– I had moved to Chicago, and then I was like talking to people and I’m like, yeah,
what’s, what’s going on with teriyaki out here? And they’re like what are you talking about (laughs)? And I’m like, what are you talking about? It was like this like Larry David-style showdown where you’re just like, you know, like, squinting at each other and hoping the music starts, you know? (upbeat music) – Teriyaki: sweet! Sticky! Born in Japan, but perfected here, in Seattle. (upbeat music) That’s right, the thick,
saccharine grilling glaze that you know and love is only nominally a Japanese creation. Modern teriyaki was pioneered
in Seattle in the ’70s, and for decades it thrived as this city’s cheap, quick alternative to franchise fast food. But times are changing
in the Emerald City. Skyscrapers are going up, new people are moving in, and, over the last 10 years, over a third of the city’s iconic teriyaki shops have closed; why? Can teriyaki, the go-to budget eats of Seattle’s grungy past, survive in the city’s glossy future? (upbeat music) We’re here to find out. (loud chattering) (upbeat music) In 2016, Thrillist published a piece by award-winning food
journalist Naomi Tomky that highlighted a grim trend
in Seattle’s food scene. All over town, venerable teriyaki shops, tiny neon gems in the fabric of the city’s robust neighborhoods
were closing for good. We stopped by her place
for a cup of coffee and a primer on Seattle’s present-day teriyaki situation. – I was born and raised in Seattle, and I love teriyaki, and grew
up eating it all the time. The piece wasn’t originally gonna be about the death of teriyaki, it was just I wanted to
write about Seattle teriyaki and why it mattered and why it was meaningful. I think Seattleites, well, people born and raised here, will always look for teriyaki and it will always be a comfort food for them. So, Toshi opened the first shop in 1976, on Queen Anne. He got himself a rice cooker and developed this chicken recipe There was nothing like it before that. (upbeat music) – I wanted to keep it small, simple. I started serving teriyaki chickens with reasonable prices so people can eat it more often. – People were really into it, people were buying it and he ended up expanding and franchising, and, at one point, he had 17 restaurants. There are still so many
restaurants that are all versions of Toshi’s teriyaki, Toshio’s teriyaki, Yoshi’s, and who even knows what is connected to him. – I know there are so
many teriyaki places now but I feel we do a good job. (upbeat music) – teriyaki in Japan, is this sort of this light sauce brushed on after seafood or something similar is cooked and I don’t know anything
about that version of teriyaki. Seattle teriyaki is this sort of heavy, almost cloyingly sweet
sauce and it’s marinated. It’s the least complicated most like mundane thing. Like the teriyaki shops. It’s not exciting in and of itself. – Yeah. – But it’s sort of a staple thing. (serene music) Knute Berger, who’s sort of a elder statesman of the
Seattle media world, had this great line in
the New York Times article where he says, Seattle
teriyaki is so ubiquitous as to be invisible. And that really stuck with me because teriyaki is always these little, tiny shops often immigrant-run. You have the locals, who have been eating it their whole lives and don’t even realize
it’s just a Seattle thing, and then you have the newcomers, who, it’s, they, they really don’t see it. It, it just doesn’t, doesn’t show up. It doesn’t scan and when something so ubiquitous as to be invisible. – Yeah.
– As he says, you don’t notice when it’s disappearing because you weren’t noticing it. – Sometimes people in a hurry but I do take time to make it good, taste good. (serene music) – Does Toshi still cook in Seattle now? – So he’s up in Mill Creek, which is about 25
minutes outside the city. He’s got this place that’s basically a throwback to the original one, just a tiny little place with him and his wife
and one other employee and they serve the, the
classic teriyaki chicken, and not a whole lot else. – When I was growing up in Japan, that was maybe 10 years old, I used to catch fish, put them on the skewers. I made my own sauce, teriyaki sauce. (upbeat music) My sauce is a little bit different. Not necessary to use that
much wine and sweet wine. That keeps it, we can keep prices down. When I started the first restaurant in, by Seattle Center, I made it affordable so people can
eat almost every day. (upbeat music) I kinda like to concentrate
on chicken thighs. I do add some ginger and fresh garlic. Marinate it in a teriyaki sauce overnight. That’s my story; maybe
I was hungry (laughs). (upbeat music) – Can you envision
Seattle without teriyaki? I mean, one of the things.
– No. – Is like this idea. – Like what’s quintessential Seattle? It’s not the, the, the chef doing the [omitted] cedar plank salmon. It’s more the teriyaki place. – Eric Rivera is a world-traveled chef born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. After gigs at Noma and Alinea, he came came back to Seattle to open addo., a private dinner club where he pushes physical and symbolic
boundaries of his meals. (serene music) He represents a version of
Seattle’s culinary future but when he’s off the clock his taste buds keep bringing him back to his childhood favorite:
teriyaki chicken. (upbeat music) You come from a world where like balance. – And the idea of like.
– Yeah. Constructing menus and
constructing recipes is very much like front of mind. – So you’re mapping it out like this. You’re looking at cold, you’re looking a little bit hot, more room temp, you’re
looking at something like a little bit more sweet and sour. I have like little bits and pieces here and I go, crunchy, I go more soft, and, then I go, some of it’s a little bit more grilled so I get a little bit, you know, color on there.
