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Terry Takeuchi of Terry’s Kitchen: For the Love of Food and Community - Part 2

Homeboy cook, son Justin, and wife Sheri (2020).

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How has your restaurant become more than just a place to eat? How has the location in Bellevue been a plus?

From the beginning, we had great support from the local Asian community, family, and friends. Strong neighborhood support soon followed. Being located in the south Bellevue Newport Hills neighborhood has been an advantage for us since we are easily accessible via the I-90 and I-405 freeways, with a customer base from Seattle, Renton and the Eastside.

A pleasant surprise was seeing many acquaintances I hadn’t seen for a long time. Customers would also bump into their old friends they hadn’t seen in ages, and neighbors would run into other neighbors. This happened frequently and it quickly became a gathering place for not only my generation, but for their adult children and their families and friends, along with the surrounding neighborhood and school communities.

These days, I try to take short breaks from the kitchen and personally greet and thank customers for their patronage. I think this effort greatly helps create a warm, inviting, and friendly vibe that gives the restaurant a nice comfortable “homey” feeling.

Another unanticipated surprise has been the power of social media. On a few occasions, I met customers who had just arrived from out of state and had done an online search leading them to my restaurant based on the reviews.


You describe your food as “old school comfort food,” food that you grew up with. You don’t consider yourself a chef…

Throughout high school and after, I was always interested in cooking and finding out how certain dishes were made. I loved going to the original “13 Coins” restaurant and sitting at the counter in those large swivel chairs watching intently how the chefs made my all-time favorite dish, Mostachelli Crabmeat Supreme!

Although my mom had taught me a lot in the kitchen at an early age, it was my wife, Sheri Chinn, and her family that really inspired me to cook with passion and love. Her great aunt was Wilma Woo, owner of the “New Chinatown” and “Quong Tuck” restaurants in Chinatown. We had many recipe discussions over the years.

Another big cooking influence were Sheri’s grandparents, Walter and Linda Chinn. Walter was a longtime cook at “Trader Vic’s” restaurant. He gave me great cooking tips for prime rib and roasted turkey. Linda introduced me to delicious traditional Chinese dishes like pickled pigs’ feet, black bean chicken, “Doong Tae” (stuffed sticky rice wrapped in leaves) and my favorite, “Naaw Mai Faan” (Chinese sticky rice).

I would ask for her recipes and she would laugh and say: “I don’t have any. You have to be in the kitchen the next time I cook if you want to learn!”

Their cooking lessons are cherished memories and their food was always made with love.

People ask me how I became such a good “chef” and I reply that I am just a “homeboy cook.” I’m not a professionally trained chef, so I don’t even compare to the highly trained chefs who have devoted their time training with years of experience and service.


Your GoFundMe fund drive during the pandemic was a big success. Did this surprise you?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and in-dining shutdowns were mandated, I thought we’d be able to weather the storm by pivoting to take-out only. As much as our business increased and customers remained loyal, the unpredictability of incoming revenue started to take its toll during the summer of 2020. By the end of 2020, I prepared to break the news that Terry’s Kitchen was going to have to close.

Remarkably, a few close friends Jolene Louie, Jana Yamamoto, Patti Shimomura, Michael Chikamura, and Jan Gokami suggested creating a GoFundMe online fundraising drive.

I was too proud to ask for help and didn’t want to burden others, so I was having a real tough time with the idea, but after some nudging from this group, I came to realize it was way more than just about me. Not only did people want to help me, but they also wanted to keep a place in business where they could come and enjoy time with friends, family and neighbors.

The outpouring of love, support and generosity from people I knew and didn’t know, was truly heartfelt. I was stunned and brought to tears for many days thereafter. My heart is forever grateful.


Do you have some most memorable visits by customers?

It’s always fun to see sports figures and celebrities come in who I don’t normally get to meet.

We’ve had a few Seahawk office personnel and players come in as well as Sonic legends Fred Brown and Gus Williams; local news personalities like Lori Matsukawa, Tony Ventrella and Brady Wakayama, and local politicians. Even internationally famous chef and restaurateur Sam Choy has been here.

Sam Choy (front row) and friends at Terry’s Kitchen (2021).

In 2020, I had a wonderful encounter when Fujie Yamasaki came with her son David Yamasaki. She is the wife of the late Kaz Yamasaki, who was my dad’s coworker at Imperial Lanes. I didn’t recall Mrs. Yamasaki, but oh, once she realized I was Conc’s son, she grabbed my hands and started crying, saying how much she missed my dad. By seeing me, it brought back good memories for her. So we sat quietly together holding hands for quite a while as she reminisced. I think a few customer’s meals were pretty late getting cooked that night!

One of my most memorable moments has been when some of my childhood buddies I hadn’t seen for over 55 years showed up at the restaurant (George Lyles*, Stanley Paine, Kenny Banks* and Edgar Batiste; *Cavaliers). As fate would have it, my TT Minor buddies are once again reunited and I’m looking forward to seeing more old friends because of our reconnection. 


What advice would you have to others who have a dream to open up a restaurant in particular? And finally, what keeps you getting up each morning?

From what I’ve experienced during my short time owning a restaurant, there are certainly a few things I can pass on. Running a restaurant is tough work, long hours, and has many obstacles. You need to have great passion to achieve your dream. With passion, the work will not seem like a job if it truly comes from the heart. And, surround yourself with a great dedicated team, and treat customers, staff and vendors with love and kindness always!

What keeps me going is that I get to express myself through my food. I love cooking and making sure everyone has an enjoyable time. I love a full restaurant filled with happy customers, and I’m grateful the COVID restrictions are being lifted, at least for now!

I’ve been blessed and am forever grateful to everyone for all their support, especially to my dear wife Sheri and son Justin who have been with me from the beginning of this incredible journey.

* * * * *

Terry Takeuchi, Seattle-born, third-generation Japanese American, is the owner of Terry’s Kitchen. He attended local schools in Central and South Seattle and retired in 2014 from Seattle City Light. Pursuing his passion for cooking, he opened Terry’s Kitchen in 2017 in the Newport Hills area of Bellevue. He is married to Sheri Chinn and they have a son, Justin.

Terry’s Kitchen
5625 119th Ave SE, Bellevue
(425) 590-9545
terryskitchenbellevue.com

 

*This article was originally published in The North American Post on March 26, 2022.

 

© 2022 Elaine Ikoma Ko / The North American Post

Seattle Terry's Kitchen Terry Takeuchi