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Thanksgiving Turkeys at Bob's Quality Meats

Doris and Jim Ackley at Bob's Quality Meats, Seattle, October 2001. | RVHS: 2002.036.0185

by Mikala Woodward, Excerpted from Rainier Valley Food Stories Cookbook

Butchering seems to run in families. Jim Ackley, owner of Bob’s Quality Meats in Columbia City, took over the business from his father, Bob Ackley. Bob himself is a third generation meat man who owned a meat market in West Seattle for many years. Bob bought the Columbia City business in the early 1980s from the widow of Butch Nelson, whose father had opened Nelson’s Meat Market in that location in 1909. Which is all to say that the meat market roots at 4861 Rainier Ave are deep and wide, as are the stories.

When Bob moved his West Seattle meat market to Columbia City in 1981, he knew he would be serving a different population: more diverse, and less affluent. Bob reached out to African American customers by advertising in newspapers like The Facts and The Seattle Medium. His supplier warned him that his trademark high-quality meat, with its higher prices, might not sell well in his new neighborhood. “My supplier said for me to come over here and sell junk. I says, ‘I won’t do that. I’ve never done that. All I sell is the best I can buy.’ He says, ‘You won’t stay in business.’ I says, ‘I don’t believe that. These people deserve to have a good place to come buy decent meat, see.’ So that’s what I did.”

Bob did make some changes in his business: “I put out some Swedish potato sausage, [and people said,] ‘What’s that?’ they didn’t know what Swedish potato sausage was. ‘Okay, what do you like?’ ‘I like somethin’ that’s hot.’ So, I proceeded to develop sausages that were hot. I’d make a little a bit of sausage and I’d cook some and put it on the counter. And I kept doing that until I hear, ‘Boy, this is just right’ see.

“Then they said, ‘Well, you know, that’s beef.’ But there’s folks that likes a hot pork sausage, so we developed a hot pork sausage. I had some guy send me up some of it from Texas. And I thought, ‘Boy, [if] they buy that down there, their gonna love what I’m gonna fix them.’ So I made a real good sausage. We named it ‘Texas Hot’ and it’s hotter than a pistol. That went over very, very well. We started out with a nothing sausage business to virtually tons of it, see.”

Bob came to be known in the neighborhood for his willingness to go the extra mile, especially around the holidays. “[Thanksgiving is a] very busy time. I brought in some nice young turkeys, by order only. You couldn’t [just walk] in and buy a turkey. Although I always bought extra turkeys—there was two principals and three policemen and one or two college professors that had a memory worse than mine. And they would come in [on the day before Thanksgiving] and they absolutely expected that [there would be a turkey for them]. So I always made sure I had it for them. They’d come in, ‘I want to get a turkey, Bob.’ I knew what they wanted and I knew exactly what size they needed. I even had their names on them, see.”

Bob even sold fool-proof turkeys with a timer put in them. “We had a lot of young people, and both man and wife are working. Some of these lovely young ladies didn’t know how to cook. So, I got the finest turkey I could get, and we had a timer put into them. Then no matter how bad a cook you are, you can’t make a mistake on this, you see?” These days Bob’s son Jim is offering another Thanksgiving convenience: a smoked turkey, which just has to be heated up in the oven for an hour, and tastes wonderful.


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