Meet Karuna Long, the owner of Oliver’s Twist in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood. Karuna took over Oliver’s Twist in 2017 after working as a bartender there for years and has maintained the beloved neighborhood bar’s signature cocktails — and added his own twists along the way. Karuna has since revamped the bar’s cocktail program, and during the pandemic, he added Cambodian dishes to the Oliver’s Twist menu with the help of his mom and brothers. Oliver’s Twist has also become a permanent location for masks and non-perishables for mutual-aid organizations WASHMASKS, Washington Mutual Aid, and mutual aid for migrant workers in Washington State.
Get to know more about Karuna, his Cambodian roots, and Oliver’s Twist 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?
Oliver’s Twist is named after the original owners’ son, and coincidentally one half of the original owners, Sarah, is English, so there’s a connection with the Dickensian theme and a connection with their son as well. Something that a lot of folks don’t know about me is that I studied jazz growing up, and when I moved up to Seattle, I taught children’s piano for a while part time while working in the service industry.
Why is it important to you and your business that people #SpendLikeItMatters?
I think bringing in items that folks aren’t necessarily familiar with. During a couple of the [Cambodian] pop-up dinners, out of my mom’s suggestion to try and offer the most authentic experience, we roasted silk worms. And it was really interesting to see how a lot of the regulars and friends embraced it. Everyone was really adventurous [he laughs]. I was a little standoffish at first. It’s always hard for me because cooking Cambodian food has been a labor of love that I really enjoyed because it’s what bridged my relationship with my brothers and I and our mom. Being a little unsure of how it’s going to be received is always hard because there hasn’t really been a platform of prominent culinary voices as far as Cambodian culture goes in the Pacific Northwest.
What’s your favorite part about the community your business is in and why?
I love the fact that [Phinney Ridge is] constantly becoming more diverse from when I originally started working at Oliver’s Twist. And the neighborhood is really receptive about supporting their BIPOC business owners, not just within the Phinney Ridge/Greenwood neighborhood, but they’re really vocal about trying to step outside their bubble to support all the other BIPOC businesses all throughout Seattle — which to me, is paramount.