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Aloha for all

It seems logical that Seattle-ites would bond to food that reminds them of sun. Tacos, kalua pork, kalbi beef. Marination allows us to stay in town while our mouths go on vacation.

Aloha slicer at T-Mobile Park, courtesy of Seattle Mariners

Roz Edison was born in Athens, Greece, and grew up in Chicago. Kamala Saxton was born in Oahu and grew up in Palo Alto. They met in Boston while working for Match Corps. They worked together for about a year, then moved to Seattle. Roz got a part-time job advising at the University of Washington and Kamala attended grad school. How, you are thinking, did they wind up in the food industry?

At a dinner party in 2009, food trucks were discussed. There were almost no food trucks in Seattle. You know how wine-infused dinners end? Right - with great ideas. All six people said, "We should do this!" and they booked flights to LA to check out Kogi BBQ Taco Truck where people waited in line for three hours. Before they went, Roz did a spreadsheet showing how the numbers might look for a food truck. Four people said, "We're out! But we'll still go to LA."

Next thing you know, Roz and Kamala bought a food truck in LA (Big Blue) that was mostly finished and just needed some customization. "Our two inspirations were Kogi for culinary and Skillet for business model," says Roz. "Skillet parked in the same locations one day each week. Long enough to build a following, but not create burn out. We followed that model. We pushed hard, getting the truck in February and opening in June, wanting to catch that summer while the idea was still novel. We're fortunate we were in that first wave.

"What we did right was put a strong team together. We had a talented first chef, Catherine Calleja. We knew the elements we wanted, but not how to scale. She designed menus with something for everyone. We outsourced bookkeeping and social media. Kamala is the people person, I'm the operations person. A confluence of factors worked for us. The boyfriend of one of our employees heard about Good Morning America doing a Best Food Cart in America competition and nominated us. Final voting was done online: we lived in a techie city and had a great online following. We won! We were profiled in DailyCandy and GQ. GQ featured a picture of our Sexy Tofu."

SPAM Musubi at T-Mobile Park, courtesy of Seattle Mariners

Their first brick and mortar, Marination Station, opened in 2011 on Capitol Hill. "At 602 square feet it was bigger than the truck. We already had a following on Capitol Hill. We were able to be open all day and sell beer." They officially closed this location in November 2020.

Roz saw an RFP for a restaurant at the Parks Department Seacrest Boat House in West Seattle at the water taxi landing. "Kamala had always wanted a place on the water where we could sell beer and have bike rentals, so I checked it out. We were surprised they awarded the contract and surprised we've done so well! We opened Marination ma kai in October 2012. I still feel we're the right fit for that spot. When the water taxi increased the size of their boats, it helped us dramatically. Business slowed with the pandemic, but locals are supportive. ma kai was our first full bar, and we had an extremely strong opening team."

Marination ma kai, West Seattle

In late 2015, two big things happened. Amazon opened space at 6th and Virginia and asked them to open a location there. "Amazon people knew our food from when we vended near their Beacon Hill location early on. We opened Marination 6th & Virginia in late 2015. The second thing that happened was that we had outgrown our rented commissary kitchen. We were about to sign on a new place when we saw a building in Columbia City that had been empty for five years. We decided to take that building, create a commissary kitchen and a restaurant, Super Six." They did well with lunch, dinner, brunch. When the pandemic hit, they closed (along with everyone else) then started up slowly with take out, then adding service. Brunch and dinner are back, and a large tent is used all year for outdoor dining. At this time, they don't plan to bring lunch back.

Marination 6th and Virginia

Roz sees continuing issues in the restaurant industry. "We hope people make it and new people come in. We learned from COVID that you can't look too far out. We're grateful for what we have today. We've pulled back on expansion plans. Keeping our business functioning and healthy is our focus now.

"We're honored that we've been asked to open new locations; we've spent 14 years saying no." This year, they accepted a space at T-Mobile Park. "We had pre-COVID conversations with Ethan Stowell but didn't think we could make it pencil. We'd vended for the Mariners with the truck. Ethan was the catalyst who helped us see how it could work. There's no kitchen, so that informed what we'd serve. It's been great."

Super Six, Columbia City

What matters to Roz and Kamala are the relationships. "We love to see former Marinators start businesses. We're proud of the talented, kind people we've had/have on our teams. They've been our main success factors. Our customers have been very supportive. We had a ten-year anniversary in 2019 at Super Six. One family used to come to the food truck in West Seattle with little kids. We had a picture from then and took the same photo at the party, but the kids were like 17! It's meaningful when someone asks us to cater their special moments. There are kids who ate our food and now want to work with us. We realize our impact is not always about the bottom line, it's about sharing aloha in everything we do."

Connie Adams/June 2022

Marination ma kai
1660 Harbor Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98126

Marination 6th & Virginia
2000 6th Ave
Seattle, WA 98121

Super Six
3714 S Hudson St
Seattle, WA 98118

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