Two big-name restaurants in Little Saigon, Hue Ky Mi Gia and Seven Stars Pepper Szechwan Restaurant, may close soon due to a lack of walk-in traffic because the area around their corner mall at South Jackson Street and 12th Avenue South has started to feel unsafe, the owners of both restaurants said.
As an example of the issues they’re facing, the owners of Hue Ky Mi Gia and Seven Stars pointed to a shooting last month nearby that left two victims with gunshot wounds to their legs, according to the police report. But even before that incident, Michael Creel and his wife Yong Hong Wang of Seven Stars said a recent string of broken storefront windows has made their corner mall, the Ding How Center, an eyesore.
Creel said the couple will likely close at the end of this year because “I can’t see things turning around in a building that’s essentially a slum.”
King County Metro Transit police Sgt. Dave Hoag described this corner of the Chinatown International District as “an open-air drug use” area and a hub of illegal vendors hawking stolen goods such as liquor, electronic gear and clothes.
Metro Transit police officers patrol the mall area because on this busy corner is a bus shelter that authorities watch over.
The Seattle police Crime Dashboard for the Chinatown International District shows the number of aggravated assaults and burglaries in the neighborhood has increased through 11 months of 2021 when compared with the last pre-pandemic year of 2019. (Dashboard stats are for the entire CID; they do not pinpoint a specific corner of the neighborhood.)
2019: Aggravated assault, 112 counts. Burglary, 143.
2021: Aggravated assault, 131. Burglary, 173.
But the numbers do not paint a full picture due in part to law enforcement being understaffed and police generally not arresting for lower-level crimes.
Unless they witness anyone openly using drugs, drinking in public or peddling evidently stolen gear with the security tags still attached, authorities have a hard time charging suspects with drug use or shoplifting, said Hoag.
Friends of Little Saigon, a group of community and business leaders that advocates for this neighborhood, confirms that this particular corner of Little Saigon has become “a huge crime spot,” but the illegal activities and the loitering are prevalent throughout this enclave of Asian restaurants and stores, said Quynh Pham, executive director of the nonprofit. “We are losing our neighborhood.”
Pham said her group has reached out to the city in the past for assistance, asking for everything from more lampposts to sanitation crews to clean up the graffiti, but no plan has been put in place to clean up the area.
A spokesperson for incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell could not be reached for comment on what his administration might do to address the issues facing Little Saigon.
Tenants of Ding How Center say they have witnessed drug use in the back stairs of the two-story mall and people congregating around the stairs at night. Metro Transit Police confirms this remains an ongoing problem, and Hoag said he often has to clear the area.
Because of this environment, Creel said some delivery drivers from third-party apps have refused to leave their cars and walk to his restaurant to pick up food orders, so his restaurant staff has to bring to-go food orders out to drivers waiting on the curb.
Creel said his restaurant staff regularly flushes the back stairs with boiling water because that section often reeks of urine in the morning.
Creel also shared a photo from a security camera that showed a person rushing into his restaurant and snatching his wife’s laptop and another similar photo that showed an intruder breaking down the door of their restaurant after-hours.
His chef had his Cadillac’s windows broken into four times in the parking lot, and his wife’s van and his SUV have also been broken into, he said.
“We have been repeatedly broken into in the last year. The repeated car break-ins have caused two chefs and two waitresses to quit,” Creel said.
In a phone interview, property manager Howard Ho said the landlord has done all she can, but some of the people who hang around the area “are aggressive” when confronted. In the coming weeks, the landlord will fence the perimeter of the mall in hope that the barrier will help enhance safety, but Ho admits he’s not sure that will solve the problem nor make his tenants feel safe enough to stay.
Hue Ky Mi Gia is the other big-name tenant in the strip mall that may call it quits. The restaurant’s butter-garlic umami wings were anointed by The Seattle Times as some of the best in the city and they’re also a favorite of many local chefs. But owner Huy Tat said customers aren’t coming for the wings like they used to because of the deteriorating situation around the property.
Recently, his restaurant windows were shattered — again, for the fourth time this year, Tat said.
Even though he has a year left on his lease, Tat said, “Honestly, we may have to close, too.”
Tat has already closed his downtown banh mi shop Mr. Saigon due to similar problems in the downtown corridor, he said.
Other restaurant closure news
Commuters who pass by the corner of Nickerson Street and Fourth Avenue North may notice the big “The End” banner splattered across the-two story structure that housed Nickerson Street Saloon, which has closed after 25 years.
The owners sold the property to developers, who will erect a six-story building. Bar manager Chris Martino shared his emotional goodbye over social media, waxing, “Goodbyes are hard and often messy. This one has been both. … More than just a chapter in my life, it has been my life for 25 of my 52 years. I’m proud of what we built and who we were as a business and a community. It was the best thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
Reached by telephone after the bar closed at the end of the night on Halloween, Martino reflected more on his time there: “If you want to be a neighborhood bar, you have to connect with the people and be a part of each other’s lives. I watched kids grow up. I’ve watched couples meet and marry. We were a big community center. … There were a lot of birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations.”
Also, a sad goodbye to arguably one of the most important restaurants to open in the Puget Sound area in recent years: Cinnamon Sri Lankan Restaurant in Bothell, one of the few dining rooms to feature Sri Lankan fare, from its pork black curry to its aromatic, turmeric-scented yellow rice. Most local Sri Lankan food is more fusion-style like at Rupee Bar in Ballard, or the cuisine gets treated as an afterthought with a few dishes mentioned in one corner of a menu at an Indian buffet restaurant. Here’s hoping for another Sri Lankan restaurant to pick up where Cinnamon left off.
Last week, The Shambles, a butcher shop/restaurant in Maple Leaf, announced on Instagram that it will close after Christmas Eve if the owners cannot find another buyer.
In West Seattle, the vegan restaurant Allyum announced over social media that it will close by the end of the year: “Covid has definitely made it very difficult for us to grow the way we need to in order to self sustain and stay out of debt. After many heartfelt talks and consideration of all possibilities to make our lovely space work, we have realized it’s just too big to keep costs down and run efficiently as a small restaurant.”
After 33 years, Tup Tim Thai announced on social media that its Uptown restaurant will close after dinner service on Dec. 18.
In Westlake, Pasta Freska closed after more than 23 years.
In Redmond, The Guilt Trip has shut down after eight years because the property owner sold the land to a developer, the restaurant owner said. Two chains have also shut their Eastside franchises: Teddy’s Bigger Burgers in Woodinville and Hops n Drops Klahanie in Issaquah.