Farmers market food vendor scrambles after theft of van, equipment

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Between March and October, Kristen and Keone Ah Yek and their children have the same weekend routine: wake up early to head down to the Vancouver Farmers Market, where they make and sell an assortment of food at their family-run booth, Kristen's Sweet Delights.

This weekend, however, will be different. Having fallen victim to theft earlier this week, the Ah Yek family is scrambling to keep their booth running.

Keone woke up at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday to find their van — which had 90 percent of the equipment for their business inside — gone.

"My stomach is gut-wrenched," Kristen said. "I feel totally violated."

The 1994 Ford box van was a retired U-Haul van they purchased years back. The van was parked in the driveway in front of their residence in the Carter Park neighborhood. It was left unlocked. Kristen said they feel safe in the neighborhood and didn't think much about locking the van.

"I have lived here in Vancouver all my life — 49 years on the same block," she said. "This is the first time anything like this has happened."

The couple has surveillance cameras that captured the late-night activity and will get that to police. Although she wants to hold the person accountable, Kristen also just wants her stuff back.

"I'm hoping that person will better themselves and their lives and come back and have some sort of remorse," she said. "For people to take advantage of other people … it's just wrong."

Even though their van was stolen, what was inside was the real loss. The grill, ice cream freezer on wheels, commercial fridge and fryers, among other things, are worth about $13,000.

Although the name hints at the fresh strawberry shortcake that kicked off the business, Kristen's Sweet Delights also sells Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, Belgian waffles, shaved ice and ribbon cut fries. And don't forget the corn dogs.

"Our corn dog is one of a kind. We use a special hand-dipped batter," she said. "We have a following for that."

Kristen said that despite the loss, they are prepping to still be at the market this weekend. Without knowing exactly what insurance will cover, they're buying another grill and pulling their extra fryers out from their garage.

"We're trying to round up enough equipment for this weekend," she said.

Keone occasionally works as a translator — he's fluent in Samoan — for the courts and at area hospitals. Other than that, the family lives off of the five-month market season and evening concerts at Esther Short Park.

"This is our lifeblood, this is our business," Kristen said. "It means a lot to us because the farmers market is like family. My customers are like family."

The van is described as an 18-foot white U-Haul with faded orange paint and graffiti on the passenger side and Washington license plate B33339D. Anyone who sees the vehicle is asked to call 911.

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com.