Years after the Cucina! Cucina! restaurant chain fell to the cannibalism of the industry, the last standing location is turning back to its roots.
Dusting off its historic soup-stained cook books, the Issaquah eatery is planning to restore the menu’s original recipes, which brought families flocking in the early 2000s.
“I just want to bring the reputation back,” said new owner Jae Lee, an immigrant from South Korea.
In high school, whenever his family visited, he took them to Cucina. It built such fond memories, when he heard the last restaurant was being sold, he jumped on the opportunity.
It’s been five years since the restaurant was a part of a chain, and while the menu hasn’t changed much, chefs have recreated the recipes.
However, new customers miss the old tastes, said General Manager Juan Flores. “You always remember that flavor.”
Hiring a new chef, Lee is rolling out the changes this month. They include everything from the dressing on The Monroe chop salad to the seasonings behind the pescatore linguini.
The family restaurant is known best for its salads and pastas. It also has wood fired pizzas. Table clothes are topped with white paper, so both the romantic and young can doodle on them with crayons.
It’s hiring more wait staff to improve the customers service that once catered so well to groups.
Flores has also put a new emphasis on the bar, stretching the happy hour menu from 3 p.m. to close, Sunday through Thursday. The bar can be busy Friday nights with standing room only. It’s a popular place to grab a quick meal before a show at the movie theater next door.
At its height, the Cucina chain had 12 full restaurants and seven Cucina! Presto! cafes. First conceived by Schwartz Brothers, the local restaurant group incorporated the chain in hopes of taking it national.
Their effort didn’t get far. A year later it sold to Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, which hoped to expand its menu. The group gave up on it, too, selling it to the Canadian company that owned Joey Tomato’s Mediterranean Grill.
The group turned two locations into high-end restaurants, including Joey in South Lake Union and Downtown Bellevue. The rest were sold or closed.
The original restaurants were popular. The challenge is in bringing back that same atmosphere, Lee said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
1510 11th Ave. N.W., Issaquah
Mon-Th, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.;
Fri-Sat,11 a.m.–1 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
3 p.m.-close, Mon-Th;
9p.m.-6 p.m.,9 p.m.-close, Fri-Sat;
All day Sunday
Chef Ainoy Vongsy pulls a pizza from the wood fired grill at Cucina! Cucina! in Issaquah