Grabbing hold of ‘real world’ in downtown Renton

LEFT PHOTO: Sophie Ossorio, at right, lent a helping hand to Sachin Ajith, left, and David Israel at POP! in downtown Renton. RIGHT PHOTO: Amelia Ossorio, at right, spent a recent Saturday with owner Mary Clymer, learning all about happy delusions.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio
LEFT PHOTO: Sophie Ossorio, at right, lent a helping hand to Sachin Ajith, left, and David Israel at POP! in downtown Renton. RIGHT PHOTO: Amelia Ossorio, at right, spent a recent Saturday with owner Mary Clymer, learning all about happy delusions.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio

 

“Good luck,” I say, flashing Sophie a thumbs up.

As a parent, there are milestones you prepare for — the first day of pre-school or teaching your kiddo how to ride a bike without training wheels.  And then you have to just let go (gulp) and hope for the best.

But her first job interview . . . at 11?

It wasn’t exactly a job interview. She was going into POP! for a continuation of a “real world” learning lesson — one begun at the Springbrook Trout Farm.

Maybe you remember the article I wrote at the beginning of summer about fun things to do with your kids in Renton?

After meeting Bill Briere, the owner of the Springbrook Trout Farm, my mom got a part-time summer job.  A fringe benefit of working there was the kids got to hang out and visit grandma, learn how to catch and gut fish like aficionados.

“We got tipped!” Sophie and Amelia galloped into the car, jubilantly waving two crumpled dollar bills.

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Another McLendon experience: the Top Pot Doughnut

“I’m here to speak with Chris McLendon,” I say to Santa’s look-a-like wife behind the counter.

“Take a right on 20 and follow it to the back of the store,” Mrs. Klaus directed. There was a twinkle in her eye, cherubic cheeks and a smile that was as pleasant as hot cocoa and whip cream.

When you go to McLendon’s, there’s comfort in being helped by “real” people— like you’ve just stepped into the best of another era, a time before customer service was a title.

15, 16, 17, 18 19 and aisle 20 take a right.

At the faux kitchens I recognized the guy from the paint department — the one who reminds me to stir in a teaspoon of pure vanilla into my paint before getting started as a way to avoid the wet paint smell.

“For little kid’s rooms to get rid of the smell . . . But it has to be pure vanilla,” he always advises with conviction. And I’m grateful for the tip: As a McLendon’s customer for more than 10 years, with four kids we’ve painted a lot of rooms.

But I wasn’t at McLendon’s to write about kitchens, paint or small-town customer service. Of course I appreciate it but giving top-notch customer service for 85 years isn’t necessarily news.

I was at McLendon’s because a sleek, sexy, futuristic vision had touched down in their parking lot like a shiny silver Phoenix.

The Airstream, a beacon of retro swag crowned with a silver doughnut and two words: Top Pot.

The Top Pot Doughnut is an experience and the maple old-fashioned my favorite: perfectly crunchified dough that sits majestically glazed like the snow-peaked Mount Rainier, with sumptuous frosting as if tapped from a Vermont maple.

These infamous glistening sirens have become famous. Bewitching Seahawk rookie Golden Tate into nabbing a few bars before the store opened. Or the tale of Howard Schultz after a one-week Top Pot binge and three dozen doughnuts that led to a multi-million dollar partnership. Even Obama had been wooed into sharing half a glazed old fashioned with Sen. Patty Murray. And now they’re available in Renton.

Top Pot owners Mark and Mike Kleback are former contractor brothers who have picker hearts and a love of retro-mod designers like Charles and Ray Eames.

So it’s no surprise the Klebeck brothers designed and built out the McLendon Airstream themselves. The success of Top Pot is a secret 1920s doughnut recipe and their signature vintage aesthetic of their cafes. So the Airstream was a perfect choice for Top Pot’s successful blending of “the old with the new.”

On a tour of the Top Pot flagship downtown store and bakery, I asked Mark how Top Pot came to Renton.

“McLendon Hardware contacted us and asked us to set up at their new food court. It’s a great Puget Sound company with a great history. We think it’s a great match for Top Pot.” Mark added, “You should really talk to Chris McLendon.”

