And while new Seattleites might dismiss the dish, elsewhere people are just discovering its allure. Middle America, for one, doesn’t care that teriyaki didn't descend from a centuries-old Japanese tradition or from Kasahara's grandmother. “We’re in Jonesboro, Arkansas, for God’s sake,” laughs Teriyaki Madness’s Haith. He confesses that the idea of authenticity never occurred to him. He'll even go so far as to compare it to Tex-Mex: “it’s authentic Americanized-Japanese food. They [the customers] like the volume, they like the healthy aspect, and they like the customization abilities.”
In the end, it comes back to a universal appeal: “There's a sincerity to it, from the owners, that really translates. It's comfort food,” states Haith. And he's right. What Teriyaki Madness does is not only imitate the meals that have drawn in Seattleites for decades, but also the environment that bred it. The corner store-style service, the friendly face behind the counter, the bare-bones atmosphere. The dish that Kasahara came up with to open his small Queen Anne shop, with its mangled roots... if it's authentic anything, it's authentically old Seattle.
But new Seattle -- with the locals priced out of the area, those that remain forgetting teriyaki exists, and newcomers ignoring it -- risks losing those real shops for good. Teriyaki could be heading the direction of deep-dish… just ask a Chicagoan about it and they’ll say, “Oh, that’s for tourists.” Teriyaki is from a different era, and it’s fading as fast as traffic-free days on I-5. Since teriyaki came to town, Seattle’s waved goodbye to the Kingdome, Kurt Cobain, and the Sonics. A signature stadium, a signature musician, a signature team -- and now, perhaps, a signature dish.