At one time everyone in America could walk down to the neighborhood café and enjoy a relaxing meal, or just a cup o’ joe. In West Bremerton, thanks to Heidi and Lowell Yoxsimer, you can do this again.
Stepping into Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Café does feel a bit like stepping back in time to a happy memory. No matter what era you grew up in, Hi-Lo’s has something to take you back a bit. Regardless of where and when you grew up, Hi-Lo’s will make you smile.
Located smartly but discreetly in a residential neighborhood, Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Café serves locals and people from all over, thanks to rave reviews online on Yelp. Heidi and Lowell, whom folks have come to know as “Hi-Lo,” are thrilled and grateful that their diner has been so well received by customers from near and far. For seven years, the sunshiny café has been a unique place to grab a bite and a great mug of coffee.
Heidi Yoxsimer, the Hi of the Hi-Lo partnership, is an optimistic, bubbly woman whose laugh and positive outlook are contagious. Appropriate to the moniker, her husband, Lowell, is the more even-keeled and quieter of the pair. A visit to the café most days finds them both busily serving customers, Heidi in the front of the house and Lowell in the kitchen. Not all proprietors can be found participating as actively in their business, but it’s obvious the Yoxsimers love doing it.
When this California couple first moved to Bremerton from West Seattle, their dream had been to open a simple, fun café close to home. Having both been raised in restaurants, they kept an eye out for the right location. When the building came up for sale, it was kismet.
Three years in the making, when Hi-Lo’s opened for business, the pair already had some experience in “neighborhood building.” Immediately after they relocated to Bremerton, free stickers saying “Beautify Bremerton” came on the scene as Heidi and Lowell’s response to both pride in their new neighborhood and as a call to residents to raise the aesthetics and send a positive message about their surroundings.
Laid back is one way that a customer described Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Café after he’d selected a mug from the “serve yourself” rack that displays a mismatched collection like you may find in your own cupboard. This and other quirky details make this café singularly unique.
The diner is also known as the “unofficial Thermos museum.” Quips Heidi Yoxsimer: “Unofficial because we’ve never contacted Thermos about it.” More than 300 examples of generations of Thermos flasks line the upper shelves surrounding the dining room and, combined with other décor, give the café its sense of Americana. Even the water heater in the restroom is decorated to appear like a giant thermos.
Since the ’90s, the Yoxsimers have been collecting fun, vintage items that are now part of the café’s decor: records, thermoses, lunch pails, salt and pepper shakers. The restroom even has a disco ball.
With only six tables inside and four bar stools, the building has high ceilings with shelves of tchotchkes from every era. It helps that the ceiling is painted sky blue and the walls are blocks of sunny colors — for an upbeat and happy feel.
“We want people to come in and feel the sunshine even in the winter,” says Yoxsimer, who is the kind of person who carries the sunshine within her.
Not long after opening, customers were asking them to expand seating capacity. That’s when the Yoxsimers converted their daily driver into the “VW dining bus,” now forever parked aside the restaurant and providing seating for six. The bus can be reserved by calling ahead, which helps tremendously on weekends when the café is swamped with people eager for good food. The bus sits adjacent to the West Bremerton mural painted on the side of the café building, along with bistro tables put out in nice weather. Thus the whole corner of 15th and Wycoff has become a local landmark that brings color and cheer to the neighborhood.
Volkswagens are another theme of Hi-Lo’s. There’s no escaping the creative use of the back of a VW bus for the self-serve coffee bar. That’s where diners pour their own fair trade, shade grown, organic cup of Grounds for Change coffee, which is roasted locally in Poulsbo. Bags of whole beans are also available.
Hi-Lo’s has now hosted two different “Volkswagen Socials” for people who own any age VW or who want to come out and be part of the fun. Having hosted the first two times in May, this year they decided on July.
“We got rained on in May both times, ” Yoxsimer notes. “We still had a blast, but for this year, we’re moving it to the heart of summer.”
Facebook is the place to find the exact date for this event, as well as daily meal specials and the scheduling of the restaurant’s closing, which occurs for a week each January and a week each July so the whole staff of Hi-Lo’s can have a true vacation.
It’s the seventh anniversary of Hi-Lo’s 15th Street Café serving up breakfast and lunch seven days a week. Their specialty is the Moon Biscuit: biscuit batter cooked golden-brown in a Belgian waffle iron with rich, white, sausage gravy ladled into the craters. Ordering the Moon Biscuit Deluxe brings eggs and potatoes alongside. If you’re game, you can add bacon sprinkles. Other popular dishes are the Green Eggs & Ham, scrambled with pesto and mozzarella; Chorizo and Eggs and the special Eggs Benedict offered only on weekends.
Great comfort food and a fun, family-oriented atmosphere make Hi-Lo’s a popular stop.
It’s not unusual to find her bringing plates of food to a table wearing “head flair,” as she calls it, while the cooks sing from the kitchen. It’s a cozy enough place that you can see from end to end, including the kitchen, from anywhere you sit. When the meal is complete, a lunch pail of candies to choose from accompanies the check (Hi-Lo’s signature method of giving two dinner mints).
Hi-Lo’s is open for Monday dinners but only in the “dark” months without daylight savings time. From 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays only, Lowell cooks a dinner special in addition to the regular menu. Pot roast and pork tenderloin are some of the offerings customers will find from “fall back” to “spring forward” only. The restaurant otherwise is not open in the evenings but a quick scan of Facebook any time of the year gives patrons a quick heads up on their schedule.
When the Yoxsimers talk about their café, the emphasis is always on pride for the neighborhood, the customers and great employees.
“We have long-term staff and some that started with us the day we opened. Not many people can say that in the restaurant business; we’re truly lucky,” Heidi Yoxsimer says. “And we have regulars who come in every day or every weekend and we get to watch their kids grow up. The whole goal was to create a space our community could call their own — we are grateful to all who ‘get it’ and who are part of it.”
The neighbors feel the same way about the café and now it’s become the nexus for fun and socializing on what had been just another residential corner.