Meet Vaness Vu, co-owner of Doner Box in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. Vaness started her business with her sister-in-law, Mai Dzip, in 2019 to bring authentic German-style kebabs to Seattle. When Vaness moved to the U.S. from the Czech Republic, she couldn’t find doner kebabs anywhere. So, she decided to bring them over herself.
Learn more about Vaness Vu and Doner Box in this week’s Business Spotlight Q&A.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s something your customers may not know about you or your business?
Our name is Doner Box, and some people don’t know what doner is. Under that name we have “The German Turkish Kebab,” which is confusing to a lot of people. When you say German, you probably expect Schnitzels, sausages and all that, but then it’s also Turkish so it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. We are not authentic Mediterrenenan, Turkish, or Greek-style kebabs — it’s the German style. And we are also halal, so it’s confusing for a lot of people who have never had Doner before. A lot of people come in and they ask, “What do you guys serve here?” Then, they just look around and look confused because the restaurant is mostly family-operated and we are all Asian serving German Turkish food. I’m actually from the Czeck Republic, I was born and raised there and I grew up eating kebabs all my life. We take some time to explain, because what we serve is German-style Turkish cuisine. There’s a large population of Turkish people in Germany and they’ve been there for many years, so they’ve developed their own twist on the Doner Kebab. That’s what we serve. It’s a fast casual restaurant. It’s the hamburger of Europe. Just like hamburgers are popular here in the U.S., Doner is what we have in Germany and in surrounding countries. It’s all day, everyday food.
As a business owner, what’s the strangest or craziest idea you’ve ever tried?
Managing the business during COVID, I think, is the craziest thing we could have done as a new business. We literally opened four months before the whole shutdown. We opened in November, we were still feeling out the market and seeing how people reacted to our food. We were just getting started and then we went on lock down. That was tough because my whole family got COVID. It was like six people from my family got COVID in March and everyone was freaking out about it. We had to all stay at home and the business was closed for a couple of weeks. Then, when we re-opened, no one wanted to go back to work because everyone was scared. It was extremely tough because I had only one person working all of the shifts for a couple weeks. I’m very grateful because that person has been with us since we opened, he’s still with us. And he was the only one willing to go and cover all of the shifts. We had to limit hours of operation, but he was there through thick and thin. I think that was insane. No one knew what was going to happen, but I still had someone willing to cover everything even when the owners were out. There weren’t many opportunities in the past year to do something crazy, because we were just trying to survive. We figured out how to do business through COVID.
What are some of your favorite local businesses and what do you love about them?
Shiro’s, Carmelo’s Tacos, and Umi Sake House. Shiro’s has been there forever. All the people working [at Shiro’s] are super sweet and it’s just a great Belltown staple. [It’s] the same thing for Umi. I don’t know how long they’ve been there, but I’ve been going for the past 10 years. The quality of the food is always the same. It’s always consistent and not a lot of businesses have that. They are always packed, it’s such a popular spot in Belltown. Carmelo’s Tacos are grab n go on Capitol Hill, so simple so quick so busy all the time.