Influential Seattle restaurant consultant Jon Rowley has died at age 74.
Update, 12:45 p.m. Oct. 5, 2017: Read a full obituary of Jon Rowley here.
Influential Seattle food marketer and restaurant consultant Jon Rowley died Tuesday of kidney failure at his home on Vashon Island, surrounded by loved ones. He was 74.
Mr. Rowley, a Northwest native, was a tenacious tastemaker — a champion of the Olympia oyster and early proponent of Copper River salmon. For decades, he helped make and shape Seattle’s reputation as a food destination, while earning his own reputation as a culinary evangelist nationwide.
In 2008, Seattle restaurateur Peter Lewis wrote a profile of Mr. Rowley for The Seattle Times’ Sunday magazine, Pacific NW. It contained this passage about Mr. Rowley’s introduction of Copper River salmon to Seattle:
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ASK ANYONE IN Seattle about Rowley, and the first thing they mention is Copper River salmon. Rowley had met some fishermen from Alaska’s Copper River at Fish Expo in 1982. They had small boats and no refrigeration. They would fish for two or three days, then offload to tenders that took the salmon to coastal canneries where the fish were put on conveyors. Rowley, who considers Copper River king the best salmon in the world, thought this tantamount to criminal activity.
The fishermen complained about poor prices but had no idea how to improve their situation. Rowley realized that if he could persuade them to handle the fish properly on the boat — to bleed, clean and ice the fish in its pristine state — these fishermen might have a brilliant future.
In October over dinner at McCormick’s Fish House they had said, “We can’t do it.” By the following March, they called back: “We think we’d like to give it a try.”
Rowley had them load 300 pounds of Copper River king on Alaska Airlines with the first spring run of the 1983 season. He met the fish in Seattle and took them around to his restaurants.
“It was pretty clear to everybody that something was going on,” he recalls. Wayne Ludvigsen, then chef at Ray’s Boathouse, took his hand and rubbed it on the first Copper River king he had ever seen. His fingers came away covered with red oil.
The customers went crazy.
But Copper River salmon wasn’t the only product Rowley introduced in 1983. He had read about Olympia oysters, the tiny bivalves indigenous to the Olympic Peninsula and the only oyster native to the Pacific Northwest. No one had seen Olympias served on the half shell in recent memory. They all ended up in jars. Once again Rowley went to ground, heading to the peninsula where they were reputed to be grown, and started knocking on doors. He reintroduced Olys at an event at Ray’s, and soon they were everywhere.
“1983,” Rowley recalls with a wry smile, “was a big year.”
Read an obituary by former Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson.