By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium | November 10, 2021
Theo Martin owner of Island Soul Rum Bar and Soul Shack, a soul food and Caribbean cuisine restaurant in Columbia City, represents possibility. What is possible when you possess the drive, work ethic and support to achieve the dreams and goals one sets for themselves and their family.
From Judkins Barbeque to Island Soul Rum Bar and Soul Shack, Martin is once again expanding and set to open another restaurant in downtown Kirkland. Named after his mother, the new restaurant, Arleana’s, provides Martin with the opportunity to honor his mother in the same way that he honored his father when he transformed Judkins Barbeque into Island Soul.
“It was my dream and I always wanted to honor my father by having his restaurant maintained,” says Martin.” I wanted it to stay in our family and my blessing is that the whole family works in the businesses and since opening Island Soul I’ve always wanted to open one up for my mother.”
After contemplating the logistics, the changing demographics of the Eastside presented Martin with an opportunity to expand that he could not pass up.
From a business perspective, Martin believes the new restaurant has the potential to exceed the initial success of his other restaurant endeavors. According to Martin, the diverse menu of soul foods, oxtails, whole fish, greens, candied yams and that southern flavor fits the growing demographic of the area, as Google, whose campus is across the street from proposed location of Arleana’s, has reinvented downtown Kirkland.
Arleana’s will feature a range of seafood dishes that bring to life the essence of Caribbean food. Dishes will highlight drink pairings that elevate a refined menu. The restaurant aspires to house Washington State’s largest selection of rum, along with a rare collection of bourbon and whisky. While the atmosphere will feel elegant and trendy enough for date nights, the restaurant will suit guests of all ages and maintain a family restaurant atmosphere.
“When you go into Kirkland you will see a lot of Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants, but zero soul or southern foods,” says Martin. “A majority of the people at Google are not from the United States. So, you’re talking about people from all over the world who are used to this type of food that we do.”
“And when I talk about types of food, I’m talking about the oxtails, the goat, the plantains, the things like the whole fish, we want filets, they want the whole fish,” adds Martin.
A product of the foster care system, Martin was raised by Lola Arleana and Loy Martin who from the beginning established in their children — Theo Martin, Lois Martin, Paula Jones, David Cus and numerous foster children — the mindset of family, community, the value of financial literacy and making sure that when all is said and done that you leave a legacy, in particular a legacy of generational wealth through ownership.
“Our parents taught us the importance of owning your own,” says Theo’s sister, Lois Martin.
“That if you’re going to have a business make sure that you hold the title to the land that your business sits on,” she continued. “You never want anyone to come in and close your doors for you.”
The first-generation Martins where owners of several real estate properties, an early childhood education center, a grocery store, and a Barbeque restaurant during the 1960s up until their passing, owning the property on which each establishment resided.
Judkins Barbeque and Judkins Grocery store were the precursor to what Seattle now knows as Island Soul Rum Bar and Soul Shack. In 1999, Theo Martin had a decision to make. While working at Nordstrom’s, his father became ill and needed help with the restaurant. Although Martin was successful in his career outside of the family restaurant, he knew it was time for him to take the helm and preserve the legacy of the business.
“I started running the restaurant because I didn’t want the restaurant to go away,” recalls Martin, on his decision to take over and manage the business. “My father taught me how to work hard. So, when it was time to jump into the business it was more of let’s keep the doors open, keep the people fed, keep cooking the food that we’re cooking.”
According to Martin’s siblings, the importance of sustaining the businesses and a legacy for generations is why the Martins work so hard to show, by example, their children and grandchildren what it takes to thrive in this world.
“Our businesses…. have always been important to us,” say Lois, who owns a child education center. “Being able to sustain that legacy that was passed on to us, to ensure that we do the same for our families and children’s families [is very important].”
With the brick and mortar in place soul food will soon make its presence known on the Eastside. The Martins are taking an unconventional approach to fund their new restaurant as they’re calling for the community to pitch in. To make up for a $291,000 gap that small business loans and landlord allotments don’t cover, the Martins have set up a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that runs through December 10, 2021. On its first day alone, the campaign collected $14,542 in pledges, giving them 23 percent of their $50,0000 goal.
As part of the campaign, Feed the People founder and chef Tarik Abdullah, Island Soul executive chef Bryce Martin, and Seattle graphic artist Kat Young worked together to develop seasonings, recipes, T-shirts, and dining experience packages that range from $25 to $10,000 reward levels. Their hope is to surpass the $50,000 funding goal, but with Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing model that means they won’t get receive any of the pledged funding unless they reach their goal. You can view the Kickstarter campaign here.
The Martins’ new family restaurant “Arleana’s” is slated to open summer of 2022. And the Martins hope that the community will support them in their endeavor to bring their Caribbean-inspired southern cuisine to the Kirkland waterfront.
“My mother always said that good food is about community, friends, and family,” says Martin. “It should fill the soul, not just your belly.”