Altha’s Louisiana Cajun coming to Puyallup
When Altha’s Louisiana Cajun Seasonings & Spices expands to downtown Puyallup sometime this spring, visitors will find a one-stop shop for everything a home cook needs to make a dinner straight from the bayou. UPDATE: The Cajun grocery store has announced its opening in downtown Puyallup. It will open at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021. Grand opening event details are here.
Cajun seasonings, roux base, seafood boil ingredients, Crystal sauce, alligator meat, boudin, Andouille sausage, crawfish-stuffed chicken, cleaned crawfish tails, shrimp, po’ boy bread and so much more.
“Yes, we do everything from Louisiana,” said Louisiana native Reginald Robinson, who founded Altha’s in Kent five years ago. It’d take a half hour conversation to get through the entire list of everything Robinson stocks. They’re all ingredients he calls essential to what a Louisianan needs to recreate a real taste of home.
“We buy and sell everything from Louisiana. Our po’ boy bread, our mayonnaise, we bring everything here. We ship everything in. I get two 18-wheelers we bring up from Louisiana. We go through 8,000 pounds of catfish a month.”
Robinson, who was born in Washington Parish and grew up in St. Bernard Parish, stores his supplies in a warehouse in Kent and then stocks his Kent store and deli as needed. He’ll do the same for the Puyallup store, which he hopes to open in April (update: the store is opening Aug. 7, 2021). In the pandemic-era we’re currently navigating, that opening date is highly dependent on permit approvals. That timeline could change.
At first, the downtown Puyallup store, located at 116 S. Meridian, will be limited to groceries, wine, beer and food that can be prepared at home, but as with his Kent store, Robinson has his eye on expanding the concept as demand grows.
THE HISTORY OF ALTHA’S LOUISIANA CAJUN
Robinson is a one-man machine and a longtime business owner. He started his first business – a landscaping company – at age 17 while still living in Louisiana. He followed an aunt to the Seattle area, settling in Kent and raising a daughter (she’s a teacher in Georgia now). Robinson worked for a box manufacturing company, from which he retired recently after 30 years, while operating a janitorial company, which he still runs.
In 2016, he opened his first Altha’s, the store named after his late mother, as a tiny 200-ish square-feet space on 84th Avenue South in Kent. “I opened up that place with $5,000 in 2016 and you would be amazed how much we made that year,” said Robinson, who said he discovered there’s a broad community of southern ex-pats here in dire need of cooking staples from home.
He outgrew that Kent space fast. “It was six months, and we grew out of that. We opened up the new store and a year and a half later, we took the wall out. I put a full kitchen in there and we opened up a little restaurant,” he said. His Kent restaurant serves the same etouffee he sells frozen in his grocery cases, as well as a wide range of Louisiana classics: fried catfish, po’ boy sandwiches, breaded okra, hush puppies and much more. He has another plan to expand once again in Kent. He intends to take over the other side of his current Kent space. He’ll build out a stage and offer family-friendly music and live entertainment (when restrictions allow for larger gatherings).
“We’ll have live music, even in the daytime. We want people to listen to blues, jazz and zydeco. We’re going to call it Altha’s Family Reunion,” Robinson said.
Does he envision the same expansion plan and timeline for the downtown Puyallup location? Eventually yes. He certainly has the space and he has the motivation to scale his business up. The Puyallup location has more than 2,000 square feet.
STORE PARTICULARS IN PUYALLUP
The Puyallup store will hold a wall of glass-door, reach-in freezers filled with ingredients that are ready-to-heat foods or ingredients for making Louisiana favorites, such as a crawfish boil or etouffee. There will be a sizable section of wine in another section. Robinson said he intends to sell wines that are popular in Louisiana and are easy to pair with the assertive Cajun flavors of the bayou.
Robinson also will stock all kinds of dry goods, such as dried beans and all the fixings for gumbo. Want authentic Louisiana sauces and spices? He’ll have those in abundant supply.
His specialty, he said, is focusing on very specific regional Louisiana brands difficult to source in the Pacific Northwest.
“And that’s the key for us,” he said. “The key is to be different. If Fred Meyer is selling something for Louisiana cooking, we stay away from it. We specialize in the things you can’t find here. My distributors that I deal with in the south, that’s where you get the best flavors and seasonings,” he said.
DOWNTOWN PUYALLUP, AN EPICENTER FOR CAJUN FOOD (AGAIN)
Puyallup is well on its way now to becoming the center of bayou dining for Pierce County, mostly because there’s just not much competition across the county. Altha’s will join Pierce County’s only restaurant with a broad menu of Cajun eating: Bourbon Street Creole Kitchen and Bar, which opened in downtown Puyallup in December 2013. Mike de Alwis, who operates the restaurant with his children, operates the restaurant at 401 S. Meridian, about three blocks away.
Fun fact old timers will recall: The regionally famous – and long gone – Louisiana-themed restaurant From the Bayou briefly had a second location in downtown Puyallup where Giorgio’s now operates. That restaurant operated for an eye blink from 2005 to 2006. The original From The Bayou operated in Parkland from 1998 until 2007 when it was sold. (Find Ben Marcus, a member of the Marcus family that operated From the Bayou with Kevin Roy, cooking these days at Doyle’s Public House in downtown Tacoma. And, yes, he does sometimes put From the Bayou favorites on his menu).
In the last 20 years, there only have been a few other Louisiana-themed restaurants in Pierce County. Blandon Dillon operated Creole Cafe for a decade in Parkland before he passed away in 2010 (that location now holds the Alsatian restaurant Citron European Bistro). And here’s another throwback fact with a Puyallup connection: The original Creole Cafe operated in South Hill from 1994 until it had a fire and relocated to Parkland in 1999. And Parkland also has hosted other Cajun restaurants over the years. Madea’s Cajun Cafe operated next to PLU for a short time in 2012.
One area of Louisiana-style eating that has grown in the region is our collection of seafood boil restaurants. We’ve grown from one to four boil restaurants in the last five years. Check out this story I wrote about 2021 Mardi Gras offerings to find a full list of seafood boil restaurants in Pierce County. They’re located in Puyallup, Tacoma and Lakewood.
ALTHA’S LOUISIANA CAJUN SEASONINGS & SPICES
Puyallup location: 116 S. Meridian, Suite A
Kent location: 201 E Meeker St.