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Skagit Valley eatery goes for the laughs to attract business

Alex Kim

As state engineers work around the clock to install a temporary bridge to replace the collapsed Interstate 5 bridge span in Mount Vernon, one nearby restaurant manager is finding creative ways to keep customers coming. 

Alex Kim is the manager and sushi chef at his family-run business, Sakura Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi bar in Burlington.The restaurant is on a busy corner on one of the detour routes, so he’s urging customers to use the back entrance.Still, his sales have suffered because of the traffic, and possibly because early news reports urged drivers to avoid the area.

“We lost about 30 percent of the business—that’s the figure we came to.So we’re expecting that same amount of loss this week, and then hopefully when the bridge goes up things will go back to normal," he said.

Funny sushi photos keep customers coming in

The temporary bridge will be up in mid-June.But in the meantime, Kim has found more creative ways to drum up business.He’s turned to Facebook, a medium he only used sporadically before.  Now he’s posting every day since the bridge collapsed, calling out specials and keeping traffic-weary patrons laughing —and commenting—about silly photos like German bratwurst sushi.

“Instead of just typing, ‘Oh, come on in,’ I put up funny pictures and different things and people are giving feedback," he said. "I know a lot of my customers. So I know who they are, and I know they are responding.”

A group effort also helps to keep business humming

While businesses make individual efforts, they are also banding together and working with local economic development and tourism associations.  With money from the state Department of Commerce, the four counties most affected hired a local firm to create summer media campaigns.  Their goal: to keep customers coming and let them know—as a bonus—drivers will have the opportunity to take in a scenic ride along the way

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