizza Casa for decades. “It’s very fulfilling.”
Prior to owning the restaurant Harris worked in the corporate world. When it came time for his mom to retire Harris knew he couldn’t let the doors close, so he bought the restaurant in 1995.
“It’s always been in the family,” he said. “It’s in our blood.”
Since taking over Harris has maintained the restaurant’s charm but probably most important, he’s maintained its menu and the traditional recipes that originated from his grandmother.
It was her love for cooking and sharing food that inspired Harris’ stepfather to open Pizza Casa. Harris remembers being in his grandmother’s kitchen watching her cook and how food was always a part of family gatherings.
Now he delivers the same experience every night.
The two most popular dishes at Pizza Casa are the spaghetti and pizza – “nobody else makes a pizza like ours,” Harris said. The spaghetti recipe is 125 years old.
Harris also recommends the restaurant’s fried chicken, which takes 30 minutes to make because it is made to order, he said.
What makes Pizza Casa’s dishes better than the competition? A combination of fresh ingredients and family recipes from Tuscany that are so top secret even the chef and line cooks don’t get to see them.
Harris keeps all the recipes in a lockbox and only brings them out when necessary. He prepares the ingredient mixes and brings them to his cooks for preparation.
Because of its longevity in the community and its reputation as a welcoming, family-friendly business, the Lakewood City Council recognizes Pizza Casa as its August 2017 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: Harborstone Credit Union
Harborstone Credit Union’s South Sound roots run deep.
Founded in 1955 on then McChord Air Force Base, the member-owned, not-for-profit organization initially served the region’s military members. By the 1980s it built its first location off base, in the heart of Lakewood off Gravelly Lake Drive.
The move from the base to the community planted seeds for the credit union to expand its services to more than just military members. By the mid-1990s the organization was granted a community charter, allowing it to expand membership to the general population.
In the two decades that followed Harborstone has grown its reach through various mergers and acquisitions of other institutions like Prevail Credit Union (formerly King County Employees Credit Union).
Today Harborstone serves its 80,000 members with branches in Pierce, Thurston and King Counties and employs 240 people. One hundred of those are in the Lakewood area.
Its $1.2 billion in assets make it one of the largest credit unions in the state and affords it the ability to offer a full suite of services to members. That includes checking and savings accounts, home and car loans, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, personal loans and credit cards.
But don’t let Harborstone’s size fool you – at the heart of its operations is a commitment to community.
Whether it’s volunteering for street clean ups through the city’s Adopt a Street program, gathering supplies for a back to school drive or participating in Operation Turkey Drop where turkeys are delivered to service men and women on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Harborstone and its employees are dedicated to giving back to the communities they serve.
“We’ve always been big supporters and always make sure whatever community we serve we’re helping to make it vibrant,” said Harborstone President and CEO Phil M. Jones.
Along with volunteering in the community and being a community partner by sponsoring and supporting various events through the year, Harborstone is committed to supporting small businesses – including those often overlooked by big banks.
One way it does that is by offering a full line of business-focused products and services. That includes business lines of credit, commercial real estate loans, equipment loans, Small Business Administration loans, business credit cards and personal financial assistance for businesses.
For small, startup businesses, Harborstone offers microloans – sometimes as small as providing someone enough money to purchase a lawn mower to start a landscaping business, or providing $400,000 to $500,000 in startup costs, Jones said.
The point isn’t necessarily to make money – though Harborstone doesn’t want to lose money. Instead it’s building loyalty with customers with the hope they continue their relationship with the credit union as they see continued success, Jones said.
Harborstone also offers personal banking services for individuals including checking, savings and money market accounts and longtime retirement savings through Traditional and Roth IRAs.
Supporting the community through this business model, as well as through volunteerism and sponsorship, creates a better place to live, he said. That in turn means more people want to live here, which impacts economic development and brings more money into the community.
Everyone benefits when that happens, Jones said.
“This is our home,” Jones said.
