The story of Boccata’s journey through the last two years is a love story.
In July 2019, Darin Harris, chef and owner of the Centralia Mediterranean restaurant, got married. His wife, Kim Harris, knew that Darin and Boccata were a package deal; she became a co-owner.
Most newlyweds struggle to navigate the division of labor in the home, but the Harrises also had to do it at work. This was just the first of many challenges. Less than a year later, the pandemic began.
Seeing the strain on his community and business, Darin took a second job. He became the chef for the daycare at the church he grew up in, Harrison Square Presbyterian.
Then, in January, Darin and family closed the restaurant and remodeled it. Now, they finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
On Friday, April 2, Boccata hosted an open house to celebrate their reopening — they are now open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday. Starting around mid-April, they intend to serve weekend dinners, with the possibility of adding more nights when capacity restrictions lift.
With the endless smiles of customers coming in, the Harrises can finally see the fruits of their labor.
Darin and Kim met through an online dating site.
“They say there’s plenty of fish, and there are plenty of fish,” Darin said. “But, there’s a lot of carp and boney stuff out there.”
Kim chimed in: “There are a lot of bottom swimmers.”
Although he kept his profile up online, he had given up on using it until Kim’s profile caught his eye. After a few messages, Kim decided not to wait around for a scheduled date. While Darin was working, she boldly walked into Boccata and said, “Do you know who I am?”
They immediately hit it off. Soon, the two would regularly be found sitting in the restaurant talking for hours after it closed. Kim was drawn to his hard work and his talent for crafting delicious food.
“My entire family had small businesses,” Kim said. “I can relate to the busyness and the commitment of it.”
Now, she works there six days a week and loves it.
In nearly 17 years of owning Boccata, Darin has always tried to bring diversity to the local fare.
As customers walk through the doors, he hopes they will imagine themselves leaving Lewis County to go on a vacation across the Mediterranean.
“Originally, I was going to open as an Italian restaurant. The problem with 16 years ago here in Centralia, everybody thought Italian food was, like, spaghetti and meatballs,” Darin said. “So then I decided I would go with the more eclectic Mediterranean.”
Darin emphasizes that they do not serve Mediterranean “fusion” — he would never blend a Morrocan recipe with an Italian recipe — rather, they serve classic cultural dishes from different places all along the Mediterranean such as France, Lebanon, Greece and Spain. Some customer favorites include vegetable tagine, lamb kefta and the build-your-own pizza.
For the future, Darin dreams that Boccata will put out culinary classes, possibly with both online and in-person tickets available.
“I’d like to teach for a while,” he said. “I’d like to transition from ‘doing’ to passing on knowledge.”
Though he notes that he does already pass on his knowledge to employees and customers who ask, there may be one or two recipes he keeps to himself.
“The most rewarding thing is nights like tonight,” Harris said. “We’re happy to be here, and we’re happy to be serving the community.”