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BLOOMINGTON — Zack Poleto has worked under some of the nation's best chefs. Now, he's taking charge of a kitchen of his own in BraiZe, a restaurant he opened with best friend and business partner Brandon Leach.

Haven't heard of it? That may be because it's a bit tucked away: they rent their space inside Bloomington's VFW Post 454 at 1006 E. Lincoln St.

“People come in here and say, 'What's going on here?'” Poleto said.

Restaurants like BraiZe, known as “pop-ups” or “supper clubs,” are part of a growing trend in the culinary world. Talented chefs who don't have the resources to open their own restaurant rent space out of private residences, churches or other buildings.

“This is a stepping stone to get into someplace bigger, our own brick-and-mortar,” said Leach.

Poleto said they get a lot of questions about their choice of location. "A lot of people ask, 'What are you doing in the VFW? You're classically trained, you worked for all these big-name chefs;' but how many people can say they own their own restaurant?" 

Natives of Lexington, Poleto and Leach followed different paths but have remained close friends. Poleto trained at the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Chicago and was a sous chef at Art Smith's famed Table 52 in Chicago. He also trained under French chef Dominique Brialy in New York.

Leach is a U.S. Navy veteran. He is pursuing a second bachelor's degree in entrepreneurship at Illinois State University. Both men are fathers. Opening a restaurant together has always been a goal of theirs.

BraiZe's signature dish is the “BraiZito,” a hollowed-out piece of French bread (Poleto bakes the bread every morning) filled with ingredients like corned beef, homemade chorizo or pork belly.

The most popular BraiZito is the Rasta-4-Eye, with Jamaican jerk chicken, Swiss cheese, lettuce and Poleto's signature “Reggae Sauce.” The heel of the sandwich is coated in garlic and butter, adding an extra treat at the end of the meal. The sandwich comes with homemade chips. BraiZitos range from $7 to $8.75.

BraiZe is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.  On Friday nights from 5 to 8 p.m., they fry up chicken and fish. 

The name of the business is derived from the term braising, where a tough cut of meat is seared at a high temperature, then cooked in liquid until flavorful and tender. Poleto related the process to the restaurant:

"It's about taking something simple and turning it into something big."

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