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Rogo's

The former Szmania's takes on a new personality

April 1, 2014, saw the end of an era with Ludger and Julie Szmania selling their Magnolia restaurant to Chef Michael Rogozinski after 24 years. Their agreement allowed use of the Szmania's name for up to one year. Now it's Rogo's time.

There will be changes, some more obvious than others. Physically, the inside of the restaurant will have new tables and chairs, wall colors, lighting and artwork. Outside signage, including the large entrance awning, will bear the new name "Rogo's Restaurant and Bar." While operating under the Szmania's banner for the past year, menu changes have slowly evolved into what Michael describes as New American Cuisine.

"It's much easier to identify a type of food like French or Italian," says Michael. "For us, New American Cuisine means comfort food you can't make at home, with influences from all over the world, including the Northwest. It's a little risky when you can't easily identify the concept, but Seattle is full of urban foodies who enjoy expanding their palates. We offer a great experience and great food, without making a fuss about it. Our goal is to serve the freshest locally-sourced ingredients that highlight our passion for food. With the depth of talent we have in the kitchen, we can do anything." That includes making things in-house like smoked salmon, smoked duck prosciutto, home-cured items, dressings and sauces.

One thing won't change. Rogo's will continue to be a neighborhood, family-friendly restaurant, and will continue to draw destination diners as well. The semi-private dining room is available for parties (holding 30-35) and Rogo's will offer off-site catering, with options from casual to fine dining. The popular daily happy hour, with separate bar menu, continues. Beginning in May 2015, brunch will be served on Saturdays and Sundays.

According to Michael, staffing during the transition went flawlessly. "Almost all of the employees have remained. They've helped me understand the Magnolia market and the likes/dislikes of our current customer base. The teamwork has been encouraging. I can always learn from those around me."

Michael was born and raised in Guatemala, where his mother (who grew up in Seattle's Green Lake area) worked for the State Department. There she met Michael's father, a German born in Guatemala (with a Polish name!).

He developed a strong interest in food and cooking while in high school. After staging for a year at The Camino Real Westin, he was hooked. In 1985, at 18 years old, he landed a paid apprenticeship at the Four Seasons Inn on the Park in Houston. He left in 1986 to attend the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park and earned his Associate's Degree in 1987. Upon graduation, he returned to Houston and the Four Seasons.

"Although the Four Seasons was a dream position, I sold everything and moved to Paris on a  student visa," Michael recalls. "I had no job lined up, so I would go to the back doors of restaurants to drop off my resume. One day at Le Grenadin, I walked up as the dishwasher was walking out. He took off his apron and threw it on the ground; he was done. The chef quit at the same time. Someone from the restaurant walked out, saw me, picked up the dirty apron and handed it to me. I was officially the dishwasher!"

After all his high-end training (click here to see his full history), he washed dishes for a few months and did prep work. "Back then, we'd get scallops in shells, pheasants warm from just being shot, and mushrooms with moss on them. Eventually they realized I was able to cover for vacations and I began to cook both there and other places, too. Days were long, but that's how you hone your craft."

Returning to the US, Michael had a position lined up in Atlanta that fell through. He headed to Seattle where he had a few Four Seasons connections. He reached out to Kaspar Donier and Ludger Szmania to see if they had work for him. Ludger put him on the line and connected him with Charles Ramseyer, then executive chef at Ray's, who found a position for him, too. Soon Michael was working more than ever.

Eventually, Ray's needed more of his time, so he left Szmania's and went full-time at Ray's, staying for five years. He eventually moved to The Pink Door and stayed for over two years before moving to the downtown Sheraton's Pike Street Café. In two years, business increased two-fold. Then it was back to the Pink Door, where he spent another two-plus years, helping increase their business by one third. He left in 2003 and took a few months off before returning to work at a few small places around town.

His next job was at Summit at First, a retirement residence, where he was the Executive Chef and Director of Culinary Services for nine years. By 2012, he knew if he wanted to realize his dream of owning his own restaurant, he needed to start the process. It took time to find the right place and come to an agreement, but the dream materialized in 2014.

Now he and his wife Carolyn have completed their first year as owners and are ready to put their name on the door. "We look forward to seeing Rogo's begin a successful run as one of the city's greatest restaurants."

Rogo's Restaurant and Bar
3321 W McGraw
Seattle, WA 98199
206-284-7305
www.rogosrestaurant.com

Connie Adams/March 2015


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