By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Saturday is the busiest day of the holiday season in West Seattle.
Why fix your own breakfast when somebody else is ready to cook for you, with the (low) price you pay achieving more than simply filling your belly?
Any time between 7 and 11 am Saturday, you can walk into the Alki Masonic Center in The Junction, sit down, and enjoy fresh-made pancakes (secret recipe!), ham (not just ANY ham – more on that later), and more. Beverage included! If you pay in advance – online – it’s only $8, though even the at-the-door price of $10 is a deal. Kids under 10 accompanying a paying adult get to eat free and get a photo with Santa Claus, too.
This is all thanks to the Kiwanis Club of West Seattle. It’s not only a bargain breakfast, but one with a backstory – three-quarters of a century worth. Looking ahead to this year’s breakfast, we talked with the club’s historian Denis Sapiro. He’s the “default” historian, he explained, now that he’s been a member for 40+ years.
We talked about logistics too – breakfast for hundreds over the course of four hours. But in some parts of the country, he notes, there are pancake breakfasts serving thousands! (Rodeo days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, among them.)
Here in West Seattle, the Kiwanis pancake breakfast is a tradition for kicking off the heart of holiday-shopping season in The Junction (lately, the shopping starts much earlier, but this is still a huge day of event, including the Junction Tree Lighting). It’s changed venues over the decades. The Masonic Center (which has a big room that’s a popular event venue, with a sizable parking lot) is just the latest in a long line. One past venue was on the second floor of the old Hancock Fabrics store, part of what used to be on the 39th/Alaska site that holds Spruce (LA Fitness plus apartments) now. Another past venue was at the time home to the West Seattle YWCA, just south of the Masonic Center, current home to Origins Cannabis. “People would line up even in the rain and snow,” and Kiwanians took hot coffee around while breakfastgoers waited patiently to get in.
While attendance is lower, the fundraising – which benefits programs such as the Kiwanis-sponsored high-school Key Clubs – is higher. That includes money raised through sponsorships offered to local businesses/organizations. (Again this year, community sponsors include WSB.)
Selling advance breakfast tickets is a weeks-long activity. Along with the online sales, you can buy discount tickets from club members on several Sundays – you’ve probably seen their hot-coffee booth at the south end of the West Seattle Farmers’ Market. In years past, some members have been star sellers – Denis will tell you the story of Oscar “who used to walk the streets and go into every business and sell tickets, he could sell a thousand!”
Along with fundraising, the pancake breakfast is also a toy drive – bring new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots. The Kiwanis added it more than a decade ago “because people want to give more than the cost.” They also offer a few tables in the room to nonprofits; the now-defunct West Seattle Hi-Yu used to be there each year, selling Christmas ornaments. This year, you’ll have an opportunity to meet West Seattle Timebank members.
The volunteers who help make it happen include Boy Scouts as well as Kiwanis and Key Club members – the students helped by Kiwanians, giving back. Though Kiwanis is part of a larger, worldwide organization, Denis explains, “we really can quickly change our focus to the need of the community as our members see it … we can get projects from the parent organization but can also do our own thing. We decided working with the high-school kids was really important.”
Now to the logistics: “Because we’ve been doing it for so long, we have a well-organized method,” Denis explains. Two longtime members do the shopping, once they’ve estimated the turnout. The pancake recipe is secret (though we’re told it involves Krusteaz mix), and they use two pancake-batter dispensers made in White Center by a company that sells them all over the world, Food Equipment Design (read about its co-founder Yvonne Belshaw here).
About the ham – it’s from Husky Deli! Though that business’s always-big holiday open house is the night before, Denis says, Jack Miller himself warms and slices it for them by 6:30 am so it’s “ready for us to pick up and take down” to the breakfast site.
They serve breakfast with “real” plates and silverware, so this is a more sustainable event than you might expect. And thanks to the volunteers, there’s table service; it’s NOT a buffet-type setup. But getting to work in the kitchen is the prized duty that morning – “always competitive,” says Denis. “It’s fun to be there cooking with your buddies.”
That includes former club members who come back just to help out with this special event.
So special, Santa himself has been part of it since the 1980s, when they had to use Polaroid cameras for instant photos, in the pre-smartphone days.
Ready to buy your ticket? Scroll down this page. Then just show up at 4736 40th SW between 7 and 11 am on Saturday (December 7th) and enjoy breakfast, knowing you’ve just become part of a longtime West Seattle tradition.