If you want to prompt shock, stares, and gaped-mouths, tell people on Capitol Hill that you haven’t tried Marination yet.
Growing in Seattle-food-legend status, the Hawaiian-Korean-Mexican fusion started with just a food truck named Big Blue in the parking lot of the Shell Gas Station on Broadway, and has now grown to two brick-and-mortar restaurants – one on Capitol Hill and one in West Seattle.
Five years later, Big Blue is still going strong. Marination Station, located above the QFC at Pike and Broadway, just celebrated its third birthday in April. Marination has now sold more than a million tacos, has more than 50 employees, and won the title “Best Food Truck in America” from Good Morning America. Their new restaurant, Marination Ma Kai, has one of the most beautiful views in Seattle, sitting on Harbor Avenue on the Alki waterfront, staring directly at the downtown skyline.
But despite all of this amazing success, the owners of Marination, Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison, aren’t done.
“They’re always looking, always scoping out the next best opportunity. There’s always something in the works,” laughed John Beck, Marination’s stylish and friendly Social Media and Internet Marketing Manager. His new role is one more example of how the restaurant group has grown exponentially. “Every time we’ve opened something new, the staff has been ready and everyone agrees we can do it. They make sure we’re all on board, and then they make a move when it’s a really good opportunity.”
And one of those good opportunities presented itself earlier this year. Saxton and Edison decided to branch out from their usual curb-cuisine, Spam and taco fare, to open a bar and restaurant in Pioneer Square. They’re partnering with their former Head Chef, Josh Kelly, to open Good Bar in July.
Good Bar will be on the corner of 2nd and Main, in the historic Pacific Commercial Bank building. Inside, huge white columns dominate the space, and 100-year-old, original bank vaults will also be a focal point. At 2,000 square feet, it’s a big departure from their original, few-square-feet, tiny space inside of Big Blue.
Now that Josh Kelly, the inventor of Marination’s tasty Pork Katsu sandwich is working on the new project, a new Head Chef took over the reins at Marination. Chef Angie Roberts joined the team after spending years at fine dining restaurants around Seattle.
“She’s an overall whiz in plating and making everything beautiful. But she wanted something different. She wanted to do something that had aspects of a food truck, a brick-and-mortar store, and a fine-dining restaurant. She’s already looking at ways to change and expand the menu,” said Beck.
If you’ve visited Marination Station lately, you’ve probably noticed Roberts’ influence. All of the specials over the last two months have been her creations, and she’s looking to add another large-size item (maybe a burger!) to the menu, another dessert, and expand the breakfast choices.
“Oh, and we have pineapple now! We never actually used to use pineapple until she started with us,” Beck told me. “It was really popular on the Big Kahuna burger special with grilled Spam.”
I tried the Cold Soba Noodles special the day that I visited Marination. Served with house ginger-pickled cucumbers, it had less of the spicy POW of some of the other dishes, but was a nice balance to the strong and tangy, miso-mayo Nunya Sauce that’s found on the tacos and sliders (which, by the way, can now be bought online).
Now that Marination Station has reached its third birthday, I asked Beck what the key is to surviving and thriving as a restaurant on Capitol Hill. He told me that they try to make sure and individualize the customer by remembering names and orders. But, mostly, the magic sauce is not the Nunya, but the dedication of the owners.
“Roz and Kamala are both insane,” Beck said, smiling. “I don’t know how they do it. I don’t think they sleep. I’ll email them at two in the morning and they’ll answer. And then I’ll email at 6 a.m. and get a response again. Roz still mans the food truck and takes care of Big Blue, and she’s an education professional at the University of Washington. She also helps with a food truck startup that helps people starting their first food truck. And Kamala just got her Crossfit training certification. I try not to compare myself to them because then I feel completely lazy.”