Nestled in the heart of the Chinatown-International District, Gan Bei is more than just a local bar – it’s a warm and welcoming haven serving up Chinese comfort food and exceptional hospitality. Owner Yen Ma and her family have curated a space where great food, expertly crafted drinks, and outstanding service come together in perfect harmony.

In this interview, we’ll dive deeper into what makes this neighborhood gem truly special.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about Gan Bei:

We’re located in the International District, and we love serving the community and we love being a space where people gather – all cultures, all ethnic backgrounds. We’ve been here for five and a half years, but before, this space was a Hong Kong style cafe – a mom-and-pop shop, and it was exclusively Chinese customers only – and now we’re inclusive. 

One thing I really love about this business is that there is all kinds of culture that gather here – we all share ingredients, and they serve as an inspiration for the dishes that are on our menu.

So if a first-time customer is coming to visit, what dishes would you recommend that they order? 

One of the highlights on our menu is the lemon hand shredded chicken. It is free-range chicken, and made with our house-made chili oil sauce, oyster sauce, and fresh lemon juice. Another favorite would be the chili wontons, or the sui kao. The direct translation of sui kao is “water dumplings”.

Lemon hand-shredded chicken

You have some very fun drinks on the menu. What are some of your favorite drinks?

One of my absolute favorite drinks to make is the Coconut Aperol Margarita. It is made with coconut cream syrup, Aperol, fresh lime and lemon juice, and of course tequila!

What is something that you are proud of within the last five and a half years about the business?

Something that I’m very proud of is that we’re building a legacy and we’re building stories for people to serve for years to come. And it is a story of people and their background versus food. Our slogan is eat, drink, cry, and laugh, and not in that same order.

Intentionalist is all about spending our dollars in our local communities and supporting small businesses.Why do you think it’s important that people spend like it matters? 

I think it’s very important that people spend like it matters in local businesses because it keeps them afloat and it keeps the culture building up and it is what makes Seattle so special and unique and sets it apart from the rest of the world.

What are some of the small businesses that you like to support when you’re not here at the restaurant?

I absolutely love Vientiane Grocery Store in Columbia City – it’s a grocery store that also has a dining area.. Vientiane is a city in Laos and their food is beyond Thai food.

What’s something that you would like to let people know about if they’re coming to the International District Chinatown and they’re looking for great food? 

I like to let people know that we are a very inclusive neighborhood in the Chinatown CID District. It’s a very close-knit community. If you’re likable, people will accept you right away.

What were you doing before you opened Gan Bei? 

I have always worked in the restaurant industry. I was only 13 years old, I remember taking a nap in the back of my mom and dad’s restaurant on Lake City Way. I would take the bus there.

We had another restaurant in Auburn, Washington, and I was the manager there, and I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying to get people on our loyalty program by just, like 20% off for people who work at hotels.

I’ve been doing this for a really long time, and I’m still learning. I still don’t know half of the things that my friends know!

What is a piece of advice that you would give to somebody that wanted to open up a restaurant? 

I say “run” – just kidding!

Evaluate your team. Know who’s coming into it with passion and culture. And know why you’re doing it. You’re going to be working long hours. But it’s way better than working for other people. And you can take vacations whenever you want, which is almost never.

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