Locals rally to save woman’s restaurant

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

  1. What a great story! I saw the original post about this place and remembered it as a place our office got lunch when I was working. I just don’t go out much anymore. But I was totally amazed at the out pouring of help and customers. Way to go Sally! Blessings to Sarah and I hope to stop in soon:)

  2. Thank you for profiling Sarah and her amazing restaurant. We have been going there for years and we were so sad when she lost her husband. He was such a kind amazing man, who was a talented musician and knew more about jazz than anyone I have ever met. He literally knew everything about the Blue Note jazz label and shared tons of amazing trivia and insights with me.

    She works so incredibly hard; I honestly don’t know anyone who works harder than her. And the food is to die for. It’s a real treasure for this community. Whomever set up the gofundme campaign… thank you! There is no more deserving person. She can use all the help with can give her.

  3. Please identify a landmark /adjacent business that accurately identifies the location. I can see where Teriyaki Town is ..but WHERE IS TERIYAKI PLUS??

    1. The address is in the first paragraph of the story: 19939 Ballinger Way N.E. in Shoreline. According to a reader who clarified the location landmarks, Teriyaki Plus is on the opposite side of Ballinger way from Ballinger Village, South of Mc Donald’s on the next block nextTodo Mexican and a mini mart. Teriyaki Town is in Ballinger Village and we’re told it also has excellent teriyaki.

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