HoW IT ALL BEGAN
When we opened, we decided to offer a “Soup of the Day” as one of our Specials. Of course, the Friday special would be New England Clam Chowder. With that, I said, “I have a good recipe that will work.” The Chef, with more than a little bravado, said his chowder recipe was probably better than mine. This inspired one of the cooks to chime in, “It can’t be better than the one my mama cooked every Friday.” This led to a kitchen rendition of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better.
The solution was obvious. Every Friday, a different version of Clam Chowder would be put to the test with our customers. They would have the final say. Naturally, we all thought ours was the best and each of us prepared a gloating acceptance speech.
What do you think happened?
A group of chowder-lovers made magic. Hovering and arguing, we mixed secret spices with the very best clams, in a broth fit for royalty; then added bacon and potatoes slow-simmered with fresh milk and cream. Gradually, we had a briny, smooth-as-silk version presented to our customers, with an epic saga of sea-faring uncles and generations of grandmothers.
Since that “friendly” competition in 1991, thanks to the vast array of farm-fresh vegetables and herbs at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, we are constantly improving and upgrading our ingredients. … But the original recipe and ingredient list has carried us far – to eleven cook-off victories - from Rhode Island and Connecticut, to Monterey, California, and back home to Seattle to take First Place at Chowdafest in 2016.
FROM UNDERDOG TO HALL-OF-FAME
So, as I was saying, we came up with a must-eat-to-believe chowder recipe that attracted droves of customers into our little café. They arrived from all over Seattle and the far-reaching suburbs, and finally, from East of the mountains – all the way to Spokane. They were telling us that our chowder was not only worth the drive, but worth waiting in line for.
“Yeah, sure,” said one of the cooks, “people really like our chowder, but how would we measure up to the big guys?”
“We’d beat ‘em all,” claimed one of the waitresses. Of course, this led to the challenge: Could we stand up to the big fish?
We decided to enter some contests, starting in our own back yard. Our chowder became the only entry in the history of the Seattle Cook-Off to win the Judge’s Award and the People’s Choice Award in the same year. After that, we won in Oregon. In fact, in the ‘90s, we won every competition we entered. BUT, said the doubters, “You would never win on the East Coast. They have the best chowder in America.”
Well, maybe! And, maybe not…
“No, I said to the team. It’s too expensive to travel 3,500 miles to find out if our chowder can win a trophy in New England.” We were only a small café, after all.
They were undaunted. “What if WE raise the money?” Certain that it was impossible, I said, “Sure. if we can do it, we’ll go.” They washed cars, baked cakes and cookies, gave tag sales, and begged for donations. To my amazement, with hard work, heart, and crazy doses of enthusiasm, they did it.
Talk about underdogs! I couldn’t believe we were going to compete in the Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, Rhode Island, the largest of its kind in the country, maybe the world. About 20,000 chowder lovers attend every year. And, in 20 years, no restaurant outside New England had ever won the prize.
BUT, WE DID! Three years in a row, we were named, “Nation’s Best Chowder.” After the third win, our New England Clam Chowder was retired from the competition and inducted into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall-of-Fame. In 2006 and 2009, we entered our Seafood Bisque and took another medal in the Seafood Division. In 2003, we opened Pike Place Chowder in Seattle’s world-famous Pike Place Market and another story began.