For 75 years, the Alhadeff family dominated Seattle’s retail and wholesale fish business. Their company was started by Nessim Alhadeff, who arrived in Seattle in 1904 from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes. Initially peddling fish door to door, Alhadeff soon realized outlying restaurants had trouble getting fresh fish daily. Relying on interurban rail service, he delivered fish to establishments as far away as Renton and Everett. Eventually he operated the seafood department at Palace Market in Pioneeer Square. Meanwhile, he arranged passage from Rhodes for his eight siblings and parents. In 1914, he purchased an existing retail shop at Colman Dock (now Pier 54) and renamed it Palace Fish Market (later the Palace Fish and Oyster Co.). It remained there for 60 years. In 1926, the firm expanded with the purchase of Whiz Fish Products, a cannery and wholesale operation. Twenty years later, the wholesale side of Palace Fish was sold, but the family retained the fish market, changing its name to Pacific Fish. Other mergers and acquisitions followed. In the early 1980s, the company, now called ABC Pacific Fish, was sold to Consolidated Foods of Chicago.
Delivering Fish By Rail
Around 1904, newly arrived in the U.S. from the island of Rhodes, 18-year-old Nessim Alhadeff (1886-1950) sold fresh fish door-to-door from a fish basket he hooked over his arm. He soon saw an untapped opportunity: Restaurants and food markets located away from the city center would pay handsomely for fresh fish delivered daily. Alhadeff began to pick up fish from wholesalers in the morning and transport it via the interurban rail line that same day to restaurants in cities such as Renton and Everett.
Eventually he found work running the fish department for the Palace Market, which operated Stall 110 at the Public Market on Pike Place and a retail grocery in Pioneer Square. In 1914, having mastered the fish business in his decade in Seattle, Alhadeff bought an existing fish market at 819 Railroad Avenue from fellow Sephardic Jews Solomon "Sam" Calvo and David "Salti" Levy and renamed it the Palace Fish Market, apparently with the blessing of Palace Market owners Siras Roll and Charles Schoening.
The Palace Fish Market (later Palace Fish and Oyster Co.) would be a fixture at Colman Dock for nearly 60 years. Each December for about two decades, the shop ran ads in the newspaper imploring readers to "Send a Salmon East. For the sum of $2.25, we will box, ice and prepay all express charges on one nice large fresh Salmon to any part of the United States. Remember the home folks" (The Seattle Times, December 9, 1918).
The Alhadeff Family
Nessim Alhadeff was born in 1886 on the island of Rhodes, part of the Ottoman Empire, to David, a baker, and Kaden (née Sourmani). Nessim grew up speaking multiple languages, including Ladino (a Judeo-Spanish language), Greek, and Turkish. The family spoke Spanish in the home. Around 1904, Nessim was visiting Greek friends on the island of Leros when talk turned to America. A group of friends, including Nessim, decided to immigrate together. Alhadeff bought a ticket in steerage class and arrived in Boston around 1904. He made his way west to Seattle where he had relatives. Alhadeff was one of the first Sephardic Jews to arrive in Seattle. Two years earlier, in 1902, Sam Calvo arrived from the Turkish island of Marmara. The two men met in a Greek coffee house in Seattle, each delighted to find another individual with whom they could converse in Ladino.
Within three years, Nessim had saved enough money to return to Rhodes, where he married Rosa Israel in 1907. One by one, Alhadeff sent for his family to join him in America. The first to arrive in 1905 was Solomon (1883-1966), followed by Morris (1890-1965) in 1906 and Rahamin ("Jack") (1878-1972) in 1907. Other siblings who arrived to join the family fish business were Albert (1896-1980), George, Harry, Joseph, and sister Estrea. He also brought his parents, David and Kaden, to Seattle as well as other relatives.
Nessim and Rosa had three sons, each of whom worked in the family business: Charles (1909-1997), Jack (1912-1980), and Isaac (1916-2012), known as Ike. In the fall of 1944, Ike, serving as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, was forced to parachute from a B-17 bomber during a deadly aerial attack. For six weeks, he was reported missing-in-action, but was later found alive and in a German prisoner-of-war camp. He remained a POW for more than a year.
Nessim’s health was already compromised by this time and the stress over Ike’s whereabouts caused further decline. He died on December 6, 1950, at the age of 66. At his death, he was a member of B’nai B’rith, Temple de Hirsch, and the Sephardic Brotherhood. He also belonged to Ionic Lodge No. 90 F. & A. M., Scottish Rite, and Nile Temple of the Shrine. His estate was estimated at more than $300,000. His will stipulated that his wife Rosa be paid $1,000 a month and that his three sons inherit the fish business.
"If It Swims, We Have It"
Palace Fish grew quickly to become one of the largest retail and wholesale fish companies in the city. In 1926, it merged with Whiz Fish Products, a fish cannery and wholesale business. The wholesale division moved to Pier 61 at 1525 Alaskan Way; the retail market remained at 819 Alaskan Way. The company’s slogan – If It Swims, We Have It – was well-known and its reputation for fair prices and friendly customer service combined to keep the business successful.
