Family, friends and the legion of fans of Seattle’s Kona Kitchen are mourning the death of Elizabeth Mar, the beloved matriarch of the local Hawaiian restaurant classic. After a two-week illness, she succumbed to the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, at the age of 72. Her husband, Robert Mar, age 78, died of the virus on Thursday night.
“It’s a huge devastation for our family,” daughter Angie Okumoto says. She and her mother opened the restaurant in Maple Leaf in September 2002, along with her husband, Yuji Okumoto. A second branch followed in Lynnwood. At Kona Kitchen, Mar embodied the deeply kind and ever-welcoming spirit of aloha, Okumoto says. Mar went by Liz, but many patrons simply called her “Auntie” or “Grandma.”
Okumoto says she’s taking comfort in the outpouring of love on the Kona Kitchen Facebook page. “We’ve kind of created this little family in the Seattle community through the restaurant,” she says. “The response really shows you — I don’t know — how important she was to the community. And I so appreciate honoring her.”
Mar was “everything” at Kona Kitchen, Okumoto says, filling in wherever needed, managing or bartending, always a huge part of the heart of the place. Mar was also instrumental in the restaurant’s support of local charities. Okumoto says she is trying to see it as “a blessing” that her mother and father “can rest in peace together.” The family that the Mars leave behind includes seven grandchildren.
The Seattle location of Kona Kitchen remains open for takeout, serving the family recipes for quintessential Hawaiian dishes. As with many local restaurants turning to takeout in the wake of the mandated dining-in shutdown due to COVID-19, “We’re just trying to stay afloat,” Okumoto says, “and keep as many employees afloat as much as we can.”
Due to the coronavirus crisis and a statewide ban on funerals, plans for memorial services are uncertain at this time, but the family will post updates on the Kona Kitchen Facebook page.
For takeout from Kona Kitchen, call or stop in to the Seattle location at 8501 Fifth Ave. N.E., Seattle; 206-517-5662; konakitchen.com