Women in the Workplace: Marination

What do you do when the world hands you a lemon? Folk wisdom says you make lemonade. The Marination duo had a different answer: Make Hawaiian-Korean tacos.

Marination is a crazy, runaway success story that co-owner Kamala Saxton likes to talk about.  The story began five years ago when Kamala and co-owner Roz Edison, had some financial reverses, like many of us who weathered the Great Recession.

Roz and Kamala became acquainted while both were working in educational programs in Boston. Kamala, a one-time Seattleite who grew up in Hawaii and California, has degrees in education and public policy and a professional background at the Gates Foundation. Roz, who was born in Greece and has lived in Romania, is Chinese and Filipina and was raised by a Japanese mom.

When times grew difficult, the two made the decision to return to Seattle roots and, what the heck, see what they could do with a food truck.

The two women pioneered with home-made marinades and a saucy Asian-fusion cuisine. At the time, no one locally had ever envisioned a Hawaiian Korean Taco, much less tried to market one. But to everyone’s surprise, the menu item sold briskly from the women’s mobile Marination, a sleek truck they dubbed “Big Blue.”

After a couple of years of run-away mobile success, the partners dipped their toes in the brick-and-mortar water and opened Marination Station, a location on Capitol Hill at Broadway and Pike Street. The following year, the ladies discovered that the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department was seeking proposals for an outlet on Alki Beach, opposite the West Seattle Water Taxi terminus.

With only three days to go before the deadline, they pulled some all-nighters to construct a sound business plan for Marination Ma Kai (“near the sea”). The proposal was a success and now West Seattle commuters have a reason to linger on the beach enjoying the tangy cuisine and even hoist a beverage or two.

All three Marination outlets are doing a brisk business, although the restaurant trade, even when joyful, isn’t even remotely a sure road to riches.

Kamala says with dismay, “I’m not sure we can expand any further.” She faces rising costs and then there’s Seattle’s recently mandated $l5 minimum wage that is guaranteed to cut into the profits. Kamala points out that protein prices – beef prices in particular – are up 32 percent in the past year. And then there’s the need to buy compostables, products that meet Seattle’s recycling rules. Kamala says, “That adds $17,000 a year alone.”

Kamala  states that it’s her goal to keep Marination’s prices reasonable. She adds, “I want it to be affordable so that a family of four can have a meal out.” At Marination Ma Kai on Alki, it’s not only the food that draws, but the ambiance of outdoor seating and the great view. When schedule permits, Kamala and Roz offer the outlet to PTAs and other nonprofits as an event venue, contributing a percentage to worthwhile causes.

The very popular kimchi and kalua pork quesadilla

On a recent August day when the Seattle legislative staff water-taxied over, Marination’s indoor and outdoor tables were full of a happy lunchtime trade. We sampled the famous Hawaiian-Korean tacos as well as kalua pork sliders, perfectly grilled slices of spam on a paddy cake of rice, a kimchi quesadilla, specially spiced slaw and, of course, the unique Nunya sauce, which can be purchased for take home.  The popular fish and chips are renowned, having won “best in Seattle” twice.

Roz and Kamala’s fearless next step is to open in Pioneer Square, although the enterprise will debut mainly as a bar.  As they’ve discovered, the economics favor bar operations over food outlets.

Despite obstacles, Kamala likes owning her own business, likes self-determination and being her own boss. Asked how she manages to stay so trim when she’s constantly surrounded by such tempting foods, Kamala replies that in her spare time – what little there is, she’s a crossfit coach, teaching a 5 a.m. class in Columbia City.

Women in the Workplace: Joanne Ort CPA

When Joanne Ort went off to the University of Washington in the 1980s, she thought she’d emerge as a doctor. That was before organic chemistry. The college class left her scratching her head. Instead she enrolled in accounting and discovered a perfect fit.

The switch shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Joanne’s dad and one of her sisters were CPAs and she was about to become one. She graduated with a business degree, later acquiring a master’s with a tax concentration.

She says, “I always knew I wanted to have my own practice.” And, after raising two children and working for three accounting firms, she has reached that goal with Joanne Ort CPA. Hers is a small business with one employee and an office in the Safeco Plaza Building.

