Most people know him as the warm and friendly owner of Island Soul Rum Bar & Soul Shack in Columbia City, but Theo Martin also owns Northwest Industrial Staffing — an employment agency dedicated to finding work for others.
“I like to help people go from being $15/hour temp workers to full-time, permanent employees,” he said. “I’ve been there, so I know how hard it is to make that transition.”
Most days, he’s up by 4 am to run the staffing firm before pivoting over to restaurant responsibilities — like greeting guests by name and making sure the chef has everything he needs to serve hungry crowds. Yet he still makes time for lunch with his wife of nearly 30 years.
This week, Theo was kind enough to answer a few questions for our People in Your Neighborhood column, a series of interviews with South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people.
How long in the area?
44 years; started at 22nd & Spruce in the CD.
Running my staffing firm – Northwest Industrial Staffing
Running my restaurant — Island Soul Caribbean Cuisine
What do you like most about your day job?
Working with people, helping them find jobs and realize what they have to offer.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Leading by example. My kids see daddy get up at 4 am and go to work when they’re coming home for the night. It’s bound to rub off at some point.
I enjoy working with and motivating kids. Anytime I have the chance to go speak with or help kids like me, I do it.
Why do you volunteer?
I like to motivate and inspire people; challenge and push them to be their best selves; help them figure out what they want out of life.
What are you passionate about?
Family, family, family. I’m driven because I don’t want my kids to end up without lifetime skills. You lead by example. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Talk is cheap. Action is real.
What are your hobbies?
Food, experiencing other restaurants, remodeling my house, doing yard work, staying busy.
Tell us about your family:
My wife Gaelyn and I have been married almost 30 years, and we have three kids, Bryce (24), Caitlyn (21) and Channing (13). We also work together. She helps run the staffing firm and the kids help run the restaurant, like the old days when families worked together. That’s what I love about my family, they can move out anytime they want — in fact, I encourage it — but they don’t. Everybody helps, everybody contributes. I always say, “There’s no reason our house should look raggedy when everybody has a to-do list!”
Who inspires you?
My parents. I’m a foster kid, who bounced around 14 different foster homes before I got to the Martin’s at eight years old, and it was all business from there. Everyone got up early to do chores, none of this wait-until-you-come-home-from-school attitude. They had 15 kids total, and 12 were foster kids, although I was the only one who was legally adopted.
Mama Martin ran a daycare and some of the parents were struggling with prostitution and drug abuse, so some kids would get dropped off and left — their parents just didn’t come back for them — so Mama and Daddy Martin would take them in and take care of them, put them through private school, whatever they needed. It was a very loving environment with lots of discipline.
You couldn’t do anything without the whole family knowing or being involved. Both my parents passed in their 90’s. My dad had a restaurant, grocery store and construction company, and my mom was a nurse with a daycare and hair salon. We used to joke that they took in all those kids to help staff the businesses. I always wanted to help ’cause that’s what my dad always did.
What was the last thing you read?
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t, by Jim Collins
What’s your favorite thing about the Rainier Valley?
Sense of community, small-town feel, seeing people around, going to businesses where you know the owner.
Where is your favorite place to go in the Rainier Valley?
If there was one thing you could change about the Rainier Valley, what would it be?
I’d like to see people be more adventurous with restaurants and other local establishments they’re unfamiliar with.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Good health. No worries about bills or where my next meal is coming from.
What is your greatest fear?
Being homeless. As a foster kid, I know what it means to go without. Everything you own is in a backpack.
What is your greatest regret?
I went to my third year of college and didn’t finish.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My wife Gaelyn, my kids and my parents.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Family, business, keeping healthy
What is your most treasured possession?
If you could live anywhere besides the Rainier Valley, where would it be?
Florida — sun, fun and Caribbean feel — love the food and culture.
What do you most value in your friends?
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Neo in the Matrix. That scene where he chooses the red pill instead of the blue one changed my life. When Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) said, “There’s a blue pill and a red pill, one will let you forget, and the other will show you the truth but probably scare the shit out of you. You must make the choice now.” I want to make that choice. If you do right, the people around you will do right. Are you the type to embrace or avoid risk? There are two choices. That’s how life is. Decide NOW.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My father. He didn’t pull any punches. He was real straight. Came home every day with dirty hands, dirty boots and money in his pocket. Made sure my mom never had to worry. He was a provider. He changed my world.
Tell us something about you that not many people know:
I’m a lot taller than I appear in person.
Top photo/Gaelyn and Theo Martin; bottom photo/Caitlyn, Bryce and Channing Martin