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Pike Place Chowder

Chowder extremists

When you've won the best chowder award locally and in New England and your Pike Place Market location with 20 indoor seats and seasonal outdoor seating serves 1400-1500 people daily, you've got the right to be pretty proud. Owner Larry Mellum and his team are proud, but he uses the word "humbled" to describe his feelings as well.

Larry's restaurant roots go back to 1977 and a steak house called the Hindquarter in Lake Oswego. Wanting to get back to Seattle, he took the GM job at their Leschi location. "It was the best management experience I ever had," he says. "It hadn't been managed well, so each day I would go over inventory, what we'd need, when payroll was due and then work with the bank to make sure we could do it all. We turned it around, but apparently corporate hadn't been paying the payroll taxes, so the IRS shut the location down."

He took a job with Red Robin and became a GM in short order, moved into a regional position, then became VP of Operations. When he started there were four stores, when he left there were 40. "I opened about half of those around the country over a 6-7 year period," he recalls. He worked with Red Robin until 1987.

Larry at the Pike Market grab-and-go-window

Larry and his wife Betty moved to West Seattle and became friends with the owners of Webster's, a breakfast/lunch/dinner spot there. "It was a great concept and I told the owners if they wanted to open another store, I'd be interested. Together we opened the Charlestown Street Café in West Seattle. We started getting accolades, especially about the chowder created by the line cooks. A Chowder Cook-Off took place for about 8-9 years on Lake Union. We entered in 1993 and got third place. In 1994, we won both the popular vote and the professional judges vote, which had never happened before. We won again in 1995, the last year of the contest. A few years later, we entered a contest in Seaside, Oregon, and won there."

Betty and Larry courtesy of Pike Place Chowder

Since they were winning contests with their New England clam chowder, they began to wonder, 'can we win in New England?'. They were told the only contest in New England was for locals only. But they could check with Newport, Rhode Island. Larry called and the person he spoke with said it was a lot to take on, distance and amount of chowder, and no outsider had ever won. However, she was coming to visit family at Fort Lewis, so she she'd stop by and try the chowder. Hooked! She loved it and invited them to come. Larry figured out the dollar amount it would take and broke the news to his excited staff that they couldn't do it. It was too expensive. The female wait staff was too pumped to give up. If they raised the money, could they go? Sure. Bake sales, car washes, the "Chowder Girls" did it! "They were so great. They'd go to events and do chants and sing songs. It was a wonderful group," says Larry. The contest was in June. Each month starting with February, Larry handled all the details, then confirmed and re-confirmed. Yet when they arrived, the clams had been returned, the cream went to Providence instead of Newport, the vegetables were cut to twice the size they should have been. Despite all that, they took fourth place. The next three years they took first place, going into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall of Fame in 2002.

Westport chowder wins courtesy of Pike Place Chowder

Stay tuned for part 2 in our April issue

Pike Place Chowder
1530 Post Alley
Seattle, WA 98101
206-267-2537

600 Pine Street
Pacific Place
Seattle, WA 98101
206-838-5680

www.pikeplacechowder.com

Smoked salmon chowder courtesy of Pike Place Chowder

Connie Adams/March 2019


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