THERE'S NO SEATTLE FREEZE AT WHITE CENTER'S FAVORITE DINER, YOUNG'S RESTAURANT
by Chase Burns of the Stranger
Laid out in front of me is the perfect hangover brunch.
First, there's the egg foo young, a thick golden Chinese omelet stuffed with bamboo shoots, onions, mushrooms, and shrimp. (Meat and veggies were also options.) The omelet is drenched in yellow gravy and served with a few perky balls of sticky white rice. To my left is a Belgian waffle. To its left are some fried wontons. Corned beef hash. Egg rolls. Bacon.
The spread is a supremely good mix of what you'd find at a Chinese restaurant and a greasy spoon breakfast joint—plates of country sausage patties served on Zodiac place mats. The restaurant is packed with a diverse crowd, and the waiters seem to know everyone. The line stretches out the door. One of the giant picture windows promises "TERIYAKI" in giant stenciled letters near another that reads "BREAKFAST." TERIYAKI BREAKFAST is a diner's dream come true.
Anyone who has spent quality time in White Center knows exactly where I'm eating: Young's.
Tucked away just off the main strip of White Center's historic business district is Young's Restaurant. It is one of the area's standout staples, which is impressive in White Center, where, in just a few blocks, a person can eat Korean fried chicken, Korean Mexican fusion, pho, ice cream, tacos, Mexican candies, Salvadoran baked goods, gourmet hot dogs, first-rate pizza, and crayfish so good it rivals the best you'll find in New Orleans. Really.
While nothing is better after a night of drinking in White Center than Young's Chinese American diner food, the real star of the show at Young's is Janice, a server who is practically a neighborhood celebrity. She bounces enthusiastically from table to table, meeting everyone, checking in with babies, waving across the restaurant to people entering. The experience is uplifting.
Janice has been working at Young's all her life. "The restaurant and I are one year apart," she tells me. The second-generation Chinese American family run breakfast joint has been serving White Center for nearly four decades. "My parents started it, and they're still running it. They are the masterminds behind it all."
Husband and wife Van and Ella Young started the business in 1982. Now their four daughters join them. The squad includes Janice, Angela, Colleen, and Kelly Young. "All four of us make JACK," Janice tells me, referring to an acronym made up of their names. Along with the daughters, there's aunt Le Dang, cousin Nhi Luu, and prep cook Suphee Tremwt.
"I can talk about how great my family business is until I'm blue in the face," says Janice. Fortunately, she doesn't have to, because everyone else already is. On a recent Facebook post celebrating the restaurant's 37th anniversary, White Center residents went off about how beloved the Youngs—and Young's—are in the neighborhood. "I've watched JACK grow up—there's nowhere that makes us feel as welcome," one patron wrote. "JACK always remembers our names," another commented.
Customers repeatedly note that Janice and the Young's staff can recall someone's name even a year after they've visited. Handwritten notes to Janice are posted on the restaurant's wall. As you check out, staff members ask you what you're up to for the rest of the day—and they sound genuinely interested.
It's easy to get lost in conversations with strangers in White Center, but it's especially easy at Young's. The Seattle Freeze doesn't seem to exist here.
YOUNG’S RESTAURANT – FAMILY BUSINESS STILL GOING STRONG, THREE DECADES LATER
by Lindsay Peyton of the West Seattle Herald
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
And Young’s Restaurant, 9413 16th Ave SW, fits the bill.
Besides humongous omelets, French toast special, chicken fried steak, a variety of hamburgers and sandwiches and plates of Hunan chicken, pork lo mein and chow mein, the restaurant serves up top-notch customer service.
“We get to know the customers,” manager Janice Young said. “We know what they like and how they like it. We know them by name – and that’s the recipe that makes things good.”
Her parents, Van and Ella Young, own the restaurant – and Janice grew up among the tables and in the kitchen and has befriended generations of diners.
“Our customers are like family,” Ella said. “ And Janice was like a daughter to our customers.”
