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Seattle's Child - Food tastes better together for Island Soul restaurateur Theo Martin...

For Theo Martin, owner of Island Soul restaurant in Columbia City, cooking is a joyful and rewarding family experience at work and at home. Theo’s parents were also in the restaurant business, and “serving others is what makes food a very spiritual and happy field,” he said.

Theo’s children, ages 14, 22 and 25, grew up at the restaurant and his two oldest kids now work there as a bartender/cook and a manager. It’s “a true family diner,” he said, adding that his brothers and nieces also work at Island Soul.

Through hands-on experience at the restaurant, Theo’s children learned the ins and outs of running a business at an early age.

“Teaching kids how to run a business is something you see in a lot of other cultures, but not as much with American families,” he said. “It’s about how to manage money, and how to outright talk about things and not hide or ignore them.”

Island Soul, which opened 15 years ago, has a loyal customer base. Theo’s favorite meal to serve is Saturday and Sunday brunch, because that’s when families come in.

“Over the week I'll see people for after-work drinks,” he said, “then I'll meet their families on the weekend at brunch.”

At home, Theo and his family prioritize cooking and eating together. They practice what they preach, and that’s why the family finds it so easy and enjoyable to work together.

In today’s world of cellphones and technology, Theo sees dinner as the perfect time for families to unplug and spend time with each other. “Eating is something that everyone needs and enjoys,” he said. “It brings the family together because you all enjoy eating, so you have to enjoy cooking and cleaning, too.”

For families who want to incorporate food and meal prep into their routines, Theo suggests planning at least one family mealtime a week and assigning everyone with a task, whether it’s cooking the pasta, tossing the salad or being in charge of cleanup.

“Plan it around something fun, like a Seahawks game,” he said. “Make it an eventful gathering that everyone participates in and looks forward to.”

Theo, raised in a foster home with many other children, credits his strong bond to his parents and their commitment to family mealtime. “We went to church together and after, everyone had to eat together,” he said. “It’s what kept a group that large together.”

In addition to teaching kids the importance of responsibility and conversation, shared meals are an investment in family connections.

“That family bond is so important,” Theo said. “And, if you don’t establish it at an early age, the years will fly by and you'll wish you’d had that time.”


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