By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Usually, word of a new restaurant operator coming to town is met with excitement.
Granted, this is not your usual restaurant transition. Instead of a seamless sale – or a shutdown, followed by a period of vacancy, followed by someone new moving in – this was a Seattle Parks concessionaire contract, with longtime operator Alki Crab and Fish seeking to keep it, but Marination getting it instead.
With the transition just a few weeks away, we asked Marination’s owners for a chance to sit down and talk about their plans. Co-owner Kamala Saxton came to West Seattle – where she used to live – to talk with us over coffee last Friday.
Of the uproar, she says, after being a little startled at first, she and co-owner Roz Edison (who was out on deliveries Friday and couldn’t join our chat) realized it was ultimately a good thing. “I was thrilled that people cared. It meant that people were interested, vocal about what’s happening in their community. It’s now our job to work at building those relationships with people who were upset at the decision that was made – this is what they were accustomed to for ten years, and we can spend the next ten years winning them over.”
One big thing won’t change:
The first question we asked Kamala was where things stand with Alki Kayak Tours, which has been a subconcessionaire, turning Seacrest into a watersports and land-sports hub with kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, skates, and bikes.
Kamala says they have worked out a deal with AKT proprietor Greg Whittaker (which he confirmed to WSB), though it’s not entirely finalized yet. “We met Greg, his wife, their (toddler) son, the employees,” she smiled. “And we’ll remodel his space. It’s a closed-off building from the street – we’re going to open it up,” so even passersby can see it’s a lively space full of watercraft and recreational gear.
That’s far from the only remodeling they’ll be doing. Kamala says the building is supposed to be vacated by March 15th (we are following up separately with Alki Crab and Fish) and then, after the city does some repairs it’s been meaning to do, the Marination remodel will begin.
Take note – that means no food/beverages at the dock this spring; Kamala says they expect to be open by July, though they would love to finish sooner.
She doesn’t have renderings to share yet, but says the changes will be major, “not so many walls,” all restaurant space (instead of the current retail section): “It’s a phenomenal location, with a fantastic view of the city, the Space Needle, the water. We’re charged about the location, not only that it’s on the water, but in West Seattle.” She says they had been saying that if they were to open another “fixed location” – after “Marination Station” on Capitol Hill – “West Seattle is the only one we were looking at.” The Marination Mobile truck has been coming to 35th/Graham in High Point for 2 1/2 years, building a loyal customer base from the start. We photographed Roz just as they prepared to open on Day 1, July 4, 2009:
So what about the specifics of the Seacrest operation? Some had been discussed in original coverage – an expanded menu of Marination’s Korean/Hawaiian offerings, with a fish-and-chips dish (Kamala says that’s still in) as an acknowledgment of classic dockside cuisine. She mentions craft beers, too, and excitement as a beer enthusiast … plus: Hawaiian-style shave ice.
“No d,” she notes – shave, not shaved. (We know, we reply, having lived in Honolulu ourselves.)
Kamala says she can imagine it clear as day – a sunny day – sunny summer day at that – walking along Alki with shave ice from Marination. Something classically Hawaiian – maybe shave ice with azuki beans and vanilla ice cream. And many other flavors (probably something you’d know as more like the mainland-style “snow cone”). “I’m looking forward to getting to know families and their kids, who come down (to Seacrest) to get some.” Marination has never sold dessert, Kamala says, so this will be a first.
As for other food, they plan to include breakfast/brunch. Maybe pancakes with macadamia-nut syrup.
Will West Seattle and its visitors flock to Seacrest for that, and for their trademark dishes like spam musubi, kim-chi (pickled cabbage) quesadillas?
“This is a gamble, a Vegas gamble for us,” Kamala acknowledges. “But if I’m going to gamble on any location in Seattle, I’m going to gamble on a location here. As risky as (the restaurant) business is, I feel like the odds are really strong, in this area.” Not just because of the scenery, but because their truck has a successful history. “There’s a wait list to work in West Seattle with the truck. Our newest employees are, like, when someone is on vacation, they want to work in West Seattle.” The truck crew knows “80 percent of the customers’ names, and their kids’ names,” she says.
Though they had hoped all along to be here someday, Kamala insists they had not “envisioned a 4,000-square-foot building in West Seattle … a hit-it-out-of-the-park grand slam.”
So how did they hear about the Parks Department “request for proposals” in the first place?
Roz was looking at the Parks website “for some odd reason, and ran across it. The RFP was due in a week. I don’t think she slept … she put it together in three days. I think she even called the city to say, ‘Is this REALLY happening?’ and they said, ‘Hurry’.”
They hope to offer the new location as a community/event space. Home, say, to PTA fundraisers. “Event space in this city is so expensive – this will be event space that looks out on the water and will be affordable. We’re hoping it’ll be used by nonprofits and for fundraisers. The pricepoint for food will be pretty reasonable (too). I am excited for this to be used as a community space – it’s at the forefront of our minds as we do the buildout,” for which they’re working with the same contractor as their Capitol Hill location.
Their regular hours, she says, will likely be 6 am-10 pm. There’ll be “an outside bar and an inside bar.” And yes, there’ll be a TV for when the Mariners, Storm, Seahawks are playing. And elements of the Marination “look” – stainless steel, blue with red accents, some gray. No, it won’t be Hawaii kitsch, though they’re looking for some “wall space elements” reminiscent of O’ahu, where Kamala grew up (and if anyone reading this has memorabilia, particularly of Baldwin’s Sweet Shop, she’s looking for that kind of thing).
The agreement has yet to go before the City Council for its final stamp of approval, but Kamala says Marination has a temporary agreement to proceed in the meantime (and they’re planning on publishing weekly online updates about how it’s going).
The working name of the new place is “Marination Marina” (that’s what’s on the liquor-license application), but she says that doesn’t feel quite right, so they’re still brainstorming.
What it’s called, though, isn’t nearly as important as the people who will work there – maybe a dozen at a time, in the busy season – and the people who will come there. Otherwise, they believe it’s “the right location, in the right part of Seattle.”