The celebrated butcher shop, Bob’s Quality Meats, has reopened after closing in July when a roof fire melted the ceiling and floors and forced customers to buy holiday meals elsewhere.
Bob’s Quality Meats was nearly empty, a new frozen-meat case without its steaks and honey-glazed hams. It was three weeks before Christmas, a make-or-break season for the Columbia City butcher shop, and employees were scrambling to get the store ready for the holidays.
“We have this need to open as soon as possible,” owner James Ackley said as his son, Abraham, cleaned the cooler at the front of the small shop. Families across Seattle have been buying Bob’s meats for decades, and after a roof fire closed the family-owned business in July, the pressure to reopen and fill Christmas orders was intense.
“To have missed Thanksgiving is tough already,” Abraham Ackley said. “To miss Christmas is like having a second fire. It’s not acceptable.”
Bob’s Meats financials
• Total fire loss: $310,000
• Business re-construction: $400,000 to $500,000
• Landmark grant: $200,000
Seattle Fire Department, 4Culture and the Ackleys
Bob’s Meats by the numbers
• Average amount of sausage made daily: 150 pounds
• Turkeys sold each Thanksgiving: 500
• Average weight of a turkey: 10.5 -12 pounds
• Hams sold each Christmas: at least 200
• Normal hours: 9 a.m. — 7 p.m. (closed Christmas Day)
— The Ackleys
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The store at 4861 Rainier Ave. S. started taking orders again earlier this month, though with a slightly modified menu. Last-minute building preparations cut time for smoking some of the store’s big meats, such as its popular fresh turkeys and hams.
“It’s good to have him back,” customer Mark Holtzen said of James Ackley. Holtzen has been buying meat at Bob’s for 10 years.
The meat shop sells hundreds of hams each Christmas season and more than 500 fresh turkeys each Thanksgiving. The store packages about 150 pounds of homemade sausage on an average day throughout the year, and at times, Bob’s offers more than 100 varieties of chicken, beef, sausage and pork.
The advertised selection runs the gamut, from unique delicacies such as pig hearts and oxtail, to the classics, such as drumsticks and rib-eye steak. Bob’s sells to downtown Seattle restaurants and across the country, continuing a long-running, meat-cutting tradition.
Joe Ackley, James Ackley’s grandfather, started the meat business more than a century ago when he sold meat off a wagon pulled by mules in the Yakima area. After the invention of refrigeration, he opened a shop in 1909 where his sons, including James Ackley’s father, Bob, helped prepare meat.
In 1963, Bob Ackley moved his family to Seattle and opened a shop in West Seattle. Then in the late 1970s, the Ackleys took over another family’s meat shop in Columbia City, where Bob’s continues today.
“I don’t think that many people get the opportunity to experience this kind of connection … with their neighborhood, particularly in an urban place that we in our family have always kind of known,” said Abraham Ackley, the shop’s current manager.
He was delivering orders July 2, a busy day before the Fourth of July, when a refrigerator compressor malfunctioned on the shop’s roof, sparking a two-alarm fire that melted the ceiling and walls. He arrived back at the store to find the road blocked and the fire roaring.
Bob’s famous smoked turkey recipe
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Pour ¾ cup of water or ¾ cup of beer in pan.
Place on rack. Place turkey in roasting pan and cover with lid.
Put in oven. Warm one hour.
— Bob’s Quality Meats
Because of the building’s location, and because it has not undergone significant change since it opened as a butcher shop more than 100 years ago, the building is considered historic, said Flo Lentz, a staff member for 4Culture, King County’s cultural-services agency. She leads the historic-preservation program.
And because of that status, the Ackleys qualified to receive a $200,000 grant to help cover repair costs through 4Culture’s Saving Landmarks program. The building overhaul from roof to floor cost $400,000 to $500,000, James Ackley said.
Bob’s down-home honey-glazed smoked ham for spiral sliced
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place ham, foil wrapped to a pan, in oven.
Heat ham 10 to 15 minutes per pound.
Refrigerate up to 6-8 days.
Freeze for about 6 weeks.
Thaw 24 hours in the refrigerator before heating.
—Bob’s Quality Meats
The six-month closure and stress from remodeling challenged the business, he said. But the headaches were never enough to consider a permanent closure.
“We’ve been around here for too long,” he said. “It’s not the kind of business you go into to get rich, it’s the kind of business you do because you really enjoy what you’re doing.”
His customers, he said, make the job worthwhile. This fall, they rallied behind the re-construction project and signed a petition for the Ackleys to include in their application for the Saving Landmarks grant. A review panel recommended that the meat shop and two other places receive money.
“Having served the public for over a 100 years, serving a huge customer base, a very diverse community down there in Columbia City, the public benefit was seen as very high,” Lentz said. “They actually scored the highest of all of the Saving Landmarks projects.”
For families who have been buying Bob’s Thanksgivings turkeys for generations, the closure over the holiday was rough.
After noticing some outcry, James Ackley took preorders and smoked about one-fourth of his usual amount, which customers picked up at his wife’s Hillman City business.
For customer Holtzen, the December opening comes just in time to maintain his family’s holiday tradition: Bob’s pork pan-sausage sandwiches for breakfast.
He said that over the years he’s gotten to know the Ackleys well — they’re known for telling stories, he said. During the temporary closure, it felt like there was a “hole” in Columbia City.
As customers celebrate the chance to buy the store’s popular meat bundles and delicatessen-style sides again, employees are celebrating for a different reason: the chance to be back selling behind the meat counter.
“I think you could probably put an army back here [before] Christmas and you could probably have your hands full,” Abraham Ackley said.