Cafe186 Opens Its Doors at the Olympia Elks Lodge

Olympia Elks Lodge
Owner Steve Sleasman takes a moment with his daughter Alexandria, who is also an employee. Photo credit: Steve Sleasman

The Olympia Elks Lodge hasn’t been on local diner’s radar for years as a place to eat out. After all, there hasn’t been a restaurant open to the public in this location for more than a decade. However, Steve Sleasman is on a mission to change that with his new business endeavor, Cafe186 located inside the Lodge.

Olympia Elks Lodge
Located inside the Olympia Elks Lodge, Cafe186 is open to the public with plenty of room for large groups. Photo credit: Jessica Hoppe

Sitting down with Steve, he tells me the idea first came to him last October when he rented the Elk’s lodge for his daughter’s sweet-sixteen birthday party. Realizing the potential, he asked a member to give him a tour. “Show me the kitchen, show me around this place,” he said to the member. “And I thought, what a shame this beautiful facility isn’t being utilized.” With a full commercial kitchen, tons of seating, a dance floor and a central location just up 4th Avenue from downtown, Steve saw what he could do with the space. Ready for a change in his career path and more of a family-focused life, it was time to go back to his roots.

Growing up in Westport, Steve learned at a very young age the ins and outs of the restaurant business during his summer job. “It’s in my blood. I grew up loving it from the age of eleven. I learned to make tartar sauce from scratch, blue cheese dressing from scratch, soups, sauces ­– all those things when I was a kid.” And it’s that knowledge he’s carried over into his own career and what he wants to bring to Olympia diners. “This menu kind of goes back to my roots of doing things the old-school way.”

Olympia Elks Lodge
With leftovers from Easter, Steve decided to give back and distributed the food among Olympia’s homeless community. Photo credit: Jessica Hoppe

Cafe186 is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and has menus to please even the most selective palate. “I’m doing classic diner food, but mostly from scratch. I’m hand-pressing my hamburger patties, I’m breading my own chicken breasts and I’m hand selecting my ingredients,” Steve explains. But that’s just the beginning to Steve’s extensive menus. With usual favorites like eggs Benedict to the perfect pan-fried Willapa oysters, Steve knows how to get the job done. “A lady from the south said that our biscuits and gravy were ‘the best in Olympia and soothed her southern soul’,” he says with a smile.

Although Steve prides himself on making those standard, favorite menu items, on any given day you can also find Cafe186 serving up something new. Steve tells me after working sales in food service for many years, he truly got a leg up on the industry. “I was selling to fifty or sixty chefs a week so I got to pick their brains. It’s the same reason I watch the Cooking Channel or the Food Network. I see things, I get an idea, and want to do that and put my spin on it.”

Olympia Elks Lodge
Steve first began in restaurants at the age of eleven and has spent many years perfecting his craft. Photo credit: Jessica Hoppe

One way he accomplishes this task is through his rotating fresh sheet changing every three weeks. Here you can find everything from an impressive T-bone steak to a Dungeness crab pretzel roll. The possibilities are truly endless at Cafe186, but the prices won’t break the bank.

Steve prides himself on using as many local ingredients as he can including razor clams from the Quinault Indian Nation and steaks from Gibson Custom Meats in Lacey. “I’ve worked for five different fortune-five-hundred companies, but whenever I’ve owned a business I always try to keep it local.” However, he’s not afraid to take a trip to Costco for quality ingredients which help to keep the cost down for his customers.

Steve was fortunate to already have a great customer base from the weekly bingo players and other organizations that frequent the Lodge. As I visit with some lunch patrons, it sounds like the feeling is mutual. “We all look forward to Thursdays so we can come play Bingo and have lunch together with friends. It’s all very good, everything we’ve had,” Sandy Pierce tells me while finishing her salad. Before Cafe186, these ladies didn’t have a lot of options, but now they get quality menu items at affordable prices.

Olympia Elks Lodge
The Lodge’s weekly bingo players say they are happy to have an actual restaurant on site now. Photo credit: Jessica Hoppe

Not only does Steve want to bring great food to the community of Olympia, but he also wants to bring in other great chefs. Steve has conceived of a program called “Wandering Chefs” where anything from an eight to 16 course dinner, complete with pairings and white tablecloths, are presented in partnership with guest chefs. And, he already has his first guest lined up with renowned chef Adam Hegsted from Spokane.

Steve encourages people to give Cafe186 a chance to become their new favorite go-to spot. “I want this to become the local, neighborhood hang-out place where everyone is comfortable. I have made this career shift in my life to align with how my priorities have changed as I’ve gotten older. I want to create something special for others and be able to give back to the community.”

Cafe186 is located inside the Olympia Elks Lodge at 1818 4th Ave., just East of downtown Olympia. Café 186 is open Tuesday through Friday for breakfast, lunch and dinner and for breakfast only on Saturday. Visit their website for full hours of operation and online menus.


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