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Umi's Corner Tacoma: Meet The Shakabrah & An In-Depth Chat with Dan Aeroplane Icon
Umi Wagoner
May 18, 2023
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The Shakabrah is cool because it has been around forever (25 years or so) and gone through a few iterations of itself without losing the environment that has turned it into a staple over time, nothing cooler in Tacoma than being around for a reason. Its placement in the 6th Ave district is definitely a help but it’s the food, people, service and the experience that keep the word of mouth reviews rolling in. Since about 2015, Tacoma has been in a serious growing phase and it’s resulted in a lot of change in ownership and that’s continuing to happen. Some of them have been really bad and some of them have been for the better. Shakabrah’s changes have only been to its benefit. In 2017 it changed hands and the new owners couldn’t see a reason for change. The old adage “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” rang true. And the changes they did make have only made it more dynamic, a remodeled kitchen, a liquor license and advancement of their espresso/coffee offering.

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The menu remains the same essentially but with finer hand select ingredients. The infamously large pancakes and the skillets are intact, only now, everything can be meatless by request. It’s Happy Cow approved. Plus Tacoma LOVES a sandwich and they have the best breakfast sandwich selection we’ve seen to date in Tacoma. It’s not a large variety but it hits all the necessary notes and joy points. I’m a huge fan of The Brain: Two eggs, cheddar, and bacon, on French toast with powdered sugar; it’s a 10/10 every time and guarantees a hangover revival and some REM sleep attached to a nap. They have the best priced mimosas in town and although the price has gone up a bit, let’s blame inflation, it’s still very much a bang for your Benjamins.

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Like most great businesses the best part of Shakabrah is the staff and service. That’s why after the owners changed the crew stayed the same, for the most part. They already made the menu to perfection, they already dialed in the line’s process in the kitchen. Why buy a new machine when you have the chance to enhance yours?? IF there was one major adjustment, it was a line cook turned Operations Manager Dan the Man. We caught up with Dan after-hours while he was still burning and turning, making sure his team had every tool and ingredient necessary.

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HOW DID YOU GO FROM A VERY ENTRY LEVEL POSITION TO GENERAL MANAGER??

I can’t necessarily say that I planned for anything that happened. One thing that just started from day one is the work ethic that I was given from my dad and my grandfather. Those guys kinda taught me that work ethic is everything. Not always if you genuinely care about the business that you’re in but more of a representation of yourself. The name that I put on everything is everything to me so I’m not going anywhere and putting in any half ass work.

When I came in here I saw what I can do differently and, without stepping on anyone’s toes, just made suggestions here and there and when openings came to be I was like, “Hey, I think I can do a good job here.” I’ve always had a passion for food and just the restaurant business in general. They had openings on the line, I was a prep cook/dishwasher, I was working part time here, I was working as a server at other businesses and whatnot. A big part of my trying to get in the kitchen here was I was tired of serving people. It got old, I have bad days and when I’m like forced to put a smile on and please people it's tough on your mental health. It's, “I’m not happy and I gotta act like I am right now.” but in the kitchen if I’m having a bad day I can just shut up and make good food. So I got in the kitchen and the main thing for me was when I’d make food and I’d see the food delivered, cause you know we have an open kitchen here, so I can see the food delivered to the customer and they’re like ecstatic and as selfless as it sounds I was just happy for them and it wasn’t about me. It was, I really tried to give them a great experience when they came in. And yeah, ya know everybody just saw that I actually cared. I formed relationships with the people here, management, owners, staff just everybody here these are people that I genuinely love.


WHY DID YOU STEP AWAY??

I left here before because previous owners weren’t my favorite and I didn’t like the way it was being managed, and when my daughter was on the way the kitchen manager loved me like the way that I love everybody else here and I posted on FB that I was looking for morning work or whatever and he was like “Yo we got a new owner, come back.” and I didn’t have to apply or nothin. I showed up to just talk to him about it - they already had me on the schedule. They’re like, “You start this day, you’re going now.”


WHAT'S THE COOK’S NAME THAT GAVE THE RECOMMENDATION??

It was David Hawkins.

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HOW DID YOU BECOME KITCHEN MANAGER??

So I came back... and so the owner was like I gotta make some changes so he brought in a new kitchen manager. That kitchen manager saw my worth and made me his right hand... so he and I did a lot of great work in here together. Unfortunately, I miss this guy everyday, but he passed away. It was really sudden we were hangin out one night and the next morning he was gone. So we were put in this predicament, I think I was 20-21 at the time, where everybody else, the general mgr, the assistant mgr, was like “Yo you need to put Dan in this position” and he was hesitant cause I was so young and at the same time I’ve always been kinda wild and reckless and he didn’t know if he wanted this crazy kid runnin his kitchen. He was about to give David his position back...and I spoke with Philip and it took a lot of persuading but he gave me the job and I turned this kitchen around.

