Operator not so sure about saving beloved Silver Fork
A community effort to save The Silver Fork restaurant is in full swing, but the restaurant's owner said she was thinking of closing it anyway.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Public can comment
The Seattle Department of Planning and Development is accepting comments on the gas-station proposal until Wednesday. To view the proposal and submit a comment online, visit http://web1.seattle.gov/dpd/luib/Notice.aspx?BID=742&NID=14055
Margie Johnson has been feeling torn for 11 days, ever since a land-use sign outside her family's Rainier Valley restaurant, The Silver Fork, announced that Safeway planned to turn the place into a gas station.
The Silver Fork is a beloved, 23-year-old institution, with breakfast regulars and an after-church rush on Sundays. It's a meeting spot for families and African-American community leaders.
Her customers vowed to fight the closure, city officials scrambled to support the restaurant and former King County Executive Ron Sims even promised to boycott Safeway, telling The Stranger newspaper, "I won't patronize a store that would do that to a cornerstone of the community."
But no one asked Johnson if she wanted The Silver Fork saved. As it turns out, she's been thinking of closing the restaurant anyway, maybe as soon as next year.
"I was relieved when I found out, to be honest," said Johnson, 51, who took over running the restaurant from her ailing parents five years ago. "It's been really, really, really stressful for me, doing this."
Johnson's mother, Estella Potts, opened The Silver Fork in March 1989 after years of operating a diner in the Central District. There was talk about a decade ago of buying the building, at the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Charlestown Street, from the family that owns it, but the decision was to stick with a lease.
For years, Potts served breakfast and lunch to Seattle's future leaders in the maroon vinyl booths.
"When I heard we had a new, authentic soul-food restaurant, me and some of my friends went down there," said Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, who discovered the place six months after it opened. He's been a regular ever since.
The Silver Fork's menus sit untouched by the cash register because everybody knows what they want. At breakfast, many tickets go to the kitchen with names on them instead of orders because the regulars' orders don't change. Most often, it's some combination of eggs and bacon, plus creamy grits with butter.
"It's the only place in town that reminds me of my grandmother's cooking," said Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith.
Johnson is touched by the community outpouring, and she's not surprised, really. Customers gush to her all the time. They tell her how much they love the grits, how nobody else cooks their pork chops like she does, how they want to raise their kids on her cooking.
"I figured if I ever tried to get out of this, I'd have to leave town," she said.
Johnson's father, Larkin Potts, said he'd like the restaurant to continue and is waiting to see how the community responds to Safeway's proposal. But he said the decision over the The Silver Fork's future is ultimately his daughter's.
Johnson plans to meet with Safeway representatives, at their request. She doesn't blame them, she said. Why wouldn't they want to expand their business? That's what they do.
The grocery chain says the gas station is not a done deal, but the property has been on the market for two years. Safeway spokeswoman Sara Osborne said the company was told Johnson planned to retire.
"We don't want to buy a property and then evict somebody who wants to be there," she said.
The sale is not complete. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development is accepting comments about the gas-station proposal through Wednesday. A gas station is consistent with the land's commercial zoning, said spokesman Bryan Stevens.
The property's owners could not be reached Friday. Johnson is upset she didn't know sooner about their plans to sell. Still, she doesn't want to stay in the restaurant's current location.
She would consider moving, she said, "but only if it's beneficial to me."
"Everybody's pushing me to keep it open, but ... I don't know if I would want to stay here if Safeway did back out," she said. "I understand everybody wants to have The Silver Fork. It has made me feel so good, because what has kept me coming here seven days a week ... is my customers."
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.