Eat, Drink and Be Happy!
The Polet Family
This article is based on oral history interviews with Bill Ferrari, Lucy Polet Brusha, Douglas Chiechi, and Vincent “Buster” LaSalle, all descendants of Gaetano and Pasqualina Polet, as well as John Croce.
Gaetano and Pasqualina Polet came from southern Italy in the 1890s with five children; five more were born in Seattle. In short order, they purchased five acres of land and a house at 25th and Atlantic Street, where the I-90 lid is now, with the grand front entrance of Colman School plainly in sight. Louie Polet, their second son, and his siblings were raised in the neighborhood that became known as Garlic Gulch.
The Polets were a self-reliant, resourceful family, and they soon prospered. In 1913 the family opened a succession of small shops, notably Polet’s Meat Market & Grocery at 1352 Rainier Avenue. The shop became known as the Atlantic Street Grocery next to Tony LaSalle’s shoe repair and Frank Orrico’s barbershop.
One side of the store sold grocery staples, including imported Italian olive oil, anchovies, and Romano cheese. Vincent LaSalle recalled, “My grandma [Pasqualina] used to have a big garden. She raised garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes and round the edge of the garden there was a big fence. And in that fence was raspberries and oh man!” There were also pears, cherries, and one big Italian prune tree. Any harvest surplus was sold at the family store along with the commercially canned goods and Gai’s bread which was delivered daily.
On the other side was a meat market, early on advertising Fresh Italian, French and German sausage. Over the years, a number of men worked as meatcutter: Louie Polet, Alphonse Polet, Bill DeCaro, and George Ferrari who later operated the York Grocery. Vincent LaSalle remembered with relish the fifty-gallon barrel of pickled pig feet in the walk-in icebox.
By December of 1932, Louie Polet had ventured out of Garlic Gulch and was managing Empire Grocery & Meats at 6507 Empire Way, the first of three businesses he would start within a block of each other. His family lived just to the rear on Morgan Street.
In the mid 1930s Louie’s Café, a “beer parlor,” debuted. Customers could order Spiced Wine for 20¢ or Bemco’s Brewery Fresh Beer along with their food. The Rainier Business Men’s Club met at the cafe to discuss street lighting, sewers, and crosswalks and to hear presentations on “Advertising for the Business Man” or “Retail Credit.” Seattle’s Mayor Arthur B. Langlie, the future governor, was invited to speak to the group in 1939.
By 1940 Louie and his wife Violet were offering diners Spaghetti and Ravioli, Italian Meat Balls, Italian Prawns, Polet’s Chicken a la Casserole, and Hot Garlic Bread at Polet’s Italian Dinners. It was one of Seattle’s first family‑style Italian restaurants – red and white checkered tablecloths, breadsticks, antipasto and all.
Their daughters Charlotte and Dorothy and granddaughter Lucy worked making the raviolis and meatballs, cleaning the chickens (oh, the cold water!), and grilling the garlic bread along with waitressing, hostessing and cashiering. Even Violet’s mother, Emma Bristow, chipped in, spending many an hour peeling garlic for the restaurant.
Lucy Brusha remembers “my aunt Charlotte, who was a waitress, on Sundays in those days you couldn’t have alcohol, I believe, so her favorite customers including my husband would come and she would bring them a coffee cup and a saucer and would say ‘here’s your coffee,’ but it wasn’t coffee, it was wine.”
After Louie passed away in 1949, Violet Polet kept the restaurant operating until the mid 1960s when she sold the business.
The Atlantic Street Grocery was owned and operated by John Croce’s family between 1946 and 1954. John recalls: “During that time they built a freeway and everything else and isolated our store into a little island. You had to cross three sets of lights to get to us, and access to the store was very limited. They starved us to death!”
While neither the Atlantic Street Grocery nor Polet’s Italian Dinners exist any longer, the family is still going strong. The Polet Family Association was established in 1934 to provide funds for the educational pursuits of talented family members. Each year the association organizes a family Christmas party. With about 150 people expected this year, the celebration will be held at Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church where the stained glass window dedicated to the Gaetano Polet Family in 1915 remains to this day as a reminder of the family’s early days in Garlic Gulch.
-- Nancy Dulaney
Louie’s Café was located at 6501 38th Avenue South, just off of Empire Way, in the 1930s and was operated by Louie Polet (second from left) and family. Louie’s slogan, “Eat, Drink & Be Happy,” is posted above the bar. Photo courtesy of Lucy Polet Brusha.
For more photos of the Polet family, please see our slide show Remembering Garlic Gulch.