It’s because of its longevity in the community and its commitment to making Lakewood and Pierce County a better place to live that the city of Lakewood recognizes Harborstone Credit Union as its June 2017 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: The Fairy Store
In 2014 Lakewood resident Shirley Ritter decided it was time to bring a little whimsy to her city. That’s when she relocated The Fairy Store from Tumwater to its current home at 2202 84th Street.
In the process she not only brought a one of a kind business to the city, she also built an enchanted realm complete with a Fairy Godmother and fairy dust.
Intricate statues of fairies, garden gnomes, handmade houses and signs and miniatures now fill the space that was once a chain restaurant. Outside hummingbird feeders hang above a colorful landscape dotted with fairy statues.
At The Fairy Store serenity fills the air. Chirping birds and trickling water play on the speakers; bright yellow walls greet visitors as they maneuver through tastefully decorated shelves.
The Fairy Store offers something for everyone, whether a repeat customer or someone who wanders in unexpectedly. And what’s available in store is only a fraction of what’s for sale on the website efairies.com .
“Not everybody is into fairies, but many, many people are into something mythical,” Ritter said.
Mermaids, unicorns, dragons and “anything with pretty wings” can be found at the store or online.
A retired neonatal nurse, when Ritter purchased the business she swapped swaddling babies for a new role: Fairy Godmother.
She has made efairies.com the online destination for all things fairy.
“We ship all over the world to countries that I never knew existed,” Ritter said.
Gifts are wrapped with tissue paper and sealed with a hand tied bow. A small sprinkle of fairy dust is the final touch before the package embarks on its journey.
“They appreciate the individual touch and I love providing it,” Ritter said. “We’re not a big box store. We’re unique.”
That uniqueness is reflected in the items for sale, which include a number of locally made items like fairy doors which are said to draw the attention of “fantastical fairy folk” who will use the doors to make “pilgrimages to and from the different realms of Fairyland.” There’s also how to guides for building your own fairy garden.
As she looked around the store on a recent weekday afternoon the fairy dust on her face sparkled under the lights. Ritter smiled at what she has built.
“I never dreamed I’d one day be a Fairy Godmother,” she said.
As a one of a kind, locally owned business in Lakewood the Lakewood City Council recognizes The Fairy Store as its July 2017 Business Showcase.
Business Showcase: J&J Autobody
“Still small enough to care”
When J&J Autobody opened 42 years ago on South Tacoma Way the auto repair business had one building with three stalls.
Today its operations are spread across 38,000 square feet of real estate and four buildings – the body shop, paint shop, frame shop and detail shop. The business also has 16,000 square feet of fenced storage.
Owner Bill Jensen has come a long way from that first day of work when he was “pushing a broom” around the shop he opened in 1975 with his brother.
Standing outside his office at 8322 S. Tacoma Way in Lakewood, Jensen recently reflected on how far the company has come from those early years of chasing used cars and fixing trade ins to pay the bills.
Before expanding into Lakewood in 1997 the bulk of Jensen’s business revolved around accounts with local dealerships on South Tacoma Way – fixing dings and other imperfections.
Those were simpler times, before cars had airbags, cameras or computers.
As the car industry has incorporated new materials and advanced safety systems into its vehicles, so too has J&J Autobody evolved to meet the needs of its customers and their cars.
The company added state of the art equipment like a laser measurement system and computerized Pro-Spot resistance type spot welder to its collision repair tool kit.
J&J Autobody’s commitment to excellence goes beyond its equipment. It is recognized as a Gold Class Facility by the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair.
Roughly only 10 percent of repair shops meet the rigorous standards required to achieve this rating, according to I-CAR.
This attention to detail is no surprise to those who trust their cars with J&J Autobody. The business has built a reputation over the years as the place to go to have a car repaired.
That loyalty is demonstrated in the high number of returning customers.
Office Manager Connie Pena noted they have clients who are the third generation in their family to use the shop. They’ve even had a customer two their car from the Washington Coast to Lakewood to be repaired.
“We guarantee everything we do for life,” said General Manager Loren Vormestrand, who added he views every car that comes into the shop like it’s his own.
Because of its commitment to its clients and its reputation as a trusted collision repair business across Western Washington, the city of Lakewood recognizes J&J Autobody as its May 2017 Business Showcase.