Across the Map: Bite into History at Market House Corned Beef
A downtown Seattle company has been selling corned beef and other deli meats in the same location for nearly 75 years, first offering their products when President Harry Truman was in the White House.
Market House Corned Beef is on Howell Street off Interstate 5, one block from Stewart Street, and not far from that odd “short track” southbound from the freeway on-ramp, on the corner of Howell and Minor.
For at least the past 40 years, the exterior of the business has looked like something from another era, and the quirky look has become even more pronounced as this part of Seattle has seen more and more demolition and redevelopment. Some people – including a certain radio historian – who remember walking past Market House in the 1980s were certain it had disappeared 20 years ago. These same people were pleasantly surprised when photos – current photos of the venue, open for business – were recently posted on social media.
When founded by brothers Mike and Sam Akrish shortly after World War II, the company was originally called Market House Meats and operated as a purveyor of kosher style cured meats – corned -beef and pastrami – at all kinds of restaurants. and hotels, as well as individuals. They still sell at local places like Daniel’s Broiler, Tom Douglas, Canlis, and have expanded into grocery chains. They also regularly ship orders to various customers in other parts of the United States. About 20 years ago, Market House also started selling sandwiches.
The move came after the next generation of the Akrish family sold the business in 2005 to a man named Vic Embry, whom the Seattle Post-Intelligencer credits with introducing the sandwich business to what had was, essentially, a specialty meat retail and wholesale store. This sandwich business has spread.
So in 2015 Embry sold Market House to Mazen Mahmoud.
Mahmoud is in his sixties and originally from Jordan. He came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington in 1980 where he earned an engineering degree. He worked for many years in the restaurant industry and operated several restaurants. Mahmoud says he had big plans to make serious changes at Market House Corned Beef when he bought the business seven years ago.
“When I first bought the store here, maybe the idea was, ‘Okay, let’s go, let’s see, you know,’ because I had restaurant experience,” said Mahmoud told KIRO Newsradio, as he sat for a moment in the market. The dining room at House Corned Beef, after completing a busy checkout. “And I said to my wife, we’ll buy it and change it. It’s a nice location.
But then Mahmoud got to work and got a chance to see firsthand how Market Place Corned Beef really worked and better appreciate its true value as a local business and institution.
“After two months, I said, ‘You know, why [change anything]? It’s history here, and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Mahmoud said.
Seven years later, Mahmoud has no regrets about abandoning those plans to make big changes.
“It’s going strong and I’m happy,” Mahmoud said. “It was one of the best decisions I made was to buy this location and keep it as is.”
Another thing Mazen Mahmoud didn’t change was Market House’s secret recipe — or procedures, really — for making corned beef. And what sets corned beef apart from other meats or other ways of preparing beef?
“It’s how you pickle it and how you process it, and the spices you add to it,” Mahmoud told KIRO Newsradio. “You start with the brisket, then you make the brine. There are about seven ingredients that go into its composition. So you inject it and let it harden in the cooler for about three [to] four days.”
“And then after that,” Mahmoud continued, “you take it out and you cook it, then you take the fat off. And we let it cool overnight in the cooler. cold, then it goes on the grill whenever someone orders.
The secret recipes and techniques, Mahmoud says, live in a locked filing cabinet in a place in Market House called the “Spice Room.” And sure enough, he walked through the restaurant, unlocked a door, then showed the spice room and its filing cabinet, which looks like something out of the Cold War-era Pentagon.
Not changing anything was a wise and (in 21st century Seattle) very unusual decision by Mazen Mahmoud, mainly because Market House’s charm – as well as the tasty food – comes from the fact that the interior is like a museum: simple, no frills, no irony, authentic. Like a dining establishment that you might see in a much older American city like Boston or Baltimore.
Other long-time business owners or recent buyers of Seattle-area institutions would do well to also consider this “why change anything?” option before automatically calling on the brand’s renovators and/or consultants.
In the meantime, for those with a taste for charcuterie and a love for a Seattle of a bygone era, Market House Corned Beef is truly a place to immerse yourself in local history.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
The Market House Corned Beef is located at 1124 Howell Street in downtown Seattle and is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him hereand subscribe to The Resident Historian podcasthere. If you have a story idea or questions, please email Felikshere.