If Eastlake can be said to have a “living room,” it would have to be Louisa’s Café Bakery at Eastlake Avenue and E. Louisa Street. Everyone seems to go there and if you’re looking for someone in the neighborhood, Louisa’s is usually a good place to start.
A bakery has been operated in the location for almost 20 years. It was previously owned by Luise and Mike Mooney, but gained a new owner last September when Alcena Plum purchased it.
Plum is an Eastlake resident who also owns the Crepe Café on 65th in Ravenna.
She came to the restaurant business after working a corporate job for 10 years. One day, she says, “I realized I didn’t want to run someone else’s business anymore.” She started looking for a business to buy and found the Crepe Café in 2005.
The café was a good fit, but a lot of work.
“I always did big dinners at home,” Plum says. “And I worked in restaurants in high school and after.”
Work at the Crepe Café meant 16 hour days and she jokes that she sometimes took naps in the back because there wasn’t time to go home.
The Crepe Café has only nine tables and Plum began to look around for places to expand. She was browsing web sites that list businesses for sale and found a café for sale in the Eastlake Zip Code. She says it didn’t take long to figure out which business it was … and she knew that she wanted to own it.
Plum took over at Louisa’s in September, 2008. She realized that, now that she has a daughter, those 16-hour days she used to work at the Crepe Café weren’t going to be practical. She says she hired a great crew at Louisa’s and she divides her time between the two cafes.
Plum has made some changes to the venerable café. She tore up the original linoleum floor and replaced the tables and most of the mismatched chairs. The walls were painted in earthy yellows and browns. A new counter went in across the front so patrons can sit and watch the world go by. And new cabinets were installed behind the cash register.
Outside, a new sign went up with a new logo and, on the Internet, a new web site.
The lunch menu was restructured to allow for more a la carte items and lower prices. Louisa’s also now sells vegan cookies.
The biggest change came in May: Louisa’s is now open for dinner on Wednesday through Saturday evenings. Wine and beer have been added and, occasionally, live music (The Shanks played there the other night). Menu items tend toward comfort foods like mac n’ cheese, a Bourbon Cider Pork Chop and an Heirloom Steak.
Louisa’s undergoes a bit of a transformation for dinner: Wine glasses and silverware are laid on the tables. Candles are lit. The atmosphere becomes more relaxed.
Plum says interest in the evening meals has been building slowly during the summer. Her goal is to have dinner six nights a week by the end of the fall. And she has plans for the two long tables that hold center position in the café: community meals.
“Eastlake is so community oriented,” she says, adding that it just seems like a natural idea.
She’s also hoping to have some special wine-oriented dinners through the fall.
Louisa’s is getting more of its ingredients from local sources, Plum says, including more local produce. Her bakery supplier even found flour that is produced in the Northwest by a group of farmers dedicated to sustainable agriculture, Shepherd’s Grain. All of Louisa’s pastries will be made with it, she says.
While some things have changed at Louisa’s, many have not. The café is still Eastlake’s gathering place. Work from local artists is still displayed on the walls. And not all of the chairs match.
Plum surveys those mismatched chairs, which are gathered around the two center “community” tables, and smiles.
“I like the diversity of those chairs,” she says. “They’re like the diversity of Eastlake.”