Lane County’s fine dining scene has been growing over the past few years, whether it’s in downtown Eugene or in Creswell. But what Seize the Cafe owner and chef Chad Fuhreck says sets his restaurant apart from the rest of the fine dining community is what he’s charging per plate.
Seize the Cafe’s dinner menu keeps its dinner entrees below $20 and lunch dishes around $10, for the most part. The restaurant, which took over the former Allan’s Coffee and Tea at 24th and Hilyard in Eugene’s Amazon neighborhood in 2020, changes its dinner menu every week as a way to keep prices low and offer creative dishes.
Fuhreck started his culinary kitchen career as a 15 year old, working up the kitchen hierarchy from the line up to sous chef by the time he was 18. In 2002, at 20, he purchased, with financial support from his parents, and ran the restaurant Chad Paul’s Bistrot in southeast Wisconsin. A few years later, he moved to Seattle, working his way up in kitchens there, until he discovered he wanted to study pastry arts, sparking a move to Paris.
For six months in 2005, Fuhreck studied at L’Univers Lenôtre in Paris. At that time, he worked for Joël Robuchon, who was named “Chef of the Century” by French guide Gault & Millau in 1989. From there, he moved to Grants Pass to work at Summer Joe’s and then moved again to Seattle. He moved to Eugene in 2019.
Shortly after Allan’s Coffee and Tea closed its doors, Fuhreck took over the building in October 2020, around the time when Oregon was forcing restaurants to cease indoor dining. But Fuhreck says he survived on selling to-go orders at that time.
Seize the Cafe offers more than dinner service. It has baked goods, such as pastries and a consistent lunch menu. Lunch options are as affordable as dinner, with prices averaging $10. The slow-cooked beef brisket sandwich may look small, but Fuhreck packs a lot in it, from in-house made bread to meat that isn’t buried in spice or sauce.
Fuhreck added a pizza menu to the restaurant in December 2022. Although Lane County has several pizza joints, he says only a few really impressed him but — like his views on fine dining — the cost was too much.
His pizza has a thinner crust and is cooked in a woodfired oven, which Fuhreck says adds to the flavor. “There’s a lot more artisanship in woodfired pizza because there’s so many variables,” he says. A pizza can come out of the oven in a variety of ways, due to temperature or what the fire is doing at that moment, he adds. “It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s frustrating.”
Where Fuhreck offers variety is his dinner menu, which is usually announced Tuesdays on Facebook, limited to three entrees. “I have customers who come every week for dinner because it’s a different menu,” he says. His recipes come from various ideas, from rainy weather inspiring French food to creating recipes based on seasonal ingredients. Or sometimes he cooks something he hasn’t done in a while, such as rabbit.
Being a working owner who’s also a chef, Fuhreck says he’s able to cut down on operation costs to provide food at a lower price. Food waste is an expensive issue that’s common in the restaurant industry, so he designs menus that cut down on it.
If Fuhreck’s dinner menu has salmon, he’ll bring in the whole fish, butcher it and use the trimmings for another dish, such as a chowder. “We’re throwing away used coffee grounds and whatever packaging I get stuck with,” he says. “But we’re not throwing away anything because it went bad.”
Seize the Cafe is a venture into reinventing restaurants, Fuhreck says, to offer fine dining without the glamor and proverbial white cloth.
“The younger generation isn’t necessarily looking for that fancy five-course white tablecloth experience,” Fuhreck says. “But they still want that good food, so the concept behind the café is stripping away all the fancy and focusing 100 percent on customer service and good food.”
Seize the Cafe is at 2465 Hilyard Street. Find on Facebook to stay updated on the weekly dinner menu.