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Originally published August 16, 2012 at 5:13 PM | Page modified August 17, 2012 at 7:19 AM

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Rickshaw Restaurant reopening delayed by thieves, vandalism

The Rickshaw Restaurant and Lounge in Greenwood has been closed since a fire in March. Theft of copper pipe and recently vandalism have added to the challenges faced by its owner, Ginger Luke.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Rickshaw updates

For repair updates and other information about the Rickshaw Restaurant and Lounge, see its Facebook page.

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Ginger Luke is ready for a change of luck.

In March, a grease fire heavily damaged her Rickshaw Restaurant and Lounge, a Greenwood-area haunt best known for seven-night-a-week karaoke.

In July, thieves broke in during the repair work and stole copper pipe and wiring, even managing to rip out some security cameras.

And in the last week, someone busted a neon sign outside — probably with a rock — and sprayed graffiti on an outside wall.

"They say stuff happens in threes, right?" said Luke. "Maybe it will end now, and we can reopen."

For 36 years, Luke has owned the restaurant at the corner of North 105th Street and Phinney Avenue North, a place longtime locals may recall as the Kowloon, and before that, Continental Pancake House.

Over the past decade, it has become one of North Seattle's most popular karaoke bars, packing in customers with cheap drinks and a karaoke playlist of more than 17,000 songs

"It's like that place on Cheers, because a lot of the people know one another," said regular customer Aubree Cox, who years ago worked a couple of brief stints there as a waitress. When she takes a turn at the mike, it's often to deliver her rendition of Duran Duran's "Rio."

Another regular, who asked to be identified just by his first name, Bruce, said, "For some of us, it's a home away from home ... good people and a great atmosphere."

For 13 years, karaoke host Joel Harvey has been a fixture at the Rickshaw, and is continually struck by the diversity of its clientele. "We get people from their 20s up to their 60s, gays, straights, whatever — and the music is pretty much everything from country to heavy metal."

The fire, which started in an oven hood, broke out about 11 p.m. on a Saturday night with about 130 people in the restaurant, including some there for a bridal shower, Luke said.

Cooks first tried unsuccessfully to put the blaze out with fire extinguishers, but Luke said she saw flames leaping through the kitchen and shouted for everyone to leave, and she will always be thankful no one was hurt.

A couple of months after the fire, the restaurant's manager, Corrie Pyle, helped organize a fundraiser at another restaurant to help the Rickshaw's 22 displaced employees, spreading the word on the Rickshaw's Facebook page.

Those employees, many now working part time elsewhere, may eventually get back lost Rickshaw wages through the restaurant's insurance. "But that doesn't help them pay the bills now, " Pyle said.

Luke figures she'll personally be out of pocket about $10,000 for insurance deductibles and repairs not covered by her policy. In all, she expects damages to approach $500,000.

In the months since the fire, some Rickshaw regulars have followed its displaced workers to other nightspots for their karaoke fix.

But Luke is hopeful they'll come back when the Rickshaw has its grand reopening, an event she had hoped would have happened by now. At this point, she's looking at mid-September, and crossing her fingers.

Running a restaurant is always demanding, said Luke, who has coped with difficulties ranging from late food deliveries to being shot and wounded by a robber in the early 1980s. "But I love the place. I love the people and I love the neighborhood," she said.

Although the restaurant is her livelihood, Luke has another identity more familiar to pet owners around Seattle. She's the creator of Ginger's Pet Rescue, specializing in placing neglected, abused or unwanted animals.

By her count, she has placed some 5,500 dogs since she started in 2006.

The idea was born after her husband, while delivering food to a Rickshaw customer, saw that the customer had a dog that appeared to be badly abused.

"It was so sad to see," said Luke, who paid the man $50 for the dog, then spent more than $1,000 on veterinary bills to care for the dog's infections and other problems, and helped get him adopted.

Helping dogs, and just being around them, Luke said, is a calming influence these days as she copes with the fire and its effects. "I guess you could say that this time, the dogs rescued me."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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