By Scott Schaefer

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a sad story that has been very difficult to write:


Vanna Nguyen, 30, and James Le, 33, have been missing since Sept. 2, 2019.
  • Burien business owner James Le, 33, and his friend Vanna Nguyen, 30, have been missing since Monday night, Sept. 2, while out boating on Lake Washington.
  • The two left Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton around 8:30 p.m. that night for a cruise on the lake on James’ new, 20-foot boat.
  • Two hours later, Mercer Island police were called, and officers soon discovered the now-unoccupied boat – with music blaring – about 100 yards off shore near the 7700 block of West Mercer Way.
  • James and Vanna were on that boat, but have been missing ever since.
  • Le owned the Countryside Cafe, located at 14901 Ambaum Blvd. SW, and was a well-loved business person.

I sat down recently with Joanna Hastings (pictured center, above, with longtime host Celerino Suarez and kitchen manager Harlyn Torres), the General Manager of the Countryside, to talk about the very sad time that she and her co-workers are going through right now – Le, her boss, and his friend Vanna, just basically vanished while out having fun on his boat.

Neither one has been seen since, and friends and family can only speculate about what happened. Talk of Vanna’s fear of swimming, of her carrying a pool noodle while boating; no life jackets found, despite James being very cautious. Both their IDs and phones, and various other belongings like socks and shoes were left on the boat. The car was still parked at the park.

Police and the Coast Guard searched for days, and James’ family hired private divers – yet no trace has been found.

“He worked here for a few hours that day, and needed me to come in and help out,” Joanna said. “He and Vanna went biking, then he took her boating on Lake Washington. That was the last time we saw him.”

Then sadly, at around 10:30 p.m. that night, the boat they were in was adrift on the lake, mysteriously empty except for the music James and Vanna were enjoying earlier, still playing loudly…to no one.

“Please keep James, Vanna, friends and family in your prayers,” stated a post on the Countryside Cafe Facebook page. “We have not given up. We can only hope and pray. James is the heart and soul of Countryside Cafe and it is heartbreaking for all of us. Thank you.”

The best thing you could probably do is to become a good, regular customer at the Countryside Cafe. Help this local business recover from the loss of its owner. Keep the staff busy (and eat a hearty breakfast or brunch!) so they can keep their minds off their missing boss. Come back often, bring friends, share lots of hugs and warmth with the staff.

And don’t forget to tip them well too.

Also, you can help a fundraiser that James had signed up for before his disappearance. It’s for the ‘Base 2 Space’ this Sunday, Sept. 29, with proceeds going to Fred Hutch and the Space Needle Foundation.

“He did this before and was thrilled to be apart of it,” Joanna said. “Since he is unable to do it now, his younger brother Steve will be taking his place. Please donate. This meant so much to James. He was such a loving and giving person. It’s the least we can all do to keep his memory alive.”

Donate online here:

Joanna says that James was always a very generous boss. One time when she went to Hawaii to celebrate a landmark birthday, and was thrilled to discover that James had donated $500 in credit to her room as a gift.

James Le and Vanna Nguyen are very much missed and loved by their co-workers, friends and family.

NOTE: The restaurant is scheduled to close Oct. 7 for a remodel, and hopefully will re-open again by the holidays.

More info on the Countryside Cafe here:

The Countryside Cafe is open from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.; phone: (206) 241-3103; address: 14901 Ambaum Blvd SW:

A vigil was held for them on Sept. 7:


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