Social media and community come to the rescue of widow trying to keep her Ballinger restaurant afloat

Monday, April 2, 2018

The crowd at Teriyaki Plus on Saturday
Photo by Kathy Passage
By Kathy Passage
Republished from

It started with a post on Facebook. Sally Larson had passed Teriyaki Plus on Ballinger Way (19939 Ballinger Way NE 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.

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.”

Ki Bok and Sarah Bok Nam
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.

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.

Teriyaki Plus 19939 Ballinger Way, Shoreline 98155

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.

Gyoza at Teriyaki Plus
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.

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.”


Senorita S May 25, 2018 at 10:30 AM  

In a time of so much negativity, sadness, fears, with so much to do about race, inequalities, hate, our innocent students being shot while trying to become our future in this society, so much instability! IT IS SOO REFRESHING to hear about this story of kindness & empathy, a community coming together to help this woman & it all started so simple.... one woman noticing the struggles, efforts, hard work, dedication of another. Only because she chose to take notice, to care & to listen to a story behind the face of a stranger. Every person we meet has a story behind him/her. but most times we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we don't take notice & much less bother to act & accomplish what we are capable of doing to help one another. This story in inspiring as it is REFRESHING. Thank you!

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