The Youngs were among the “boat people” -- refugees from Vietnam, who fled the country after the war and immigrated to the U.S. in 1978.
They first settled in North Carolina -- but fell in love with Seattle after visiting a friend in Bellevue. Five years later, they decided to make a move.
Van enrolled in North Seattle Community College, where he earned his degree culinary arts.
Ella studied accounting at Seattle Central Community College. They decided to combine their skills and open their own restaurant— taking over a café that had failed located at 9439 16th Ave SW in White Center.
It was a rocky start – with Van in the kitchen and Ella and her sister Phuong Dao attending to everything else.
“We took over a restaurant that didn’t make it,” Ella said. “There were no customers at all. The first day we sold $27.”
The next day, the numbers were even worse.
Ella sat in the restaurant and watched all the people walking down the street, going to other places for their lunch breaks.
“I wondered why they didn’t come over,” she said. “They just kept walking by.”
A couple days later, Ella took a stand. “I ran out and said, ‘Hi, I just opened a restaurant, can you come in and try it?’” she recalled. “They came the next week – and they’ve been coming ever since.”
Still, the family struggled with the business. “The space was too small – and the landlord raised the rent all the time,” Ella said. “We didn’t think we could make it. We had a hard time, but we still kept going.”
In 1987, the couple found another space to rent up the street at 9413 16th Ave SW.
Their landlord, the late Guy Thurber, offered to sign a 10-year lease and after 25 years in the same location, he sold them the building.
The Youngs had to turn the former loan office into a restaurant. “It was an empty space,” Ella said. “We started from scratch, and equipment was really expensive.”
Still their business flourished thanks to the steady stream of loyal customers.
As more family members settled in the area, cousins, aunts and uncles took on stints at the restaurant. Now the staff includes the Youngs’ four daughters, Janice, Angela, Colleen and Kelly.
The girls’ cousins Nhi Luu and Hung Dang also work on weekends, and aunt Le Dang and Vi Dang serve as chefs throughout the week.
The menu started out featuring all the American dishes that Van learned to prepare in college. A Chinese chef joined the staff – and the offerings changed.
Now, the Youngs say the focus is about 20 percent Chinese food and 80 percent American. Breakfast is the most popular time for the restaurant.
Ella said that customer requests have shaped the menu over time. “We look to our customers to see what they like,” she said. “We changed our menu, as they requested. Whatever they like, we cook for them.”
Ella said that she has watched White Center grow and become more diverse over the past 30 years.
Janice said the way most people find out about Young’s has also changed. She remembers handing out menus with her mother as a kid. Now they use social media and Yelp.
“We’re getting a lot of people traveling through,” she said. “They learn about us from word of mouth.”
Janice has become a fixture in White Center – and regularly visits the other restaurants popping up in the neighborhood.
The community continues to support her – chatting with her at the restaurant and donating to the charitable events she participates in each year -- Columbia Tower Big Climb for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Step Out Walk for the American Diabetes Association, Base to Space for Fred Hutchinson and STP – her Seattle to Portland Bike Ride, a personal effort to celebrate health.
Her parents say they plan to keep the restaurant going for another five or 10 years – before they consider retiring.
Janice does not know what will happen to Young’s after her parents step down. She said working with her family as a team is her favorite part of the business.
In the meantime, she will continue to help keep her parents dream of running a successful restaurant a reality.
“From not being immigrants who weren’t able to really speak English to being where they are today, is incredible,” she said.
Alejandra Martinez, who works in the area, enjoys supporting the family business. “You’re helping the community maintain something that’s been here so long,” she said. “It’s more personable. Sometimes I don’t even have to ask, and they already know what I want.”
Maria Moaje is another major fan of Young’s. “It’s a diner and Chinese food, the best of both worlds,” she said. “The food is amazing, but what makes it even better is the service. Everyone is so nice.”
Moaje’s favorites are the wonton soup and country fried steak. “What makes me want to come back is the family and how they treat people,” she said. “If they don’t know you, they make it a point to get to know you. You don’t find that anywhere else.”