Person Behind The Place: Joseph Brazen
January 11, 2022 - by Sandy Vo
Person Behind The Place:
Owner & Director of Hospitality | 520 Bar & Grill
Lifelong broker and owner of local favorites Central Bar + Restaurant and 520 Bar & Grill, Joseph Brazen plays a major role in Downtown Bellevue by bringing vibrant establishments to the city. After years of living in California, he began searching for a place to live with his wife, Randi and their three daughters. The whole family spent a week in Bellevue, exploring the city and that sealed the decision. Overnight, the Brazen family packed their bags and settled in Bellevue in the early 2000s.
Brazen's success was built from skills he had acquired throughout his life. He knew Bellevue's Main Street needed more than just retail shops – Old Bellevue needed a place where people could relax, celebrate and have a good time. After a trip to Ireland, he fell in love with the bars there and came home with an idea: a neighborhood bar that served up more than just drinks. It'd be a place for the people. After knocking down a few walls in his real estate office, Brazen created 520 Bar & Grill.
Hear more about the inspiration behind the name, his favorite spots in Downtown Bellevue and the legacy he plans to leave behind.
What was the inspiration behind 520 Bar & Grill?
Way back when, Main Street used to be all retail shops. Everything closed at 5 p.m. on the dot and I knew there was potential there. A year later, after my epiphany, I traveled to Ireland and during a pub-crawling trip the inspiration hit. I came back to the States and knew I wanted to bring that kind of experience to Downtown Bellevue. At the time, the location of my real estate office was in between a jewelry store and a smoke shop. As years went by, their spaces became empty and I was able to knock the walls down to create a neighborhood bar. We started with the name Main Street Pub, but eventually called it 520 after thinking about why we opened a bar in the first place: it was for our community. Our name comes from the real estate location code where over 7,000 residents reside. Those are the people we’re doing this for.
How has the pandemic affected 520 Bar & Grill?
The thing about 520 Bar & Grill is we’re all a family. Once we hire someone, they tend to stick around for a long time. Our main dishwasher has been here for 16 years. He’s about 70 years old now, and may just be the highest paid dishwasher in Bellevue! During the pandemic, it affected everyone. We had long meetings, we furloughed people and once we were given the okay to work again, we just jumped right back in. We did take out, we put together a great website and even expanded our patio, offering blankets and outdoor heaters in the winter. We used our resources and decided to not vanish in a time where we could’ve easily fallen off. Our numbers are far higher than 2019 - it’s a great way to remember not to give up.
What inspires you in your everyday life?
My family is my number one inspiration. I also enjoy being able to create something like 520 Bar & Grill, going from an old building to a vibrant bar that people can come to and hang out. For example, Bellevue High School’s football games tend to be a huge event where parents come in, pre-game and then head to the game afterward. Just like Central, 520 Bar & Grill used to be an empty shell and now we’ve been able to create something out of nothing. To see how the community comes and gathers at our establishment, that inspires me.
From your perspective, how has Downtown Bellevue’s environment changed?
Every year, the downtown area is getting better and better. Before, the city was more focused on retail with two restaurants six blocks apart. There wasn’t any kind of nightlife entertainment. Now, there are 20 to 25 different restaurants just on Main Street and each one is packed every night. The diversity of restaurants has also shifted. Now you can find whatever cuisine you’re looking for, from Chinese and Indian to French. The leadership in Bellevue has continued to be five years ahead and I’m excited to continue to see the growth.
What is your favorite part about working Downtown?
The people and businesses will always be a great part of Downtown Bellevue, but my favorite part is to live so close to where I work. When my kids were growing up and in school, no matter what I was doing, I could still attend important milestones like parent-teacher meetings. I also enjoy how safe I feel in Bellevue which makes our downtown stand out immensely from other downtowns across the country.
What are your favorite places to dine?
If we’re looking for high-end food, we’ll head over to Daniel's Broiler or Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi. When we’re looking for a more laid-back scene, we’ll bar hop around Main Street and grab dinner at Cantinetta. It definitely depends on the atmosphere we want and what mood we’re in.
What is the legacy that you want to leave behind?
First and foremost, I want to be known as a good dad to my kids. My entire family works, lives and serves in Bellevue. My wife is on the board for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, and I was involved with Bellevue LifeSpring for a decade. Living in Bellevue has given me a better life. I get to work, give back to the community, and that’s one thing I hope to continue inspiring other people to do.
Get social with 520 Bar & Grill for fun menu updates.
Person Behind the Place is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.
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520 Bar & Grill
10146 Main St
Bellevue, WA 98004