Seattle Press
Greenwood Restaurant Owners Branch Out Into The Wild


Rickshaw restaurant sign


woman holding cat
Ginger holds a baby bobcat

Jacob Lueck/Wild Eyes

wolf nuzzles man
Jacob Lueck has a friendly encounter with Winnie, one of a pair of timber wolves.

Wild Eyes lynx

baby lynx
Baby lynx.

Wild Eyes hawk

Tom Herriman holding a large hawk
The author meets a European hawk.

Wild Eyes tiger

man with tiger
Trainer Rod Nelson roughhouses with Diamond, a white Bengal tiger.

Wild Eyes porcupine

porcupine with big daisy
Porky the porcupine enjoys a meal of daisies.
This is a love story. A story about the love of a man and woman for each other, and their mutual love for animals. It's a story that is rooted in violence and bloodshed.

At 2 a.m. one morning In March 1981, a man pulled a gun on Ginger Luke and her husband Wayne at their Rickshaw Restaurant on North 105th Street near Greenwood Avenue. The Rickshaw has been a popular neighborhood gathering place since 1976.

The robber ordered them to open the safe. He scooped up the night's receipts and was heading for the front door with Wayne and Ginger in front of him. Suddenly he decided to take them hostage and ordered them outside to his car. Ginger and Wayne both knew this could be their death warrant. As horrified customers watched, Wayne managed to knock down the robber, who, as he fled, emptied his revolver into the two. They were both shot three times. Ginger took a 38-caliber slug in her arm, another lodged close to her heart and the third shattered her left femur. Both Wayne and Ginger survived. Ginger was a year and a half in rehabilitation. The robber was later captured, arrested and sent to jail for two counts of attempted murder.

After she recovered and went back to working in the restaurant, their marriage broke up. Wayne got the bank accounts; Ginger got the restaurant.

Ginger had been running the Rickshaw successfully for several years when, one day in 1992, a concerned police lieutenant warned Ginger that the gunman had been released from prison for good behavior and was living about two miles from Ginger's house. "You'd better get a bodyguard," he warned. "This guy might bear a grudge."

A friend gave her the name of Jacob Lueck.

Jacob had recently emigrated to the U.S. from Germany, where he had been in the German equivalent of a special forces security unit. He was working as a carpenter in a Seattle furniture shop. Ginger hired him as a bodyguard.

Jacob gave Ginger emotional security as well as physical protection. A little more than a year later they were married.

Early in their relationship, they discovered that they shared a lifelong love of animals and wildlife. The couple settled into married life and running the restaurant together, a seven-day-a-week, 12-hours-a-day job for both of them. To get away from the pressure, they took annual vacations.

In August of 1999, they visited Wild Eyes, a unique facility near Kalispell, Montana that kept rare animals, most of them born and bred in captivity, as subjects for wildlife photographers. Tigers and wolves as well as chipmunks, badgers and porcupines were the photographic stars. Jacob and Ginger were entranced by the idea of the close up, hands-on contact with animals that they had only previously seen in zoos or in pictures. As they were leaving Wild Eyes, a parting wistful comment became prophetic: "If you ever decide to sell the place, give us a call," Ginger told the owners. A month later they bought Wild Eyes and Jacob moved into one of the guest cabins for a six-month crash course on how to run an animal farm.

Now in their first full season of operation, Jacob lives at Wild Eyes and runs the place with a small but capable staff. Ginger runs the Rickshaw and commutes to Kalispell on weekends.

The photographers still come for those calendar and magazine-cover shots of porcupines and panthers, and now Jacob and Ginger are developing a new business by offering a similar type of tour to serious amateur photographers and to the general public.

Visitors to Wild Eyes get an incredible hands-on close up experience with several different animals. When I was there I was nibbled by wolves and held a European hawk on my arm. I played with lynx and bobcat kittens and a wolf pup named Noah; I watched Jacob and animal trainer Rod Nelson arm-wrestle tigers and cuddle a 6 month old grizzly cub.

Most of the animals, at least those that were human-raised, develop close personal relationships with their trainers. Each animal gets vigorous play and exercise every day with humans and with other animals (if they were raised together).

"For some of these animals like the Siberian tigers, we're helping preserve their gene pool," Jacob told me. "There are now more of them in captivity than in the wild and they could disappear altogether from their natural habitat."

Jacob wants to see Wild Eyes become a refuge for injured and abused animals and wants to get a breeder's license. They have been continually acquiring new animals including Leroy, the delightful ring tailed lemur, and a baby coatimundi. They have just acquired a young clouded leopard and hope to get a cheetah soon.

Animals currently at Wild Eyes include a white Bengal tiger, two Siberian tigers, two nearly adult wolves and a pup, a baby grizzly, a black leopard, a ground squirrel, an ill-tempered badger named Betty, and two raccoons named Bonnie and Clyde.

Wild Eyes is not a sanitized, Disneyesque experience.

"When we're working with the cats we constantly watch our backs because their instinct is to attack. Even though it's in play, we have to stop them from being too rough," Nelson explained.

Visitors are allowed to handle and play with many of the young animals, most of which have been bottle-fed and raised by humans since birth. But the contact with larger, more mature animals is limited by the experience and confidence of the visitors, the number of people around and the mood and attitude of each of the animals on a particular day.

The intimate and peaceful contact with these animals is a moving experience. Sitting on a rock as I did, under some towering Douglas firs, with two intensely curious and insistent wolves sniffing and nuzzling me, nipping and nibbling at my shirt, maybe even grabbing a little skin in the process, I felt a connection with nature as a powerful and mysterious force--an awareness generally missing from much of everyday life.

I had been taught since early childhood that wolves were dangerous and violent animals. I checked under my bed for them at night, and cheered the hardy woodcutter who saved Red Riding Hood.

But up close I was filled with admiration at their energy and intelligence. They were strong and potentially dangerous, but their main reaction to me was curiousity, not violence. They just wanted to understand me as an object in their territory.

It was peaceful and sunny as the wolves and I explored each other in the little corral on the shores of Spoon Lake in southwestern Montana. And it seemed to me that the essence of Wild Eyes is that love and fear are brought face to face: that violent night in the Rickshaw in 1981 is transformed into a marriage and expression of love for nature; visitors to Wild Eyes can see beyond the brutal power of the big carnivores to their beauty and intelligence.

"We love these animals," Ginger says. "We want to take care of them and let them have a happy life and share this experience with other people who love the animals."

Right now, there is no other place in the world where this kind of experience can take place.

For further information contact Wild Eyes, (888) 330-5391 or