On November 1, 1937, Palace Fish remodeled its waterfront shop and re-opened a new store that featured a salt-water aquarium and a marble pool filled with fish. That year, the company sold more than 9 million pounds of fish. "Ever since 1914 the friendly and informal fish market at the front of the Colman Terminal was the Alhadeff family’s ‘store,’ cradle and training ground for three generations of the many-membered Alhadeff family, a wholesale-retail fish dynasty that now is one of the biggest fishery firms and seafood processors in the Pacific Northwest" ("If It Swims ...").
Many of the city’s businesses sponsored baseball teams and Palace Fish was no exception. In 1934, the Palace Fish team snagged the state American Legion Junior League baseball title. The winning game lasted 14 innings and ended with a score of 9-6; however, the Fishermen, as the team was known, lost during the national semifinals in Topeka, Kansas. What made the 1934 championship team noteworthy was that it included a tall, muscular teenager named Fred Hutchinson (1919-1964) who went on to pitch for, and later manage, the Detroit Tigers. "Hutch" was also manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds. He died of lung cancer on November 12, 1964, at the age of 45.
Fish is Brain Food
Besides the baseball team, Palace Fish got caught up in other promotional opportunities. In 1931, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, working with Alhadeff, arranged to fly a special shipment of six fresh Chinook salmon caught in Puget Sound to Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Einstein’s representatives met the plane in Los Angeles and delivered the fish to the great scientist. "Whether Prof. Albert Einstein’s prodigious brain capacity is to be attributed to his fondness for fish, the proverbial brain food, is a matter for conjecture. But yesterday when the Los Angeles Examiner telegraphed the Post-Intelligencer that Professor Einstein would be more pleased with a mess of fresh Puget Sound Chinook salmon right now than a new discovery regarding the workings of the universe, steps were immediately taken to bring the master brain up to its maximum efficiency ... Interesting to Einstein himself was the consignment of salmon trout that graced his table this evening. Yesterday afternoon they were swimming in Puget Sound" ("Sound Salmon and Moon ...".
In 1937, the fish market participated in a Seattle Times holiday promotion in which readers could win prizes by writing a poem about their favorite local business. A prize of $2 was awarded to Mrs. A. E. Rayner of Mercer Island, who contributed this bit of rhyme: "I want to send a salmon east/To give the folks a Christmas feast/Why don’t you try the Palace Fish?/They’ll send them any size you wish" ("Sunday’s Winners").
The area’s restaurants, large and small, often touted their fish order from Palace Fish in their advertisements. A full page ad for the Tea Room at Frederick & Nelson department store announced: "The seafood menu of the Tea Room is justly famous. An important secret of the success of its tempting fish dishes is the fact that the Palace Fish Co. carefully selects for Frederick & Nelson ... the very best of the huge daily catch which comes to Seattle’s docks" ("Restful Charm, The Tea Room").
Family Patriarch Dies
For a time, Palace Fish and Whiz Fish were located side by side on the waterfront. The "two stubby piers, known as the Fish and Salt Docks, were sited between the foot of Pike and Pine Streets ... Renamed Piers 60 and 61, they housed the Whiz Fish Company and the Palace Fish Company in the mid-1940s" (The Central Waterfront Report, 23).
In 1946, the fresh-fish division of Whiz Fish Products and the wholesale side of Pacific Fish & Oyster Co. were sold: Whiz Fish to Safeway Stores, Inc., and Palace Fish to Haines Oyster Company. "The Alhadeff family will continue to operate its retail fish shop on the waterfront, in addition to Whiz Fish Products Company cannery operations in Washington, British Columbia and Alaska" ("Sale of 2 Fish Firms Announced"). The company name was changed to Pacific Fish Co.
When Nessim died in 1950, his three sons – Charles, Jack, and Ike – had years of preparation and were ready to take over. Charles had earned a bachelor’s degree in fisheries from the University of Washington in 1930 and became president of Whiz Fish Products and its cannery operation. Jack was vice-president and Ike was secretary-treasurer; they were also UW alumni. "The impact of the dapper and business-savvy Alhadeff brothers soon was felt along the Seattle waterfront and throughout the Pacific Northwest fishery. Their firm was a pioneer in the development of food processing" ("If It Swims ...").
In 1963, in a multimillion-dollar deal, Whiz Fish Products, located at 2000 Alaskan Way, purchased San Juan Fishing & Packing Co., "one of the biggest and oldest fish companies in the Pacific Northwest" ("If It Swims ..."). That year, the merged companies, which included "San Juan Packing Co. of Oregon, Pacific Fisheries of Canada, Egegik Packing Co. of Alaska, Whiz Fish Products Co., Whiz-Eardley Fisheries Col. Odion Sea Products Co. and Whiz Pet Food Co." ("Whiz Fish Products Buys ..."), sold 250,000 cases of salmon and 400,000 cases of tuna, crab, and other fish products. At this point, the Alhadeff fishing empire encompassed "fish houses, filleting plants, cold storage, an integrated crab operation and a pet-food firm. A San Juan fresh-and-frozen fish unit is at Warrenton, Ore. The companies’ salmon canneries include plants in Bristol Bay, Kodiak, Prince William Sound and in Southeastern Alaska and at La Conner, Wash." ("Whiz Fish Products Buys ...").
