The Pike Place Market, in so many ways a symbol of Seattle with its waterfront views, fish-forward reputation, and small business ethos, also serves as a de facto greeting ground for new immigrants, including, at one point, Sephardic Jews. Today’s Hmong flower vendors were yesterday’s Japanese produce salesmen, Sephardic fishmongers, and Italian shopkeepers, each group passing through the market leaving a lasting mark on that institution on their way to settling permanently in the area.
When the first Sephardic immigrants arrived in Seattle, they shared a language with the Greek fishermen, making the market a welcoming spot. In 1912, just five years after the market opened, Solomon Calvo opened one of the first Jewish-owned shops, Western Fish and Oyster Co. Letters home from the early immigrants encouraged more people to come, and they followed Calvo to the market, where they were welcomed.
For Jewish immigrants without much education, the market and its community connections offered an opportunity to get into a business that could support a family — a fish stand, a produce shop, or, as for Morris Tacher, restaurants.
Tacher’s Turkish Restaurant and, later, his Cozy Corner served as an informal gathering place for the Jews of Pike Place Market, a place they could find kosher shish kebabs, stuffed grape leaves, and Ladino conversation. In 2001, Sadis Filmworks — headed by Seattle Sephardic filmmaker Stephen Sadis — produced a documentary, The Sephardic Jews and the Pike Place Market, that called Tacher’s storefront a “secular synagogue,” because it was so central to Jewish life there. As the first generation of Sephardim raised families, though, their children received good educations and moved on to more skilled work. Today, there isn’t much Ladino spoken in the market, but a few Jewish vendors proudly continue the tradition of shop ownership in the market.
Four businesses in Pike Place Market still hold strong ties to the Jewish community
Rose Ann and Charles Finkel carry on Jewish tradition both in running a market shop and in brewing beer at The Pike Brewing Company, where visitors can also explore their Microbrewery Museum and learn how the six-pointed star once identified breweries the way the striped pole did barbers. Charles Finkel also says their Jewish roots encourage them to support charity, including the Market Foundation, the AJC, and the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.
Jack Levy, who grew up at his father’s market produce stand, promises that beyond baking rugelach and challah, any of his employees at Three Girls Bakery will leave knowing a few words of Ladino — but not the nice ones.
Sol Amon, like many immigrants, never got much formal education. But working at the market alongside his father at
Pure Food Fish helped him send nine descendants to college, including Carlee and Isaac, who now work alongside their grandfather.
A descendant of Solomon Calvo — one of Seattle’s first Sephardic Jews, who arrived in 1902 — still owns a shop in the market. Betty Halfon, who grew up in the market community, owns the tiny Sweetie’s Candy.