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Bidding farewell to Bakeman’s and a sandwich hero

Owner Jason Wang grabs a slice of one of his signature pies for a customer at Bakeman's Restaurant in Seattle.

Every weekday Jason Wang and his crew of hard-working employees start their morning roasting turkey and baking meatloaf for the hundreds of hungry customers who filter into his cafeteria-style restaurant for an affordable lunch.

For the past 47 years, his Bakeman’s restaurant in Seattle’s Pioneer Square has been a staple for people working in the downtown corridor. And Wang has become a kind of local celeb. 

“What the hell are you waiting for?” he’ll yell at a customer who hesitates at the cash register, unsure about whether to order a slice of pie that Wang recommends. That attitude, served with a smile, has earned him the “Sandwich Nazi” moniker, a reference to a famous Seinfeld TV episode from the 1990s.

“We’re always serving a few hundred people but there was a time, after the ‘Sandwich Nazi’ thing, when we served 600 to 700 every single day.”

The other day, Wang was ringing up customers who were standing in a long line that wound through the restaurant, out the door and up the stairs onto the corner of 2nd and Cherry Streets.

When he took over the restaurant in 1970, business was much different. “It took about three years before I was regularly busy,” he says.

“I’ve loved making food for everyone who came in over the years,” Wang says.

Bakeman’s hasn’t changed much over time. There are old photographs of Seattle that appear to have lived on the walls for as long as the restaurant has existed. A dusty boom box sits high on a shelf playing music that can’t be heard over the chatter of lunch conversations and food orders being shouted.

For many who visit Bakeman’s, the place has become much more than just a spot for no-frills food during the a relentless downtown workday. Customers happily order their same favorites day after day, knowing that if they make a mistake they’ll get gently ribbed by Wang.

Wang plans to close the restaurant on Dec. 22.

“I’m ready to retire,” he says. “I’m looking forward to finally have some time off.”

The closing of yet another Seattle establishment is bittersweet for both owner and his longtime customers.

Bakeman's employees Jesus (left) and David (right) have sandwich preparation down to a science. They ask just two questions: Type of bread? And, yes or no on mayo? Customers have a sense of urgency to be quick and do their part to keep the line moving.
Bakeman’s employees Jesus (left) and David (right) have sandwich preparation down to a science. They ask just two questions: Type of bread? And, yes or no on mayo? Customers have a sense of urgency to be quick and do their part to keep the line moving.
Lunch hour means a packed restaurant and a line out the door.
Lunch hour means a packed restaurant and a line out the door.

Steve Maddemeyer (left) and Sono Hashisaki (right) share lunch at Bakeman's Restaurant in Seattle. "The fried chicken, when it's a daily special like today, is my favorite," says Hashisaki. Some customers like Maddemeyer have been visiting Bakeman's for decades. His favorite order? The turkey sandwich. "[Restaurant owner]Jason was a friend of mine in high school. I've been coming in here since he first opened," says Maddemeyer, who remembers Wang as being a smart guy and a hard worker as they were growing up. "He's mellowed out a lot these days [with teasing customers] but he's always had a great sense of humor."
Steve Moddemeyer (left) and Sono Hashisaki (right) share lunch at Bakeman’s in Seattle. “The fried chicken, when it’s a daily special like today, is my favorite,” says Hashisaki. Some customers like Moddemeyer have been visiting Bakeman’s for decades. His favorite order? The turkey sandwich. “[Restaurant owner] Jason was a friend of mine in high school. I’ve been coming in here since he first opened,” says Moddemeyer, who remembers Wang as being a smart guy and a hard worker as they were growing up. “He’s mellowed out a lot these days [with teasing customers] but he’s always had a great sense of humor.”
Will Lemke (right) stops in about once a month for the turkey sandwich. "He [Wang] is always trying to get me to order a piece of pie," says Lemke, who has walked the few blocks to the restaurant from his City Hall job for years. "I'm happy he is retiring, but I'm sad for us."
Will Lemke (right) stops in about once a month for the turkey sandwich. “[Wang] is always trying to get me to order a piece of pie,” says Lemke, who has walked the few blocks to the restaurant from his City Hall job for years. “I’m happy he is retiring, but I’m sad for us.”

One of several pies that Wang likes to push on customers.
One of several pies that Wang likes to push on customers.
Work colleagues from Liberty Mutual's downtown Seattle office finish eating lunch at Bakeman's. "I've been coming in here for three years," says Leonard Lee (bottom right), who checks the cafeteria's Twitter account to find out the daily specials, like beef stroganoff. "You can't find anything like his stroganoff or jambalaya downtown." The first time he visited he tried to pay with a credit card and was met with a "C'mon man, What the hell is that?" — a favorite Wang tease.
Work colleagues from Liberty Mutual’s downtown Seattle office finish eating lunch at Bakeman’s. “I’ve been coming in here for three years,” says Leonard Lee (bottom right), who checks the cafeteria’s Twitter account to find out the daily specials, like beef stroganoff. “You can’t find anything like his stroganoff or jambalaya downtown.” The first time he visited he tried to pay with a credit card and was met with a “C’mon man, What the hell is that?” — a favorite Wang tease.
Jason Wang works the register at Bakeman's Restaurant in Seattle.
Jason Wang works the register at Bakeman’s.
Music plays on an old Sony boom box.
Music plays on an old Sony boom box.
A buzzing Bakeman's Restaurant at lunch hour.
A buzzing Bakeman’s Restaurant at lunch hour.
Cedrica King exits Bakeman's Restaurant in Seattle after grabbing a roasted turkey sandwich to take back to work at her job nearby with the City of Seattle. "You better know what you want," she's learned in the twenty years she's been visiting the cafeteria.
Cedrica King exits Bakeman’s Restaurant in Seattle after grabbing a roasted turkey sandwich to take back to work at her job nearby with the City of Seattle. “You better know what you want,” she’s learned in the twenty years she’s been visiting the cafeteria.
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