George and Albert Alhadeff, Nessim’s brothers, continued to work at Pacific Fish into the mid-1960s. George served the hotel, restaurant, and institutional markets and called himself the oldest fish salesman in the city. Albert specialized in selling fish to the railroads and wholesale outlets. Non-family members also tended to work for the Alhadeff family for decades. Louis Israel (1886?-1963), who had emigrated from Rhodes in 1907, began working at Palace Fish around 1916 and managed its retail shop for 43 years. Another long-time employee was Morris Tarica, who began working for the firm in 1940 and retired as store manager in 1976.
Although nearly all of the Alhadeffs worked in the family business at one time or another, not all found it a good fit. That was the case for Morris Alhadeff (1914-1994), the son of Solomon and a nephew of Nessim. After spending his youth working in the family trade, Morrie found a better fit in radio broadcasting using the on-air name of Jerry Morris. "I’d been working on the waterfront all my life butchering fish and I just decided I didn’t want to do that. So I came up town to look around and see what I could find" ("Morrie Alhadeff ..."). In 1942, he married Joan Gottstein (1920-1996), whose father owned Longacres racetrack in Renton. Morrie took over public relations for the racetrack, then became president and CEO, and finally chairman of the board. The Alhadeff family sold Longacres to The Boeing Company in 1990.
Staying True to Its Roots
Mergers and expansions notwithstanding, the tiny fish shop stayed true to its roots. "Despite the firm’s expansion and its canneries in Alaska and along the Washington coast, its food-processing and wholesale operations spread over three different piers on the Seattle waterfront – even a branch office in New York City – the Alhadeffs still maintain the old 'family store,' the colorful little retail market at the Colman Terminal" ("It If Swims ..."). In 1964, to make room for a new Port of Seattle ferry terminal which would open in 1966, the retail shop moved from the waterfront to a store at 6th Avenue and Dearborn Street.
In January 1970, Waterfront Fish, the business started by Salomon Calvo in 1902, merged with Pacific Fish. News that the retail shop was to reopen a few months later, renamed the Fish House, was met with delight. "The Fish House’s rebirth is a triumph for two patriarchal Seattle fish families – the Alhadeffs and the Calvos ... Reopening of the Yesler Way place was whimsical, Pacific Fish president Jerry Alhadeff tells us – maybe illogical. It’s hard to make such a place pay. But Seattle needed a waterfront place like that ... People kept asking ... So one Tuesday Jerry Alhadeff decided to reopen. 'Sometimes in your life,' he explains, 'you don’t do something for dollars'" ("A Fish Shrine is Reopened").
In 1973, West Coast Sea Products, a wholesale operation, was merged under a new management structure headed by the Alhadeff family and called ABC Pacific Corp.
More changes were afoot in the fish business. A half-century earlier, Pacific Fish secured its product from boats that fished in nearby waters. In the 1970s, the company worked with suppliers from around the world. "The firm is daily in contact with suppliers around the world and buys lobster from Australia, shrimp from Mexico, haddock from Atlantic ports, scampi from Spain, frog legs from Japan ... Alhadeff notes that .. 'Refrigeration and jets have opened up many new markets, so there is a shortage of fish. It used to be that we’d call producers and tell them how much we wanted. Now we call 20 companies and ask them if we can have some'" ("Competing Fish Firms Merging ...").
By 1982, Chicago-based Consolidated Foods Corp., which rebranded in 1985 as the Sara Lee Corporation, was in negotiations to buy Pacific Fish Co. "Only change will be the ownership, which is now held by the Alhadeff-family enterprise, ABC Pacific Corp ... The pioneer Seattle firm, based at 617 S Dearborn St., has about 100 employees. It is one of the largest wholesale distributors of seafoods in the United States and the oldest remaining in Seattle" ("Pacific Fish Talking ...").
In 1989, Pacific Fish, now owned by Booth Fisheries, a Sara Lee division, was bought by John Prater and his partner Jim Cockman at a cost estimated between $3 million and $6 million. Prater had previously worked for Booth Fisheries for two years. "Prater, president of the company, says Pacific is the largest distributor of fresh fish in Seattle and processes an average of between 20,000 and 35,000 pounds of fish a day. Last year, the company reported about $25 million in sales and expects to grow 8 percent this year. Pacific has a retail store at Sixth Avenue South and Charles Street, around the corner from its main plant. But the company's main business is distributing fish to local restaurants and grocery stores. About 60 percent goes to restaurants; 40 percent to grocery stores" ("Pacific Fish is Swimming Along Nicely").