A Sephardic link to Seattle’s Pike Place Market

Pure Food Fish Market spans four generations, now including Sol Amon’s adult grandchildren.

Grandson Isaac Behar at the market. (George Medovoy) (photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
Grandson Isaac Behar at the market. (George Medovoy)
(photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
SEATTLE – Sol “Solly” Amon, the proprietor of Pure Food Fish Market at Pike Place, has a simple, proven recipe for success: “Give people their money’s worth.”
The 89-year-old Amon has been selling fish here since he was 15, working with his late father, Jack Amon, one of the many Jewish immigrants from Turkey and Rhodes who settled in Seattle and established businesses at the bustling Pike Place Market on the city’s waterfront. Jack Amon arrived here from Turkey in 1911 and set up a fish stand at the market.
Pure Food Fish Market spans four generations, now including Sol Amon’s adult grandchildren, Isaac and Carlee. On the shop’s website, www.freshseafood.com, Amon’s role is described somewhat tongue-in-cheek after the title of a famous movie: “The Cod Father.”
Amon remembers that in the early years, selling fish “was kind of a tough business.”
“There was plenty of fish around,” he says, “but the thing that really changed the whole dynamic… is that the doctors got on our side and told us that fish is really good for your heart. That’s when it really started picking up a little bit more, you know. That was in the mid-sixties.”
Meanwhile, the early members of the Sephardic Jewish community all knew each other. “It wasn’t a big Jewish community,” Amon recalls. “We all lived in the same area and all went to the same public schools… and Hebrew schools.”
Pike Place Market welcomes at least 10 million visitors a year, and Amon describes it as “a conglomerate of different cultures and different people from all over the world.” They can start a small business and “little by little” watch it grow, just like Starbucks, which began at Pike Place – and whose original store is still open and attracts many curious visitors.
I interviewed Amon over the phone because I had unfortunately missed him on my trip to Seattle.
But I did meet his 27-year-old grandson, Isaac, when I walked into the bustling shop. Isaac told me that he started working in the business when he was 12, and although he graduated from college with a culinary certificate, he decided to return to the shop and has been there ever since.
“It’s noisy, busy and vibrant and very full of energy,” says Isaac, who also speaks some Ladino, the language of Sephardic Jews.
Wearing a white apron, he describes a large inventory of fish: “I’ve got salmon, halibut, king crab’s a big seller. Smoked salmon, we’ve been famous for it for many, many years, Copper River’s in season right now… “We get swordfish out of Hawaii. Every once in a while we get opa, which is a big moonfish out of Hawaii as well. We carry Chilean sea bass, which is out of Chile. It’s actually known as Patagonian toothfish nowadays. It’s the same thing as Chilean sea bass – very fatty and rich in omega 3 oils.”
About 30% of the fish is locally caught, with 60% out of Alaska and the other 10% from around the world.
The shop’s website also features an interesting fish blog with cooking advice, of course, like “3 Tips to Grill Fish.”
One of the Sephardic community’s own sons has also created a documentary film about Seattle’s Sephardic Jews called “The Sephardic Jews of the Pike Place Market,” available at www.sadisfilmworks.com.
“My goal,” says Seattle filmmaker Stephen Sadis,“was to take a look at how Sephardic Jews came to Seattle, why they came, and how they thrived. Pike Place Market was central to that…” The beginnings of the Jewish community here, he notes, was based on a Greek shipping person returning to Rhodes and spreading the word about Seattle.
Sadis’s own family goes back many generations in the city. His grandmother was from Turkey, and the rest of his family came from Rhodes. His great-grandfather, Haim DeLeon, was the first cantor of Seattle’s Ezra Bessaroth synagogue, and his other great-grandfather, Solomon Alhadeff, was the first president of Bikur Cholim synagogue.
The four-block Pike Place Market, which overlooks the waterfront between 1st and Western Avenues, is the real thing – a place where Seattle shoppers can feel right at home, like LePanier, for example, where you can sit down and enjoy a croissant and a cup of coffee.
This traditional French bakery is run by Kristi Drake and her French business partner, Thierry Mougin, who is originally from Normandy and trained as a baker before coming to the US in his early twenties.
On my recent visit, there was a line out the door, so popular is the bakery, but it was well worth the wait because I purchased a deliciously- rich almond croissant so good that it reminded me of the pastries I’ve enjoyed in Paris.
ON MY recent visit, Pike Place was brimming with people. As I slowly made my way through the crowds, I saw vegetable vendors, fresh flowers sold by Hmong immigrants, hand-crafted beers, breads of every variety, arts and crafts, international restaurants, cafes and food bars, wind-up toys, and vintage clothing stalls.
The original objective of Pike Place Market is still proclaimed in big letters above the entrance: MEET THE PRODUCER, recalling the beginnings of the market in 1907, when shoppers could personally interact with farmers and merchants.
Over the years, Pike Place Market has developed into what Sol Amon calls “a happening…” “It’s like going to the circus,” he says, “there’s a lot of action.”
As an out-of-town visitor to Seattle, I also discovered the chic Kimpton Hotel Monaco at 1101 Fourth Avenue in the heart of the city and across the street from the architecturally-magnificent Seattle Public Library.
The walk from the hotel to Pike Place covered about half a mile. I made my way down 4th Avenue, and when I got to Union Street, I turned down towards the harbor and the market.
The Monaco’s contemporary, jazzy design is clearly evident everywhere you look, and in the first-floor lobby near the fireplace, the hotel offers afternoon wine tasting with comfortable couches where you can meet other guests and compare travel notes.
Near the front desk were bikes available for a street-level view of downtown Seattle with this invitation: ‘TAKE ME, I’M YOURS.’ And as if this isn’t enough, the Monaco also offers a yoga mat in every room free of charge! Meanwhile, the hotel’s Outlier restaurant is where executive chef Shawn Applin cooks tasty, rustic fare. Some examples are beet-cured wild salmon, whole rockfish bo ssam, potato pierogis with braised pork sugo, brick oven pizzas, and more. Before heading out the door to explore Pike Place Market and more of Seattle, you can also start your day here with a nice big breakfast.
The restaurant’s bar area contains design elements through beer cans and beer caps. A mural of Jimi Hendrix made out of beer caps complements the bar counter surface, inspired and designed by Julie Coyle Art Associates using recycled bottle caps from Washington state breweries. A custom wall is also designed from local beer cans and becomes an image of the 12th man – a reference to the Seattle Seahawks. At the end of the day, it’s all very Seattle.