Her clients are mostly small businesses — bakeries, restaurants and dentists – many of them women-owned. She also has a number of clients who work in film, making commercials, corporate videos and independent films. As she points out, “The film community is small and tight-knit but larger locally than you might guess.”

Much of the year, Joanne puts in 40-50 hour weeks. But from January through April, tax season, it’s much more. She says, “I’m chained to my desk, working seven days a week.” Grim as that sounds, Joanne loves her work, loves helping others. She is lucky to have an understanding family.

Joanne says that women now claim about 55 percent of the nation’s accounting jobs. That’s the good news. The downside is that accounting is a profession that typically remains male-dominated in the higher-level positions in top jobs. Of the three jobs Joanne had before starting her own business, all were at firms headed by men.

For those women considering accounting, Joanne happily shares advice. She says, “First you have to love it. It’s not about math; it’s more about logic. It’s mostly problem solving.” She says that one drawback for women is that they tend to undervalue their services, not charging enough or even giving pro bono help to those in need. She catches herself saying, “It’s OK,” even to the rare client who, doesn’t take seriously the need to pay taxes in a timely manner.

Having one’s own small business provides for flexibility, such as being able to conduct work from home. Then add the satisfaction of being able to help others. As Joanne says, “That’s what makes it a great job for a woman.”

Women in Business: Spinnaker Bay Brewery

When you think of a brewmaster, you probably envision a rotund Germanic fellow with a Walrus mustache. But not at Spinnaker Bay Brewery, a thriving new enterprise in Hillman City. The lively brew pub is 100 percent woman-owned and operated, arguably the only completely woman-owned brewery in the state.

Elissa Pryor and Janet Spindler

I sat down last week with the owners, the brewer Janet Spindler, and the accountant, Elissa Pryor. Elissa explained the division of labor: “Janet makes really good beer and I cook the books.” The partners both are sailors and they derive the names of their distinctive brews from nautical terms.  (The list might include Fraid Knot™, High Heel™, Don’t Panic Porter™ and Keel Over™).

Janet comes from a long line of women brewing beer. A family picture, circa 1907, hangs next to the pub’s gleaming mahogany bar. The photo shows Janet’s great-grandmother standing beside a keg she brewed. Beer was women’s work; men in the family were more adept at bathtub gin.

Janet, who worked in engineering and commercial real estate, has long brewed beer at home. As Elissa says, “She was very popular at neighborhood parties.” When Janet was laid off a couple of years ago, she and Elissa decided it was time to do what they’d often dreamed of doing: open a micro-brewery.

Finding start-up funds was the first hurdle, complicated by the recession and a tight market. Elissa says, “No one would touch us. The bank would give us a loan, but only if we deposited enough so that they were essentially lending us back our own money.” Eventually the two were able to self-finance between their savings, retirement funds and help from family and friends.

Helped along by realtor Jean VelDyke, they located in the 100-year old building at 5718 Rainier Ave. that had started life as a repair shop for horse-drawn carriages. It was in sad shape, desperately in need of restoration. They signed papers in September, 2012, and set to work, filling train-car-sized dumpsters with moldy lathe and plaster. Underneath they discovered a handsome wooden ceiling.

Meanwhile, they found their antique bar with its shady 1920s history and a pushbutton designed to warn patrons of Prohibition-era raids. After months of hard labor, they had transformed the once derelict site into an airy, inviting venue, opening the doors in April, 2013.  The pub has a small adjacent parking lot where food carts rotate; patrons can bring the food inside.

The production side of the brewing operation occupies the rear of the building. There one sees gleaming tanks, all named for women friends: Alice, Betty, Claudia, Delilah and the like. Other tanks have been dubbed Thelma and Louisa, and the cooler is known as Phyllis Chiller.

With help from her team (two women employees), Janet blends various grains – hops, barley, malt and/or rye to achieve brews with a clean, smooth finish. Production varies according to the season and the brewer’s whim. For Mother’s Day, Janet added strawberries to produce a bright, fruity ale. At times she might stir in juniper berries and hints of citrus and chocolate.

Elissa, whose day job involves the accounting for a chain of restaurants, does all of Spinnaker Bay’s bookkeeping, payroll, tax work and handles sales. Spinnaker Bay beer is much in demand with such clients as Tutta Bella, Hopvine Pub and Columbia City Ale House. Other outlets also have been interested in carrying the beer, available so far only in kegs or on tap.

