When 71-year old Totem House Seafood and Chowder was forced to close up shop in 2010 due to unfortunate economic circumstances, heart-broken regulars feared the worst for the historic, totem-clad building.
Would it be torn down to make way for more condominiums? Transformed into something entirely unrecognizable? Locals were able to breathe a communal sigh of relief when Red Mill Burger owners John and Babe Shepherd stepped up and announced plans to restore the beloved building and open their third location, this one featuring the addition of their first fish fry in homage to the original Totem House.
Built in 1939 as a site for the selling of Native American crafts and artifacts, the iconic building re-opened as a restaurant in 1945 following a temporary period of closure during World War II. With elaborate, brightly colored tribal decor and a giant Native American totem pole out front, the Totem House was a landmark building for the neighborhood of Ballard. In many families, Totem House Seafood and Chowder was a required stop for generations of visits to the nearby Hiram M. Chittenden Locks.
Red Mill has done a marvelous job of preserving the building and repairing the wear and tear that decades of rainy Seattle winters had caused. The signature totem pole has been immaculately restored to its former glory by expert totem carver Greg Colax of the Washington Macah tribe, and the Totem House miraculously hasn’t lost any of its kitschy Pacific Northwest charms.