New Zoomies owner keeps the classics, adds teriyaki

Kelly Hwang, right, and her daughter Katherine Yoon, who also works at the restaurant, take a break from a busy day at Zoomies. - Susan Riemer/staff photo
Kelly Hwang, right, and her daughter Katherine Yoon, who also works at the restaurant, take a break from a busy day at Zoomies.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/staff photo

Under different names and owners, Zoomies has supplied burgers and ice cream to Islanders young and old for decades and will continue that tradition under new owner Kelly Hwang.

Hwang, of Issaquah, took the reigns of the restaurant from Valerie and Clyde Howe on July 1. Hwang plans to keep the restaurant much the way it is, with the most noticeable change being that Islanders can now order teriyaki there, along with their favorite Zoomies selections.

“The reason I bought the business is because I like the food,” she said. “I like the hamburgers here. I like the French fries here. I like the ice cream here.”

The addition of teriyaki to the menu is a natural fit for Hwang. Her father Don Hwang invented teriyaki, she said. He experimented with different recipes and after settling on one, he opened the first of his many Happy Teriyaki restaurants in the Southcenter area in the early 1980s, Kelly Hwang said. There are now 20 Happy Teriyaki restaurants, mostly in Washington state.

In their commercial kitchen in their home in Bellevue, Hwang’s mother and father have been making all the teriyaki sauce for the restaurant here, she said, adding that her father has eaten the teriyaki at Zoomies and served as an early taste taster, requesting more chicken and more glaze.

Though Hwang knows a lot about teriyaki, she also knows a lot about burgers and said she does not want teriyaki to take the place of Zoomies’ burgers. After working with her father for many years, in the 1980s she owned Paul’s Burger Joint in Burien — an old-fashioned burger place that served gourmet burgers.

“I had very successfully run the business,” she said, and looks forward to that kind of success here.

Hwang, who is looking to hire both full- and part-time help, is impressed with the Zoomies’ employees, many of whom are teens — and very nice ones, she said.

“I’d like to keep everybody. They are a great team working here.”

Hwang was born in Seoul and returned to Korea after owning Paul’s for three years. She worked at the Hotel Hyatt in Seoul, eventually serving as its manager, including for the hotel’s five-star restaurant. She later became the CEO of a college preparatory institute in Seoul.

But her two children wanted to go to school in the United States, she said, and the family returned, first to Irvine, Calif., then to the Seattle area, where they have roots.

After taking two years off, Hwang said she was ready to work again and wanted to open a teriyaki restaurant in the Seattle area.

It was her father who first learned that Zoomies was for sale, she said. Her mother and father came and looked at it, liked it and felt it was similar to Paul’s. They also checked out the competition on Vashon.

“They drove all through the Island to see if there was another teriyaki place here,” she said.

That’s when Hwang made the trip.

“I came and really liked it,” she said. “First of all, I liked the town. I like the people ... My kids like it ... I am even thinking of moving to Vashon.”

By day three of Hwang’s ownership, the signs were good that Islanders would appreciate the new offering. She said they sold 24 teriyaki meals the first day and 15 the next, and on the Friday before Strawberry Festival, they sold 41.

“I am 100 percent sure people will love it,” she said.

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