Elissa sighs happily: “So much demand and never enough beer.”

Women in the Workplace: North East Seattle Together (NEST)

There’s a retired chef in Northeast Seattle who, not so long ago, gave up driving. But he still manages to get to the grocery store once a week. And he has help with some of his other chores and needs, thanks to a new organization, a nonprofit that enlists seniors, recruits volunteers and has created a “virtual village.”

NEST members gather for a summer cookout

I first heard about the village idea from Debbie Anderson, a former director of senior programs at Overlake Hospital. Anderson is president of the board of directors of NEST, an acronym for North East Seattle Together. She shared her vision with me two years ago.

What we need, she said, is a way for seniors to “age in place.” She thought what seniors lacked was a hand helping them manage chores and responsibilities while remaining in their homes.

At the time – back in February, 2012 – I wished Anderson well and, while I admired her ideas and passion – I confess that I was a little skeptical. For one thing, she hadn’t asked for any city money, just for support. How different was that?

NEST Executive Director Judy KInney

A couple of weeks ago Anderson stopped by City Hall again and brought a surprise. She introduced me to Judy Kinney, the new executive director of NEST. After a little over two years, the organization is up and operating, supplying services to some 94 senior members.

The NEST board hired Kinney to manage the non-profit’s day-to-day operations. She and her staff — one employee and an Americorps volunteer – tap the talents of more than 100 volunteers and vendors, delivering a variety of services such as transportation, gardening, fixing computers, helping with chores or merely becoming a “walking buddy.” NEST serves residents in a dozen Northeast neighborhoods, including Bryant, Maple Leaf, Ravenna and Roosevelt.

From vision to reality, NEST is a women-operated 501c (3) organization, bettering our community, and worth celebrating.

Women in the Workplace: Kate Vrijmoet

Kate Vrijmoet is a curator, an artist and a passionate activist. She keeps a studio in Pioneer Square, a small business, but one that, although she manages to pay her taxes, she operates at a loss. 

As she points out, regretfully, there’s a big gap between male and female artists. The stats are grim: Although 60 percent of arts graduates are women, galleries display only about 25 percent of women’s work nationally. Seattle’s record at 39 percent is somewhat better. Less than 4 percent of museum collections are credited to women artists.

When asked why this is the case, Kate reflects that salary negotiation and having a family have been obvious barriers in her own art career. However, it is clear that this does not stop Kate from using her talents to shed light on her mission: to destigmatize mental illness.

Kate has joined with four other artists: June Sekiguchi, Holly Ballard Martz, Valaree Cox and Ezra Dickson. They currently are preparing a group art exhibit, slated to open for a month’s run at Seattle City Hall on Jan 9, 2015. Working title: “The Incredible Intensity of Just Being Human.”

Their goal is to pierce the silence surrounding mental illness, creating a space where we can talk about mental illness and dispel the stereotypes and stigmas.

Kate says that our silence has cost us dearly. The Center for Disease Control estimates that depression, which strikes one person in four — costs the nation some $200 billion per year. She argues, “No one is not somehow affected.” Yet the stigma is so powerful that most people not only don’t talk about mental illness, they don’t seek help.

Kate first got into the business of destigmatizing mental illness a couple of years ago when she connected with the curator of an exhibit she was a part of in Northgate. She says, “I discovered that both of us had children with mental illness.” This relationship led to a three-person show highlighting mental illness at the Seattle Center. During the experience Kate came into contact with many people who had stories of their own to tell. The exhibit served to open a door.

Since then Kate has contacted a number of people and community leaders. She believes the upcoming exhibit gives them a powerful platform to speak about the effects of mental illness on our society and on individuals. Among those she’s enlisted: the Committee to End Homelessness, Alliance for Pioneer Square, the Downtown Emergency Service Center, the Gay Seattle Business Association and Youth Care, as well as NAMI-Greater Seattle and NAMI-Washington.

Central to Kate’s work in the coming exhibit is a painting series that, Kate says, “gives voice to the un-screamed scream that demands to be heard.” Her paintings, produced in oils, are seen as if from underwater.

I’ve seen images of Kate’s work and I can see how it would provide context for discussions on mental illness. But I couldn’t help also seeing that the viewer, underwater looking up at the world on dry land, is trapped beneath a glass ceiling.