Gary Snyder died of lymphoma at home on May 19. He was 57 years old. On July 6, 2023 there will be a memorial gathering at Geraldine’s Counter.
Check the restaurant’s Facebook post for more details:
Gary Snyder ran a restaurant in Seattle for many years. His family says that when he smiled at you, it was like the sun came out from behind the clouds. “He was so friendly. He talked to just about anyone. Sherwin Tolentino, Snyder’s life partner, said during a recent phone call, “He made people feel seen and heard, and he was genuinely interested in them.”
Gary Snyder’s bigger brother, Larry, said, “He made everybody feel like he was their best friend,”
He was a lively presence at Geraldine’s Counter, a busy place in Columbia City that he opened with his longtime business partner Stacey Hettinger in 2005. It quickly became a place where people from all over the area gathered. Even if there was a line out the door, he wouldn’t notice because he was talking to customers and checking in with his “fans.”
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People loved him as much as they loved biscuits and gravy and French toast. One of these talks with a customer led Snyder and Tolentino to get Bailey, the dog they love so much. Geraldine’s Counter is such a big part of the Columbia City community, and Snyder was so involved in the area that some people called him the “unofficial mayor” of Columbia City.
Gary Snyder was born on June 15, 1965, in Woodland Hills, California. He was the last of three boys to be born to Geraldine “Geri” and Marvin Snyder. He went to San Diego State University and then Northridge College in Los Angeles, where he got a degree in communications. In 1989, he moved to Seattle.
The age gap between Larry and Gary was five years. Larry remembers being much more in love with their older brother, Steve, when they were kids. Larry looked up to Steve, and he and Larry both liked sports. Gary was their sweet little brother. He didn’t care much about sports and was happy to do his own thing.
“But once Gary became the man he was, the tables turned for me. I totally looked up to him. He became the guy you wanted to be in the room with, which was such a great transformation for me to see,” Larry says.
Even when Gary Snyder was working as a waiter at Duke’s Seafood in South Lake Union, there were hints of that guy. It’s where he met Hettinger not long after he moved to the city. He was waiting tables there.
Snyder had a very attractive personality. His family says that both men and women always thought he was flirting with them. He and Hettinger became fast friends. They often joked about how cool it would be to open a restaurant together.
Snyder finally became a manager, and even though he and Hettinger went their separate ways (she moved to Jackson, Wyoming, and he went to work at places like Queen City and Coastal Kitchen), they met up again when Snyder called Hettinger to tell her about a restaurant for sale in Capitol Hill. The place was called El Greco. In 2001, they bought it from Thomas Soukakos, who had owned it before.
“We got a Small Business Administration loan for El Greco. We laughed and called it our nonprofit therapy. It was a labor of love,” Hettinger recalls.
El Greco was a turnkey restaurant, and for a few years, the two owners kept offering a mostly Mediterranean menu and brunch. In 2008, they closed for a short time to change things up, and in May of that year, they opened again as Table 219.
Table 219’s menu was full of fun twists on traditional meals, like duck confit nachos and sloppy joe sliders. In a review at the time, the food reviewer for The Seattle Times told a story about how Snyder sold a glass of wine for half price just because he could.
Hettinger says he was always like that. “He just had this way about him. He was sweet and loving, and he cared,” she says.
In 2009, Snyder and Tolentino met at Table 219. After a while of flirting, one of Snyder’s workers told a friend of Tolentino’s, “Get them on a date already.” They went on their first date at Table 219. This year, they would have been together for 14 years.
“One of the things that really drew me to him originally was his salt-and-pepper hair. I feel like that’s such a distinct visual characteristic of him. Everyone remembers Gary’s gray,” Tolentino says.
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Snyder and Hettinger started Geraldine’s Counter in Columbia City in 2005. In 2011, they sold Table 219 to chef Jeffrey Wilson, who had been working there for a long time. Geraldine’s, which was named after Gary’s mom, took advantage of how famous brunch at Table 219 and other things were.
From the freshly painted walls to the colorful Fiestaware plates, the room was full of color. Hettinger says that it was important for them to open in Columbia City because the neighborhood is full of different kinds of people.
“We really wanted to be a part of a community with a diversity of young and old families, mixed races and languages. That was something we really jived with, and it’s been fascinating to watch [the neighborhood] grow,” Hettinger says.
Larry Snyder remembers that he cried the first time he went to Geraldine’s Counter, which was soon after it opened. It was a typical Sunday, and there was a line out the door. Gary was in his element.
“It wasn’t luck, it was because he was Gary and people saw him and he saw them,” Larry Snyder says.
Gary Snyder and Dang Nguyen started Heyday, a burger place in Mount Baker in the fall of 2015. Tolentino helped get the name out there. Snyder kept coming back to the words “community, accessibility, inclusivity, and approachability” when he thought about how to describe the Heyday vibe. These ideas were important to him because they guided how he lived his life every day.
“I feel like his legacy is his sense of humor and how he was approachable. Gary brought community together with his joy, love and personality,” Tolentino says.
Jake and Luke, his twin boys, are also part of his legacy. Jake and Luke’s mother is his longtime friend Sara Eizen. Snyder’s restaurant personality was bigger than life, but he also liked working on the house he and Tolentino bought in Mount Baker in 2012, going hiking, and visiting the world.
Geraldine’s Counter remembered Gary Snyder in a heartfelt Facebook post on May 23, 2023:
Geraldine’s Counter Another Post Remebering Gary Snyder:
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