The story of JaK’s Grill is the story of community.
Ken Hughes and his business partner, John, both UW alums and the principal owners of the popular JaK’s Grill family, started the restaurant in 1996 in the Admiral District of West Seattle. They were hands-on from the beginning, bringing in their own equipment and building their own stuff, including the wood benches that are now a staple of the JaK’s experience.
Today, there are three JaK’s Grills: the original in West Seattle—albeit in a new location down the street—and two additional spots in Issaquah and Laurelhurst. Opening in Laurelhurst, with its close proximity to the UW campus, was like coming home for Ken and John. “It’s a nice place to celebrate a victory,” Ken says. “We’ve had some bad years recently, but I see a lot of Cougars buying after the Apple Cup.”
The two Huskies, both economics majors at the UW, wanted to excel at customer service and aimed to become “the Nordstrom of neighborhood steakhouses.” Ken is proud of the restaurant’s local roots and the fact it supports roughly 100 employees who work in the JaK’s community.
“It feels good giving people a place to work, especially at the UW,” he says. “We see a lot of really good young people working their way through college.”
Last year, the JaK’s team opened the Sunset Alehouse in Issaquah that is Husky-themed. It’s not your traditional bar, but a hybrid with “a little pub feel, a little alehouse feel.” So far, the restaurant has given the loyal JaK’s following a place to enjoy in addition to their favorite Grill.
“Without trying to be all things to all people, we want people to enjoy it for what it is,” Ken says of the alehouse. “We want people to think good food first, Huskies second.”
A native of Spokane, Ken’s parents both went to the UW and met while on campus. He brought an Eastern Washington mentality to Seattle and credits the University of Washington for preparing him to become a small business owner.
“The UW was a big world for me,” Ken says. “It gave me the social skills and challenged me to think of myself as a business owner.”
Today, Ken and John are excited to be giving back the community that gave them an opportunity.
“People love the fact that you’re local and they support you because of that,” Ken says. “The UW was the step to being able to deal with a big city like Seattle. It’s a huge source of pride for me.”
Photo by Harley Soltes, Seattle Times.