Ivar Haglund was not a serious guy. Astute businessman, yes, as his successful chain of restaurants attests. But serious? "Keep clam," he said, and that's still the company motto...

Share story

MUKILTEO — Ivar Haglund was not a serious guy. Astute businessman, yes, as his successful chain of restaurants attests. But serious? “Keep clam,” he said, and that’s still the company motto.

From jokes about dainty seagulls and place mats emblazoned with songs about the joys of being surrounded by acres of clams, the restaurateur often took a whimsical view of life.

Thus, it’s no surprise that a building under construction in Mukilteo has a sign that reads: “Ivar’s Secret Chowder Plant.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

The building in the 11700 block of Cyrus Way, which will house Ivar’s chowder production, is 15,000 square feet. Two stories tall. Secret?

The sign could have announced Ivar’s arrival in the area more mundanely, but that’s not the company’s style.

For instance, when Bob Donegan, Ivar’s president, details the company’s output, he explains that if all the chowder produced in 2003 were put in 8-ounce cups, the stack would be 14 times higher than Mount Rainier.

Or, since this is Mukilteo, next to the home of Boeing’s 777 jetliner, the chowder would fill seven 777s.


1938 on the Seattle waterfront

65 restaurants and about 10,000 places where its chowder is sold, including in China, Japan and Mexico

About 850 full time, 1,200 during the summer

About $50 million annually

Believe it or not:
Ivar’s has one out-of-state location, in a shopping mall in Northern California. Chowder sales there weren’t doing well until Ivar’s raised the price. “Now we can’t keep it in stock,” said company President Bob Donegan.

Ivar’s jingle:
Taken from “The Old Settler’s Song,” it goes:

No longer the slave of ambition,

I laugh at the world and its shams.

As I think of my happy condition

Surrounded by acres of clams.

Ivar’s Songbook:
Includes “Hark, Hark, the Shark,” “Run, Clam, Run” and “All Hail the Halibut,” which contains perhaps the most-inspired ode ever written about a flat fish: “Bake it, boil it, fry it, any way you try it, it’s a gastronomical riot.”

By March, such superlatives are likely to become more a part of the Mukilteo environment as the secret chowder factory opens along the Mukilteo Speedway.

Ivar’s chowder used to be made at Seattle’s Pier 54, where Ivar’s Acres of Clams got its beginning in 1938.

Production moved in 1978 to Terry Avenue and Republican Street in Seattle, which a few years ago wound up in the sights of Paul Allen. The Microsoft co-founder bought the chowder-plant property to further his vision for the South Lake Union area.

“I guess making chowder is not high among his biotech interests,” Donegan said.

He hopes the new plant will open March 21, which would be fitting. Haglund, who died in 1985, would have been 100 on that date.

The production lines at the new plant will include a hot-tub-size soup kettle and refrigeration gear that will take the chowder from 190 degrees to 40 degrees in about two minutes. There also will be a production line for a new brand, Spirit Bay Soups, which — no joke — will be made without seafood.

Would that have Ivar rolling in his clam shell?

Products made at the factory will go to 65 Ivar’s locations and thousands of other restaurants and sales outlets around the world.

When the plant opens, Donegan says, Ivar’s will hold a press conference, although it’ll naturally be more than that — it’ll be the “first international rogue wave and prodigal carp press conference.” Part of that name comes from a wooden carp that was washed away in the 2003 storm that severely damaged Ivar’s waterfront restaurant in Mukilteo but was later recovered.

When talking about clam chowder, a question naturally arises: Where exactly does Ivar’s get its clams? Which Northwest delicacies does it use?

The answer may be a startling disclosure to generations of Ivar’s chowder fans.

Donegan’s voice drops to a whisper. Half of the clams, he says, come from the East Coast, the other half from Nova Scotia.

“West Coast clams are too tough,” he says.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or pwhitely@seattletimes.com