See who’s, and what’s, cooking inside West Seattle ‘virtual restaurants’ hub Distinguished Foods

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

From milk tea to soul food to vegan burgers, dozens of choices are on the menu at West Seattle’s Distinguished Foods.

Actually, that’s “menus” – this longtime commercial kitchen facility at 4611 36th SW is home to a dozen “virtual restaurants” and other food businesses, as Distinguished Foods owner Claiborne Bell describes them. (His own Seattle Sorbets is one of them.)

It’s not just a place where food is prepared – it’s also a place where you can order it and/or pick it up. We hadn’t visited in a long time, until Claiborne invited us recently to come tour and see who’s new.

He explains that Distinguished Foods is also an “incubator” helping tenants learn and grow – and that means some inevitably “graduate” to their own locations. When we were there a little over a week ago, he was about to say goodbye to the latest “graduates” – Aroy Mak Thai Food, opening a bricks-and-mortar restaurant in Greenwood after two years at Distinguished Foods.

“I’m very proud of them,” Claiborne smiled. He says the kitchens can be a place to learn how to sell food profitably, to get going with your business without “mortgaging your house” from the get-go. Another recent “graduate” is Taste of Mumbai, which now has a restaurant in The Admiral District.

The co-housing of multiple businesses also provides some synergy – maybe you came to pick up food from one, and while you’re waiting, you discover the menu of another, and order from them next time. It’s an eclectic lineup – also in house during our visit, Dada’s Plant-Based Burgers & Breakfast:

David’s business – there for about six months now – is the first vegan restaurant at Distinguished Foods, Claiborne notes. “Amazing food,” including a popular crispy “chik’n” sandwich.

Also among the newer tenants, Seattle Soul Kitchen, with fare including catfish, chicken, smoked stuffed turkey legs, jambalaya, sides including mac and cheese, yams, and greens.

They’re even serving “old-school Kool-Aid” if you’re thirsty.

Another beverage option – the teas (including boba) that Nhu makes at TAB (Take a Break):

“Authentic tea, no powders,” mind you. And TAB serves up authentic pho, too.

Winding our way through the building, we also drop in on Chef Michael Poole, who we mentioned a decade ago – he combined a Seattle Fire Department career with candymaking, and the result was Hot Chocolat.

He’s also leading team-building exercises these days – teaching classes.

Meantime, Distinguished Foods is also home to the growing business Papa Tony’s Hot Sauce, run by Tony Wilson (pictured below with Claiborne Bell).

Need a frosty treat after something savory? Claiborne’s Seattle Sorbets come in flavors such as mango sunset and raspberry merlot. He introduced us to Dora, who’s been making ice cream and sorbet for more than 20 years:

Dora’s roles are many, Claiborne notes, including helping manage the kitchen business. It’s been rebounding from the pandemic years – 17 companies operating in the kitchens pre-pandemic, down to five at the low point, “and things are just now coming back.” (The March 2020-September 2022 West Seattle Bridge took a toll too.) The “virtual restaurants” aren’t all open the same days and hours; most, Claiborne says, are open six days a week. But that’s part of the education he says they get from Distinguished Foods as an incubator – “be consistent with your hours and food. … Make money and do well.”

Haven’t tried any of the Distinguished Foods offerings? You can go to the north side of the building, peruse menus, press a button to alert the business, and place an order – or order online and go there for pickup. (Some work with delivery services too.) Here’s the directory by the door (but remember Aroy Mak has since moved – speaking of which, id you’re looking for a kitchen, Distinguished Foods has space):

12 Replies to "See who's, and what's, cooking inside West Seattle 'virtual restaurants' hub Distinguished Foods"

  • Anw April 7, 2024 (8:04 pm)

    Love this!! Thanks so much for sharing! What a great treasure in our community!

  • Robin April 7, 2024 (11:16 pm)

    I am CRUSHED to find out Aroy Mak has left West Seattle, but happy they’re following their dreams! Quite a fan of Distinguished Foods.

  • TheArroyos April 7, 2024 (11:41 pm)

    Good luck Aroy Mak ~ Please return to WSea one day. 

  • WS Res April 8, 2024 (12:48 am)

    Aroy Mak Thai’s food is so good – congrats to them for getting their own space but we’ll miss picking up from them on the way home from work!

  • West Seattle Commuter April 8, 2024 (8:09 am)

    Nooooo, Aroy Mak is leaving West Seattle! They are the best (both food and kindness)!Seriously, very happy for them, and well desserved success!

  • Sarah April 8, 2024 (9:00 am)

    So bittersweet to hear Aroy Mak is leaving West Seattle. I hope you guys can return one day with a brick and mortar!

  • sam-c April 8, 2024 (11:45 am)

    Congrats and welcome to all the businesses here! I like hearing these updates on what is happening there.  Need to try it- it all sounds delicious! And will have to take a trip to Aroy Mak Thai in Greenwood.

  • Lynda B April 8, 2024 (11:51 am)

    We ordered from Dada’s and it was our first time at DF.   We had the chiken burger and the fries were crispy.  Thanks for highlighting the eats here.  

  • Bdubbs7 April 8, 2024 (2:08 pm)

    I will 100% drive to Aroy Mak to get their food. They are not only sincerely nice people, but they make INCREDIBLE Thai food that’s not the standard Americanized Thai literally everyone else makes. I knew the day would come they’d get a true brick and mortar. If you have not eaten there, I promise you…make the drive to Greenwood. Such a loss to West Seattle, for sure.

  • Jeff April 8, 2024 (2:50 pm)

    We desperately need a vegan restaurant like Allyum back in Admiral/Junction area.

  • B.JButler- April 8, 2024 (4:45 pm)

    Great variety of foods. All are very tasty. The Sorbets are absolutely delicious!

  • DJ April 9, 2024 (10:01 am)

    Dada’s is absolutely the best. I don’t know what kind of veggie bacon they use, but it is magic. Don’t miss out!

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