For love and fish tacos: Van and Manda Kirk keep Burien Fish House going strong, with plans to start a chicken venture soon
By Lindsay Peyton
Van Kirk rarely has time to reflect on the whirlwind ride that followed his love of cooking. The past couple of years have brought him from the real estate business to culinary school, a food truck to a restaurant.
“And you want to hear something crazy?” he asks.
Kirk is preparing for a new venture, opening a chicken restaurant right next door to his popular seafood eatery, Burien Fish House, located at 133 SW 153rd St.
The place will be called “Chicken Spot” and the menu will center around fried chicken, wings and southern style sides, like mashed potatoes. The space has been completely gutted and renovated and is nearing completion.
“I told my wife this is the last project,” Kirk said with a laugh. “That’s what I said three projects ago. But I’m sure this is the last.”
In a way, this is a love story, as much about a couple that sticks together through thick and thin as it is about dedication in the kitchen and a romance with flavor.
Kirk and his wife Manda are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day. They plan to spend it together-at work in the restaurant.
Kirk is originally from California and moved to Seattle in 1992. He was working in construction and came to the Pacific Northwest where business was booming. He worked his way from a drywall crew member to a general contractor and then went into real estate development.
Then the recession hit. “It came to a point where I couldn’t sell anything,” he said. “No one knew what the market was doing.”
Kirk decided to change course completely. He headed to culinary school in 2010, graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
Manda supported the decision. “Everybody has always loved his cooking,” she said. “If we had a barbecue, Van was cooking. If we had a dinner party, Van was the one who cooked.”
It was his next decision, however, that came as a surprise.
Kirk wanted to open a food truck and sell fish tacos, one of his favorite dishes from growing up in southern California.
“I thought, ‘You’re crazy; People aren’t going to buy fish from a truck,’’” Manda admitted. “But look at us now.”
The couple invested everything they had into buying a trailer outfitted with a kitchen. They parked at the marina in Des Moines, trading a percentage of their earnings for parking. Manda took orders, while her husband cooked in the back.
They were there the entire summer of 2012, and by the end, gained a loyal following. When the weather became rainier, they popped up in business parks, downtown, breweries, wherever they could find a hungry lunch crowd.
“We worked our way up to 180 orders for lunch each day,” Kirk said. “That’s an order every minute.”
The couple decided to move to a brick and mortar location by 2016.
“Our intentions were just to have a small, little place, but we got so busy,” Kirk said.
They eventually had to knock down a wall and expand to the space next door. Still, the restaurant is bustling and a favorite in the area.
Customers come in for fish and chips, lobster rolls, po-boys and chowder. Fish tacos are served with cod, salmon, halibut, yellow tail or prawns. Shrimp cocktail and seafood-spiked mac and cheese are other favorites.
“Making everything from scratch is important,” Manda said. “It makes a big difference.”
The proof is in the return customers. “We have regulars who have been coming since the beginning, some who come twice a week,” Manda said.
Her husband agrees. “It’s been a fun journey, and the customers coming back is our reward,” he said.
The couple still works together everyday, making their restaurant run smoothly. They credit their hard-working staff for their success. “If it wasn’t for our staff, we wouldn’t be here,” Kirk said.