Locals rally to save woman’s restaurant

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Sarah Bok Nam, right, with her late husband Ki Bok.

It started with a post on Facebook. Sally Larson had passed Teriyaki Plus in Ballinger Village (19939 Ballinger Way N.E. in Shoreline) and a craving for good teriyaki made her stop.

In her Facebook post, Sally said she had “driven by 100 times, yet never noticed this place. It was empty except a couple to-go orders. I watched this lady hustling. The grill is visible from the counter and I watched all the flavors fly in as I waited. Who knew so many spices would go into it?”

The woman doing the cooking, we learn from Sally’s post, is owner Sarah Bok Nam. Not only does she cook the food, but packages up the order. She is working solo today.

Teriyaki Plus opened in Ballinger Village in 1983.

Sally noted how hard Sarah was working and observed that she was there alone — and when she asked about it, Sarah’s eyes welled with tears.

“She is a widow,” Sally wrote. “Her husband passed away five years ago, succumbing to his two-year battle with liver cancer. They had no children. They are immigrants and have no family here. She is alone, and this business is all she has.”

Sarah and her husband Ki Bok opened Teriyaki Plus together about 10 years ago.

“Since his passing, she has slowly had to let go of all her staff as she could no longer afford to pay them. She keeps going because she has to,” Sally said. “April is always a difficult month; full of anniversaries. The couple’s wedding anniversary, Sarah’s birthday and sadly the month of her beloved husband’s passing.”

Sally promised Sarah that she’d be back, and would plug her business to friends.

Now the word is out: Social media has come to the rescue of the widow, Sarah.

The crowd at Terikyaki Plus on Saturday.

When I arrived Saturday, Sarah paused briefly at the counter and smiled a greeting: “Nice hot Jasmine Tea.” Her counter person gestured to a pile of teacups “Please help yourself.”

Sarah is all smiles, almost as if she can’t believe what’s happening.

I was surprised to see the owner of Edmonds’ Ono Poke, Steven Ono, who shouted greetings from the back kitchen. “What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Well, I heard the story and stopped by…” he said, adding he “went to the back room and started cutting chicken.” This was said with a huge grin. I could see he enjoyed coming to the rescue.

Later, Steven shared that he asked his staff to encourage Ono Poke customers to consider a visit to Teriyaki Plus, rather than eat at his own restaurant in Edmonds.

Selfless sharing of talent was present at the front counter and on the grills, as former restaurant workers and owners stepped in to work shoulder-to-shoulder with this tiny little ball of energy.

The woman at the counter stopped to stretch her back, and wiggled her fingers. Her name was Jeremy, and she has been taking orders nonstop, via the phone as well as scribbling on the small spiral pad as people in the constant line give their orders.

“What is your day job?” I asked. She had a good rhythm that belies previous restaurant experience.  “I’m an office manager,” she replied. I raised my eyebrows, and Jeremy grinned —  “I used to have my own restaurant in Stanwood.

Another cook, named Isaac, hustled out of the back room with meat ready for the grill. “I’m a steelworker,” he declared. He’s heard my conversation with the counter person. “I used to work as a chef in Seattle.”

Kindness and patience filled his face as he discussed the orders with Sarah, and went back to work.

“It’ll be about 45 minutes” Jeremy said to another patron. He gave her his cell number to call when his food was ready and  then departed to run an errand.

Folks were willing to wait, myself included. I can attest that it was worth the effort. Entrees included chicken breast, pork and beef teriyaki, and tofu teriyaki. All of the entrée proteins were fresh-tasting and tender. Crisp salads with a tasty dressing and generous portions of steamed rice accompanied each order.  Sarah’s husband was a vegetarian, so his signature dishes, like broccoli teriyaki — well known to the regular customers — will be fare for our next visit.

A fellow on one of the stools finished up his meal. Obviously a regular customer — “She’s a great cook. Love the food here,” he said. No complaints from anyone about the delays or the lack of certain menu items today, due to the unexpected boom in business.

I’ve learned that someone has created a Go Fund Me page to assist Sarah in hiring a full-time employee: www.gofundme.com/5br6zh4.

Inspirational posts on the Go Fund Me page include this one:

“I’m grateful for people who take the initiative to share their experiences. It is a ripple that moves out across the community, allowing people to help when they otherwise wouldn’t know anything about it. Thank you, dear ripple-starters.

Best of luck to Sarah.”

— By Kathy Passage

4 Replies to “Locals rally to save woman’s restaurant”

  1. Reading this makes me happy. This is the good side of social media. I am glad to know of this restaurant and the story of the amazing woman holding it all together. I will also be getting food there now. Thank you for sharing this story My Edmonds News and the woman that started the “ripple”, Sally.

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  2. We are always on the lookout for good Teriyaki. Cheers to Sally for spreading the word and letting us know about this little gem. It is heart warming to know that local small business owners are also willing to share. What goes around does come around and now I want to try Ono Poke as well.

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  3. I’ve eaten several times take out at Sarah’s place and have had good conversations with her. She is personable and wonderful to share stories of life with. I am very grateful to see the community help her out. She makes great food and very tasty.

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