Cajun Spices d’Altha opens Louisiana store in Puyallup
The line in front of Altha’s Cajun Spices, then a 200-square-foot storefront in Kent, meandered around three blocks when it opened in 2017, with impatient customers waiting in the pouring rain to stock their pantry with ingredients. Cajuns and Creoles imported from the South. Owner Reginald Robinson expects a similar spectacle this Saturday, August 7, when his second store opens, filled with a live marching band and a second line dancing.
The new Altha’s, located at 116 S. Meridian in Puyallup, opens at 10 a.m., but arrive early to get one of the few hundred free umbrellas to parade in New Orleans style.
“We’re bringing energy,” said Robinson this week, who, a few months after opening his Kent operation, expanded and added in 2019 a restaurant serving po ‘boys and baskets of fried catfish. “Nothing compares to anything you will see. “
As we spoke, no less than five people walked through the open door, curiosity sparkling in their eyes. What’s in all these coolers? Oh, you know: Patten’s beef patties; sausage from Poche’s, Bryant’s, Conecuh, Lil Butcher Shoppe; alligator tails and Gulf shrimp; several types of sausage balls; meat pies and bags of cabbage; jars of frozen okra and jambalaya, just add rice.
Robinson greeted them with a gracious welcome, explaining that the shop would open on Saturday but please look around!
“It feels right at home,” he said of his incredible collection of products and ingredients essential for Creole and Cajun cuisine. “I try to keep it as authentic as possible.”
The Puyallup store beats the original Kent location in size, and Robinson still has room to expand the shelves in the back. For starters, the options already seem endless.
Coolers flank every wall, stuffed with meats, greens and favorite ready-to-eat dishes. In the middle, shelves have been covered from top to bottom with spices, hot sauce, Duke’s and Blue Plate mayonnaise, cans of Blue Runner beans, okra base, Cajun spaghetti sauce, Steen molasses and pure cane syrup. There are over a dozen brands of crab boil seasoning, including a 4.5-pound jar of Zatarain – for those who already know what they’re doing, Robinson joked.
Almost everything in the store is imported from the South, most of Louisiana. Look for the state symbol on the side of the package, guaranteeing that it is “Louisiana Certified” by the state Department of Agriculture.
Whether you’re from the South, have visited, or just care about this bustling part of the United States, said Robinson, Altha’s has something for everyone.
“The food is amazing. The music is awesome. We want to bring that love, that feeling, that music that you feel in the South. You feel this love, even though you haven’t been to Louisiana.
Now in his 50s, Robinson first traveled to the Pacific Northwest with his mother, Altha, as a teenager. His aunt lived here, but most of his family – he has 13 siblings – were rooted in Louisiana. He returned home to Franklinton, in the northeast corner of the Boot, for about six months, during which time he sold his landscaping business and packed for his move to the Seattle area. For 30 years he worked for a Kent-based packaging manufacturer, and in the mid-2000s he started a janitorial business.
Altha started right before his retirement just under three years ago.
“There’s no one in Washington like us – we’re the only ones who strictly serve Southern produce,” he said of the retail offerings, right down to WoW Wee tartar sauce, the mayonnaise on the Kentish kitchen’s po ‘boy, and bread, flown twice a week from Gambino’s Bakery to Metairie. Of course, there are a handful of southern and Cajun restaurants in the area, including Bourbon Street Creole Kitchen, just a five-minute walk south of Meridian.
When chatting with other born and raised Southerners, what they lacked most was food, Robinson recalls. They were exchanging stories of phone calls with relatives, asking them to ship this or that. When they visited, they brought an extra suitcase.
He estimates that he fills two semi-trucks almost every week; it holds an overflow of dry and frozen goods in a warehouse to fill the stores and operates de facto as a food wholesaler from the south to the northwest, selling to a few restaurants. During our visit, he received a call from a woman looking for catfish to feed a few hundred people at a religious gathering.
Most of its staff, by gravitational pull, is from the South. “You have to have southern hospitality – they don’t sell it in the sacks over there! ” he’s laughing.
Prepare to be amazed by the breadth and uniqueness of the products at Altha, where Robinson’s mother always watches him – and his customers – from a board above the ledger.
ALTHA’S LOUISIANE CAJUN – PUYALLUP
▪ 116, rue Meridian, Puyallup, althascajunspices.com, facebook.com/althaslouisianacajunseasoning
▪ Monday-Saturday 10 am-7pm, Sunday 12 pm-5pm
▪ Details: Southern grocery store with Louisiana specialty; grand opening on August 7 at 10 a.m.