– Right. – Caramelization, you know, grill marks, and then I get in the inside, I’m like, little bit of, you know, dark meat which is nice but I mix it up with a little bit of the lighter meat. – This is what you’re describing like this is like the perfect
piece of teriyaki chicken. – It really is, you know what I mean? And that’s, that’s pretty (beep) cool. (upbeat music) – Can you improve teriyaki? Like could, you think you can? – You know, I’m, I’m a Puerto Rican kid. Where’s my get-in for that? I can put, you know, a
Jidori chicken on this and (chuckles), you know, I can pull A5 Wagyu and go, here’s your $450 teriyaki.
– Right, right. – But does that defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to do here? – Right.
– And what makes it special? – Yeah. – It’s $8.25.
– Yeah. – (laughs) You can’t beat this, you can’t beat this. – I mean it’s like almost a perfect meal. (serene music) – Two places that were very meaningful to me closed or announced their closing like as I, as we were discussing this piece. Then I started looking at it and running some numbers as best I could and I found it was about a third were gone and I was like now I have to like go
explore what happened. – Yeah. – It just, it’s hard to be in any small business, in Seattle, where you’re trying to hold real estate in a town that has the fastest-growing housing
market in the country. – And, also, two big tech
titans that are hiring more people by the day. – Like 60% of people in Seattle moved here from somewhere else and a lot of that is recent. It comes in Styrofoam, which is interesting because Seattle’s outlawed Styrofoam for
many years now (laughs). – Yeah, we’re just gonna keep doing that. – Just since I’ve written this article, I’ve had Seattleites come to me and say, oh my gosh, this is a
thing that’s disappearing. Like I love teriyaki. I grew up eating that. We can’t let that happen. (upbeat music) – But if Seattleites don’t wanna let teriyaki disappear on their watch, they’ll need to talk openly about how it fits into their changing city. So we called up some locals do just that over beers at Fremont
Brewing’s Urban Beer Garden. – I’m Nancy Leson; I’m the food commentator for KNKX Radio, and I was the longtime restaurant critic and food writer for the Seattle Times. – Eula Scott Bynoe and I host a local podcast called
Hella Black Hella Seattle, and, so, our main goal is to like, you know, help people of color get out and be more, you know,
involved in Seattle. We have such dollar-value that we wanna spend places but we don’t know how, sometimes. – My name’s, Shota Nakajima. I’m the chef/owner of Adana. I was born in Japan, I moved to Seattle when I
was in elementary school. I grew up with Toshi’s son, like their whole family, we’re
good family friends. – I was a waitress for a long time and I worked at a
restaurant at Green Lake. Before I get to work,
I go around the corner to Toshi’s and, for, I mean, at the time it was like $4.50.
– Right. – You can get this enormous thing of teriyaki and rice. Sometimes we were just like, two of us, would share it. (upbeat music) – Once you get into high school here, like, it’s like lunch. You know what I mean? So you’re going all the time. Like our black, like,
like food is teriyaki. It’s so affordable, you
get so much food for it. – You guys feel like in Seattle, in 2017, that holds up; is teriyaki.
– No. – Still what Seattle is? – I don’t think so. Seattle used to be a really
small town, really small town. And as the transplants come in with their, with their added wealth, they don’t really need to
spend like $5.00 on a plate when they have, you know, $45 like a, budgeted for the meal. – People are more careful about what they’re eating. It’s just not the sustainably raised organic chicken. – That free and.
– Right. – With the way people eat now where they want every
plate to be like a foodie picturesque thing, like
and teriyaki is like, it’s chicken with sauce on top and like on top of rice.
– Yeah. – And like really sweet, you know, for some people, who are like, oh, it’s just so, so sweet, it’s like. – Can you (mumbles)?
– That’s the point. – Yeah.
– Like it’s, it’s like this, you know, it’s a weird
sweet/savory thing. (upbeat music) – I guess ’cause I’m a restaurateur and I own the restaurant and I’m Japanese, I feel like sometimes the trend goes to like authentic Japanese food and that’s kinda what I was focusing on two years ago but, with any kind of food, any kind of culture,
everything evolves but, for me, like teriyaki in Seattle it’s just supposed to be there in like a weird, weird conscious. (upbeat music) – Do you guys think that teriyaki has a place in Seattle’s future? – Maybe, maybe; I’m not sure. – Our immigrant populations are coming largely from Asia, and I think we’re always
gonna have teriyaki somewhere. – Yeah. – I lived in Japan. I like went to a few different cities but, you know, I come back here and there’s teriyaki and it’s one of those like comforting
things that I see. – I mean, it’s our cheap eats. It’s our cultural cheap eats. It’s the one thing that like, you know, feels very unique to us. It’s important, I think, to
have things that make you feel like your place is different from other places because of the way everything is becoming more similar, you know? (upbeat music) – I think it’s here to stay in the Pacific Northwest. Whether or not they can afford to stay in Seattle proper is yet to be seen. You can’t put that kind of thing back in the box once it’s, once it’s been created. – If teriyaki won’t go back in the box, where will it go? Seattle’s transforming too fast to say with certainty but in the midst of change, a small constant can be a big comfort and to some Seattleites, that’s what teriyaki’s been all along. (upbeat music)