Kona Kitchen in Lynnwood has lost its matriarch to the novel coronavirus.
Liz Mar, 72, started the popular Hawaiian restaurant in Seattle with her daughter Angie and son-in-law Yuji Okomoto 18 years ago. It expanded to Lynnwood in 2019.
“Customers (would) come to see her all the time because they just loved her,” Angie Okomoto said. “She was just always cheery and spunky. She had a sense of humor. She was just fun. She had endless energy.”
Liz Mar started showing signs of the virus on March 8. She was hospitalized on March 10 and died March 25.
But COVID-19 wasn’t done with the family.
Liz’s husband, Bob, 78, started showing symptoms March 19 and was hospitalized three days later. He died of the virus on March 27.
Husband and wife passed at UW Medical Center — Northwest Campus in north Seattle almost exactly 48 hours apart, at 1:33 and 1:35 a.m., respectively. They would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this August. Liz and Bob leave behind three children and seven grandchildren.
Although Liz Mar wasn’t Hawaiian, Okomoto said her mom embodied the spirit of aloha — love, compassion, kindness and grace.
(Angie’s husband, actor and filmmaker Yuji Okomoto, fell in love with Hawaii after spending time on the islands while filming “Aloha Summer” and “The Karate Kid Part II.” When he’s not in Hollywood, he jumps on the line at their restaurants. His grandfather also was born and raised on Kauai.)
Okomoto said Mar helped out wherever she could, whether that was greeting diners, mixing mai tais or serving loco moco, all with a smile. Many customers called Liz “Auntie” or “Grandma.”
“Anyone who has been to Kona Kitchen knows that Liz was a significant reason why customers always came back,” said Diana Wong, a former restaurant employee and a family friend. “Her warmth and love was truly the heart of Kona Kitchen. Her loss is felt by the community she helped to create.”
Wong said Mar treated her like a daughter, and when she had her own children, Mar loved them like they were her own grandchildren.
“My 3-year-old asks when she can go see Grandma Liz at Kona,” she said. “It breaks my heart that we won’t be able to do that.”
Hundreds have shared their condolences on the Kona Kitchen Facebook. Okomoto said she’s taking comfort in the outpouring of love from fans.
“Now that I see the community’s response to her death, I realize how just how many lives she’s touched,” she said. “If there’s one positive from this, because she was close with so many, maybe more will understand how serious (coronavirus) is.”
She said Liz and Bob’s memorial services have been put on hold because of the coronavirus crisis and Washington’s stay-at-home order. The family plans a community event in honor of Liz and Bob next year.
Liz and Bob Mar told their daughter they had a cough — but none of them thought it might be COVID-19. A doctor at a walk-in clinic initially told Liz she had a cold. Okomoto said Mar wasn’t tested for the coronavirus because she didn’t have a fever.
But then Liz’s cough got worse, and she started to have shortness of breath, chest pain and confusion. With a second doctor’s visit, Liz was given an inhaler to help her breathe. When that didn’t help, her children drove her to the ER.
They thought their dad was OK, maybe depressed because his wife was in the hospital. When his symptoms worsened, they drove him to the ER, too.
“It progressed really fast,” Okomoto said. “Three or four days after showing symptoms, they needed a ventilator. COVID just takes you.”
All that love on Facebook also gives her hope for Kona Kitchen.
“Not only is there this devastating loss of my parents, but now our business is turned upside-down,” Okomoto said.
Around the time Liz became ill, the family closed their restaurants. They reopened a week later to offer takeout only, then furloughed some of their employees.
“I feel like I owe it to my mom to keep them,” Okomoto said. “She put her heart into these restaurants. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure Kona lives on.”
The Lynnwood Kona Kitchen is temporarily closed, but the Seattle restaurant remains open for takeout. Call 206-517-5662 or stop in to the Seattle location at 8501 Fifth Ave. NE. Go to www.konakitchen.com for more information.