Sitting at cluttered back desk not far from the boiler and oven that have helped make Cascade Bagel a household name in Lakewood, owner Bob Bringer sighs and recalls his 30-year stint in the Air Force.
Bringer, 74 and sporting an unruly white beard, served in Vietnam.
The experience, he says, taught him to accept “whatever will be will be.”
“So you don’t stress out over it,” Bringer says simply, leaning back in his chair.
“You deal with it.”
If Bringer — who has now spent more than two decades in the bagel industry — was one to stress out, the Cascade Bagel owner would certainly have reason to.
In a matter of months, his beloved business — which locals will tell you is one of the only places in Pierce County where you can get a legit bagel — might be without a home.
That home is where Bringer’s problems start, unfortunately.
A strip mall once occupied by a QFC and a number of other small businesses, it’s now all cracked, boarded-up and vacant, aside from the resilient Bringer’s Cascade Bagel storefront.
All that was missing on a recent morning visit was the tumbleweed.
Since 2013, Bringer’s building has been owned by Westwood Financial, a California-based retail property company. He says he leases space there for roughly $20 a square foot and rarely hears from the company that collects his rent — even when he complains.
Look around, and you quickly see plenty of reasons for Bringer to raise a fuss.
The building is literally falling down around him. The roof is faulty, according to City of Lakewood inspectors. There’s water damage and plywood covering most windows. The plumbing and electrical work are suspect. The heating and cooling system hasn’t worked in years.
In the winter, Bringer says, he relies on space heaters. In the summer, it’s just hot, he tells me.
The building — which is actually two parcels, both owned by Westwood Financial — has been a festering problem for years in Lakewood, according to assistant city manager Dave Bugher. The 7 acres is ripe for redevelopment, Bugher says, yet the derelict eyesore of a building persists, and crumbles, while its owners idly sit by and try to sell it.
So last month — at long last — Lakewood issued an ultimatum to the building’s owners:
Fix up the place or tear it down.
“The city is basically holding the owner accountable,” says Bugher of the decision to place the strip mall into the city’s Dangerous Building and Abatement Program.
“We’ve been patient,” he explains.
Attempts to reach Westwood Financial were unsuccessful. Bugher says the company has until Aug. 15 to appeal the notice. Although the city hasn’t heard anything, he expects an appeal to be the next step in the process.
Bringer, meanwhile, isn’t sure what to expect — and if anything bothers him, it’s the uncertainty.
All he knows is what he tells concerned customers: By November, he will have sold Cascade Bagel to one of two interested local buyers (who will likely relocate it) or he’ll simply close and be out of business.
Bringer would be interested in relocating himself, he acknowledges, but the cost, in all likelihood, would be prohibitive.
Until then, Bringer plans to keep doing what he’s been doing for the last 22 years — making bagels.
After purchasing the business roughly 16 years ago, Bringer still shows up at 4:30 every morning, he says. Prior to Bringer taking over, the business operated under the name Seattle Bagel. He worked as a manager and night baker for the previous owners.
Today, Bringer has eight employees and serves a dedicated clientele that starts showing up, like clockwork, as soon as he unlocks the doors. Cascade Bagel pumps out 600 to 700 bagels a day, he says, and goes through roughly 150 pounds of cream cheese a month — imported in 30-pound blocks from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
There’s a group that shows up every morning to play cribbage, he says, and his shop is still a breakfast or lunchtime destination for many longtime Lakewood residents — some who have been coming for as long as he’s owned it.
Everyone is concerned, Bringer admits.
He’s not sure what to tell them.
“I don’t always have control,” he says. “But it would be nice to know what’s going on.”
What Bringer knows for certain is that, through it all, he’s stayed in business for three reasons: the employees who depend on a paycheck, the loyal customers and the “quality product.”
“We’re the only real, quality bagel in the area,” he says with confidence.