by Marcus Harrison Green
“Do you think it’s okay to say hello to her?” enthused a member of the late lunch crowd at Columbia City’s Salted Sea. On Monday afternoon, she – along with more than a half-dozen surprised patrons – was treated to the sight of United States Senator Patty Murray feasting on shrimp toast as she spoke with locals.
Joined by 37th District State Senator Pramila Jayapal, the visit to the seafood restaurant capped the South Seattle leg of Murray’s day-long tour of the district. The United States Senate’s highest-ranking woman made stops at an Othello neighborhood daycare center and Hillman City cornerstone Tin Umbrella Coffee earlier in the day after breakfast with the Sound Cities Association in Renton.
“Everybody dreams as a kid. For something like this to happen, the Senator to come in town – and especially to have her visit our restaurant – it means a lot to us and the community,” said Huy Tat, owner of the Salted Sea.
Tat, who grew up in Columbia City and graduated from Rainier Beach High School in 2005, joined Senators Murray and Jayapal at one of his restaurant’s tables for a half hour conversation where he regaled the two with stories of growing up in the South End and why he was proud to house a business there.
“We face challenges here, but we’re really trying to build this community for the next generation.” Tat told an intently listening Murray.
“You’re a wonderful example for the youth in this area. How wonderful for a student at Rainier Beach to see a grad who owns his own business in the community,” Murray said as she sampled shrimp toast, provided complimentary by Tat, per Senator Jayapal’s suggestion.
Murray, who is taking advantage of Congress’ August recess, has been touring the state to elicit feedback and hear concerns from Washington State constituents after a busy past few months that has seen her either lead on or introduce legislation, including the Campus Accountability and Security Act.
State Senator Jayapal, who is a Salted Sea fixture, played tour guide during Murray’s tour of the state’s most diverse district and felt it was important to showcase its vibrant and burgeoning business community.
“I am so pleased to welcome Senator Murray to our beautiful district and show her a few of the many small businesses we have here, which are truly the heart and soul of our economy,” Jayapal said. “Small businesses are some of the most important job creators in the 37th district and throughout Washington, but they face serious challenges… It is particularly difficult for women and minority owned businesses, who face all the challenges of other business owners and then some.”
Jayapal introduced Senate Bill 5683 which passed in 2015. The bill helped grant women and people of color access to apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs in state transportation and also introduced an increased minimum wage bill that has yet to be put up for a vote.
All the South End businesses the Senators visited on Monday were either women or minority owned, and supported a higher minimum wage.
The latter distinction was something Tat was extremely proud of, as he shared with Murray and Jayapal that he had been asked to join a group opposing Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage ordinance, prior to its passing. He stated that it allowed people in his community to make a decent living.
Though somewhat of a community luminary, Salted Sea’s owner found himself partly star-struck by the attention he received from the state senator and the Senate’s fourth-highest-ranking Democrat: “She’s great. She pays attention to every little detail and every little thing that makes the community better. There’s no way I would have ever dreamed of sitting here with Senator Pramila and Senator Patty Murray, explaining my life story. It was unthinkable!”
Washington State’s senior senator had equally glowing words for South Seattle when asked to sum up her visit: “This is one of the most inspiring places in our region. The people, the businesses, it’s inspiring, I’m excited to be here.”