from “West Seattle 101” by Lori Hinton
Anyone who’s lived in West Seattle from 1932 on knows about the dreamy, ice-creamy charm of Husky Deli. Whether it’s the mountainous scoop of Husky Flake that’s part of every local kid’s childhood or the Reuben on Dark Rye that the business crowd craves for lunch, the offerings are as authentic as the staff — and smiling proprietor Jack Miller. (Below, a WSB video clip from December 2007, when he lit the community Christmas Tree.)
But what you might not know about this neighborhood icon is that it helped the community survive through tough times while West Seattle’s sweet tooth, in turn, kept Husky alive.
According to Jack Miller, the family-run business began when his grandfather Herman Miller, an Indiana cattle breeder, moved from Eastern Washington to Seattle to sell Kelvinator commercial refrigerators in the mid-’20s. Soon after, the then-Edgewood Farms Grocery store in West Seattle was up for sale. Miller bought the business in 1932, immediately purchased a Mills ice cream machine and began making homemade ice cream in the store’s front window for all to see. (See historic photos on the Husky website.)
His store soon became known for a neighborhood treat — the “Husky,” made of a giant scoop of ice cream dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts. He signed a contract to sell his Huskies to public school lunch programs, which kept his business going through the Depression. In turn, to serve his customers during these hard times, Miller let them run a tab if they could not afford to pay for their groceries. Embraced by the community, this act of kindness made for many loyal customers, while the schoolkids’ love for ice cream kept Miller’s business churning.
In 1937, Miller changed the name of the store to Husky and trademarked the ice cream. (Here’s a flavor guide on the Husky website, with the catering prices.) The store became a soda fountain until Miller’s sons returned from the war, when he converted it to the deli it is today.
“We had a lot of Europeans living in the community,” explains Jack Miller. “As time went on, we became a deli that catered to the customers’ requests. We carried things you couldn’t find anywhere else.”
And Husky, the international deli, was born.
But with the world shrinking, many grocery stores now carry these same goods. Still, nothing can replace Husky’s commitment to the community. According to Jack, “ice cream still saves the day.”
The place where West Seattleites bought their staples during war times and the Depression, continues to build a loyal following.
“It’s a treat to have always been here,” beams Jack. “When kids we once knew go away and come back years later, they’re excited we remember them and know their names. And even though a lot has changed, we’re still the same. It’s a family-run business and always will be — with 24 grandkids coming up, eight of which who already work here.”
A lifelong gathering place, Husky’s tie to the community, like their ice cream, is frozen in time. So if you’re looking for local history and a heaping cone of homemade ice cream, stop by Husky Deli for the best scoop in town.
(WSB postscript: Husky Deli celebrated its 75th anniversary with an open house in November 2007; see our video coverage here.)
What: Husky Deli
Where: 4721 California Avenue SW (west side of the street, between Alaska and Edmunds), 206/937-2810
Find more “West Seattle 101” stories on WSB by going here.