COOS BAY — When I first heard that there was a new cafe going in at North Bend Medical Center I was a little skeptical.
I even squinted a little bit when I ran into the owners of the new cafe, Shawn Hanlin and Del Clark of the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute, a week or so before they opened Sea Level Coffee Co. right after Thanksgiving.
But, when they started talking about their business plan, I knew they were going to be just fine.
"The Medical Center has 400 employees," Hanlin said as he discussed what still had to be done before the opening. "And 2,000 people walk through these doors every day. Where else in Coos County can you get that kind of foot traffic."
I paused. I hadn't thought about it that way. But he was right.
And with the man who helps teach culinary students how to be chefs, the food has to be good, right?
The cafe is open weekdays from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. to accommodate the varying schedules of the medical center's employees (Saturday's hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.). They serve breakfast burritos and baked goods in the morning, then have sandwiches, soups and salads for lunch.
There is no seating at the cafe (that's OK, most folks are either coming or going), but they do have a handful of standup tables for those of us who are just dropping by.
Monday's special was a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup for $6. They had another special that was a pick two out of 1/2 a sandwich, soup or salad for $5.
John ordered the grilled cheese special and I ordered a turkey sandwich and a cup of soup. With a soda and a bottle of water, our total came out to $18.69.
We found Chef Hanlin manning the pans as he had three grilled cheeses going in each pan at one time.
If you know anything about chefs, you know that they add just a little more to their recipes. The grilled cheese had provolone, Swiss and cheddar. The tomato soup was made with roasted imported Italian alta cucina tomatoes, whole butter and garlic. It also had thyme and basil and cooked for an hour and a half, then it was pureed and finished with "a little bit of cream."
"That was tomato soup plus," John said. "It was a nice size for soup too, especially with the easy to-go lids."
At one point in our discussion with colleagues later, he uttered the word "phenomenal."
Chef Hanlin said that Sea Level is using as many local vendors as possible and using as much locally-sourced food as they can.
"Tomorrow, Charleston pink shrimp is on the menu," he said as he started making six more turkey sandwiches for the deli case.
They have a daily special to go along with their usual assortment of lunch goodies.
He said they have remained busy since their opening.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "We cater to the workers and the patients. People can come here not just to go to the doctor.
"We feel fortunate that the medical center chose us. We want to give them the quality and service they deserve."
This is the first dining establishment that Hanlin has ever owned, although he has worked in many high-profile places.
There's a theory out there that John knows everyone in town.
He denies it, but we put that theory to an informal test on Monday. In the 15 minutes we were there having our lunch, John saw two former Coquille schoolmates and talked to two other parents about the big swim meet over the weekend in North Bend.
John summed up what we think Hanlin already knew, "That's a primo location."