Dan left Shakabrah once more and did stints at En Rama and kitchen manager at Trappers.


HOW DID YOU BECOME GENERAL MANAGER??

Philip hit me up. It was actually the day that the darkroom got broken into, he had called me to be like “Are you good, is everything ok?” and he’s like, “Swing by I want to talk to you about something.” So now I’m back here and he was like I need a general manager. I was thinking that's crazy you almost didn’t let me run your kitchen now you want me to run the whole show, but it goes back to the topic of work ethic, he saw that...


HOW HAVE YOU TURNED THE KITCHEN AROUND??

It was...I mean I designed everything in that kitchen, the whole layout, we remodeled the whole kitchen I changed all the recipes, my favorite one to brag about is the corn beef, we were using this terrible corn beef it was like this frozen patty. So now what we do is we slow cook our corn beef for 14 hours in a 9lb porter from Georgetown Brewery. We’ve got reviews about it; everybody loves this corn beef. I did a good job creating vegan and vegetarian options for those who don't eat meat or don’t eat pork. Because I genuinely care about the QUALITY of the food that comes out of this kitchen. That was my whole focus, on top of doing price comparisons and saving the company money so that way the business is thriving and I get a bit more free range to spend on better equipment or buy better product. I’m saving here, so we can spend some money here and we’re still profiting off everything. I mean for one example, what we spent on that corn beef, by creating a better product it was actually so much more cost effective to do it that way.


WHAT YOUR FAVORITE/MOST PROUD THING ABOUT SHAKABRAH SERVICE??

As far as service goes just the connection we have with our customers...what they do in corporate restaurants seems kind robotic and not personal...when I’m here I’m not going to be like,

“Hey guys how are we today?”

I’m in here like, “What’s up; what’s good, what you guys up to, “Oh nothing we’re kinda hungover.”


I’m like, “Shit me too I had a couple drinks last night, hahahaha”

And they’re like oh you’re not a regular server...I got customers in here that used to work for my mom back in the day when I was toddler. It goes BACK, so I think it’s just the relationships; I’m most proud of the relationships we have with our customers. Most proud of that by a landslide.


WHAT YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE FOOD??

Just the improvements we’ve made over the last 6-7 years that I’ve worked here, corn beef is huge. Ya know Loco Moco is a classic Hawaiian dish and so before we were using this regular kinda weak brown gravy. Now what we do is, since we slow cook our corn beef we slow cook brisket too and we save all the brisket drippings and the brisket fats, we make a Poutine gravy outta that. The gravy on that is what makes the whole dish, that gravy is where the flavor comes in and it’s house made spice rub. People come in and they’re like “Yo I need an extra side of that gravy, even pack one up too cause I’m takin it home.” So you know its just leaning towards more of scratch kitchen as humanly possible cause those from scratch ingredients are what really bring a dish together.

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AS THE GM, TWO THINGS YOU HOPE TO SEE IN THE FUTURE??

Don’t get me wrong our biscuits are good but I wanna be doing scratch biscuits. People love our biscuits, I love our biscuits but I want it to get better and better. And plus you know just like with the corn beef when you get it from scratch it’s a million times cheaper.


WHAT’S THE IDEAL WAY TO CELEBRATE 30 YEARS??

Oh man I haven’t even thought about it, that’s big it’s gotta be a party but I think ya know who knows maybe an eTc collab, let us get a hoodie. Uuumm I don’t know man I haven’t thought about that my mind has just been on getting there not so much towards celebrating...the main focus is the work you gotta do to get there.


YOUR COLLAB WITH DAZ (ATB) DID WELL, WHAT ARE SOME OTHER COLLABORATIONS YOU’D LIKE TO SEE WITH SHAKABRAH??

Having met Haze so recently I been following Basics for awhile... I don’t know that would be a cool one... I think what I’d like to do is more artist work in here, like music, GLENN and I have talked a lot about him doing a show here. We got a PA system, we got lights, these table, Philip built them, there are hinges on the bases of them, they drop down and turn into stages and we’ve got the setup. I’ve got microphones and everything in here. We’ve done comedy, we’ve done live music...I also, just for my own benefit, wanna see some of my really talented homies do their work in here. I mean we’re on 6th Avenue there are people around here - we do a nighttime show with a good name on it...like we did shenanigans and activities with QJ and Baloogz. We did a bunch of those here and I had never in my life seen Shakabrah so packed out. I was bartending here and it was shoulder to shoulder, I was behind the bar working and I was still turnt up. So I would like to see some more stuff like that. Come in here and have a party at night and then come in the next morning cause you’re hungover and get a Bloody Mary and some biscuits and gravy. Linking up with the many beautiful people that I met over the years I’d like to utilize that I can provide that. We can make those kinds of things happen here.


2618 6th Ave

Tacoma, WA 98406

M - F: 7am - 1:30pm

Sat: 7am - 2:30pm

Sun: 8am - 2:30pm


shakabrah.love

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