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Sandwich bar brings new twist to downtown dining

Iconic American star Mae West once said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”

It’s doubtful West was referring to food, but the phrase does define customers’ reactions to a new Gresham restaurant.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Longtime Gresham resident Elliott Sequeira opened Pockets Pit Bar in mid-December after spending several years as a relief cook and chef for restaurants in Portland and Troutdale. “I have people who work around here, who come in every day for the Bomb.com Chicken,” said Elliott Sequeira, co-owner of the recently opened Pockets Pita Bar in downtown Gresham. “I keep telling them, ‘Don’t burn yourself out! I want you as a customer for a long time.’”

Pockets Pita Bar quietly sneaked into town in mid-December, sandwiching itself between iCandy and the Hoppy Brewer on Main Avenue. The brainchild of Sequeira and business partner Rob Faria, the eatery boasts a pita pocket sandwich for every appetite and proves that big things really do come in small packages.

Hawaiian by birth, Sequeira, 28, is a homegrown kid. He has lived in Gresham since he was 5, and was once a youth carrier for The Outlook. After graduating from Sam Barlow High in 2003, Sequeira completed a culinary program through the Springdale Job Corps and entered the food and hospitality industry.

“My first job was as a pantry cook at the Hilton in downtown Portland,” Sequeira said. “After that, I worked my way around downtown for a few years.”

In 2007, Sequeira returned to Hawaii when he signed on as a cook with Norwegian Cruise Line, based on a ship that toured the islands. He was quickly promoted but quickly disillusioned with life aboard a cruise ship.

“You get promoted real quick, because people quit or get fired,” he said. “I started as a cook, but by the time I left, I was a chef tournant (relief cook) and in charge of seven of the 12 restaurants on the ship. Some people think working on a cruise ship would be cool, but you get burned out. We would work split shifts for 28 days and then get three days off.”

Back on the mainland four months later, Sequeira laid down roots in Gresham. From 2007 to 2012, he was second in command of kitchen operations at Riverview Restaurant in Troutdale and managed special events.

But early last year, Sequeira decided he wanted to work for himself. A big fan of pocket sandwiches, he looked into acquiring the popular Pita Pit brand, quickly discovering a lack of flexibility in menu offerings and a $175,000 franchise fee.

“I wanted to do it right,” he said. “Their meals are processed; their produce isn’t local. I couldn’t do anything with the menu — it was all theirs.”

Sequeira was among 12 businesses vying for the storefront at 316 N. Main Ave., which was once home to a media company and hair salon. The building is owned by downtown businessman Cliff Kohler, who liked the pocket sandwich idea since it complemented his vision for a food district in the core area.

It took Sequeira nearly six months to get the space ready to house an eatery. On Dec. 12, Pockets Pita Bar opened its doors with a menu Sequeira wrote, literally, at the last minute.

“We were about two weeks from opening and I thought, ‘I probably should write a menu,’” he said laughing. “I wrote it in about 15 minutes. The food part was easy, but I’d never worked on construction before. That was distracting.”

Pockets Pita Bar’s menu is a marriage of combinations for every palette. The Kalua Kine Pork is a nod to Sequeira’s Hawaiian birthplace, with pulled pork, house-made coleslaw, grilled pineapple, caramelized onions and Sequeira’s own Oh Dang BBQ Sauce. The Wham Bam Thank You Lamb offers beef and lamb marinated in Moroccan spices, while the vegetarian-laden Herbivore is aimed at those with a no-meat preference.

“I wanted the menu to be fun,” Sequeira said. “I was kind of modeling it after the Pita Pit, but better. We make our own sauces and soups every day, and we get all our seasonal produce locally. I tried to have something for everybody, including kids. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Sequeira's Bomb.com Chicken sandwich is a customer favorite and loaded with chicken, house-made coleslaw, bacon, veggies and Sequeira's own special dressing.

“I’m proud of what we’re doing. It’s been mostly foot traffic and word of mouth, but this has been good.”

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