A trio of businessmen have teamed up to take over the former Topper’s location and are promising to turn it into a modern diner that pleases hipster and old school foodies alike.
Red Kitchen is scheduled to open Nov. 1 and offer traditional diner foods mixed with unique dishes and healthy options. Stacks of buttermilk pancakes, Oreo milkshakes and prime rib hash will appear on the menu along with avocado toast, breakfast pizza and portabella fries. The breakfast, lunch and dinner spot will have a full bar with wine, spirits, 12 Northwest beers and a variety of cocktails such as blood orange screwdrivers and spicy grapefruit mixed drinks.
“We’re shooting for a modern diner that’s a fun place to go. It’s not going to be a quiet date-night place. It’s going to be more vibrant and hopefully an exciting place to go,” said Mike Casetta, owner of Red Kitchen. Casetta, 51, of Vancouver will run the business with his brother and managing partner, Jimmy, 47, of Longview, and his son, Nikalus, 29, of Battle Ground, who is the corporate chef.
The building’s exterior off 15th Avenue will look familiar to the many loyal customers who frequented Topper’s, a longtime Longview favorite that shuttered its doors after 30 years in April. But nearly everything inside has had a facelift.
Now nearly half the restaurant is made up of new booth seating that replaced the old red booths. Light-toned butcher block wood tables, metal siding and dark wood-toned laminate on the walls give the space a slightly industrial feel. The bar, display cases and kitchen equipment all were replaced.
“This location has been a diner since 1971 and you look at the building, it looks like a diner. We just wanted to upgrade it. It’s a great shell. We just thought, ‘Let’s take it, let’s upgrade it and let’s make it a modern diner,’ ” Casetta said.
The new owners will retain the ruby red tiled-wall behind the counter. Casetta likes its character, and in a nod to the former tenant, the wall inspired Red Kitchen’s name. The brothers said they wanted to maintain the diner theme as a way to honor the history and nostalgia of the space.
“I think the last few years it was probably struggling a little a bit,” Mike Casetta said of Topper’s. But “it had a great reputation for many, many years. ... There’s a lot of nostalgia here, a lot of people like, ‘I was here every Friday for coffee.’ ”
The Casettas have a long history in the restaurant business. The brothers ran South Pacific Cafe and Lounge in downtown Longview in the early 2000s. They moved the beach-themed restaurant in 2006 to Battle Ground, where they later opened a winter-themed tap house, 38 Below. They also run Fire Mountain Grill east of Toutle on the highway near Mount St. Helens and they operate Summerland Catering Services, which provides catering at the Cowlitz Expo Center.
With expanded seating, the Red Kitchen will have 50 employees, mostly in part-time positions.
Three weeks ago, about 200 people attended a sneak peek preview of the restaurant hosted by Kelso-Longview Chamber of Commerce. Nearly all of the comment cards submitted at the party included requests for healthy options on the menu, Casetta said.
As a vegetarian, that’s an easy request for Casetta to fill. Chef Nik Casetta developed a versatile menu with locally-sourced foods and several plant-based options, such as “Mini Hippie” with quinoa, roasted sweet potatoes, kale, portabella mushroom and green goddess dressing. There are plenty of hearty options too – such as buffalo chicken taquitos or the “Longview Logger’s Breakfast,” with eggs, bacon, country potatoes, ham steak and sausage. A large kid’s menu features tater tots, twisty pasta and unique items such as “Happy Face Pepperoni Pizza” and “Coocoo for Hot Chocolate.”
“We definitely want to give an exciting experience to people. That’s where our creative drinks, and food and kids menu come to play,” said Jimmy Casetta. “We don’t want to be just order-takers, we want to provide a nice experience.”