I figured I was in the right spot at the McLendon back office when I saw a family picture behind the reception desk. The kind of picture commissioned by the Nordstrom or Boeing families — Northwest institutions of which McLendon’s surely qualifies.

Christopher McLendon strode toward me and he was younger than I expected. I asked him about the family lineage.

“I am the youngest member of the third generation in the business. There are three of us who are senior executives and decision makers of the company. The third generation has been running the business for the last 15 years or so. All total there are 22 family members throughout the business representing the third and fourth generations, ranging from the president all the way down to a part-time store helper.”

I asked Chris who had the idea to approach Top Pot.

“We completed a remodel to add food vendors. The family asked, ‘What would be cool?’ And Top Pot jumped to the top of the list. Something Northwest. So we went to their website, saw the Airstream and we were like “that’s it!”

“Judging by the lines, I guess Top Pot is a success here in Renton?” I asked.

“I get in at 6 a.m. and there’s a line of people,” Chris said with a smile. “We are definitely looking for more vendors. Three or four more with Northwest roots that offer something new, different and exciting.”

On my way out of McLendon’s I paused, watching a dead ringer for “Pop” McLendon feeding his time card into the machine. He was the same older gent who helped us with the supplies for our chicken coop and the verbal schematic.

The Top Pot Airstream was cool . . . but so was a family business that has been a fixture for 85 years and continues to thrive under a creative leadership with deep Renton roots.

“We are a unique type of business in this day and age, and a great place to work. We have a number of long-time employees on staff throughout the company, some from 25 to 40 plus years!” Chris explained.

I asked Chris about the family picture hanging above the reception desk.

“My father and his siblings taken 12 years ago by Renton photographer Bruce Hudson at my dad’s 70th birthday party. They are the second generation of the business that took over running it from my grandfather. Ted McLendon (my father), brothers Pat, Jan and Bob McLendon, and sisters Wanda Kauffman and Dorothy Thompson.”

McLendon’s like Top Pot is a successful blend of the old and new.

If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at carolyn@pippimamma.com. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.

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Mr. Rogers and Top Pot Doughnuts

“So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, since we’re together, we might as well say — “ I pause for effect as we cruise past the Seattle Space Needle.

“Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Baby Ty giggled at my crooning rendition of the Mr. Roger’s theme song. Four-year-old Patrick shouted for an encore with a fist bump.

Seven-year-old Amelia peered out the rear window as the Seattle Monorail shuttled past on tracks above our Routan.

“When I was a kid I’d watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” I stop, trying out how to explain Mr. Rogers to kids who weren’t alive during his thoughtful reign on PBS.

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An American landscape in Renton in green and blue. Go Seahawks!

The Ossorio clan poses with Rooster at a Seahawks training camp adventure.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio
The Ossorio clan poses with Rooster at a Seahawks training camp adventure.— Image Credit: Carolyn Ossorio

 

“Can you pick up your media badge at the front desk?” Rich Gonzales, Seahawks communication manager asked me the other day.

“Um . . . sure.”  I was both thrilled and terrified at the same time.

Thrilled because I was finally going to get a first-hand look at the Seahawks training facility that I have only seen in passing along I-405.

Kudos to Rich Gonzales who helped set our adventure in motion: the kids, grandma and I were at the Seahawks training camp to watch the Seahawks practice and to interview players.

My football experience was limited to movies like “Rudy” and “Jerry Maguire” and I recently read Paul Allen’s memoir “Idea Man.”

So I had inked a crib sheet into my palm with the names my wonderful husband had supplied.

Jackson, Trufant, Stanback.

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My 4-Year-Old Wanted to Learn How to Cook, But I Was a Stranger to the Kitchen

Growing up I got the sense that the kitchen was the last place my mom wanted to be, or imagined her daughters to end up.

We were called “latch-key” kids in the eighties when “women who worked were having children and didn’t want to be stay-at-home mothers.” Or at least that’s what I read on the internet.

Back then the kitchen wasn’t perceived as a place of power but a trough of toil. And processed, convenience foods like Birds Eye, Lunchables, and Cool Ranch Doritos were the nouveau riche.

Scrappy kids like me cruised the neighborhood unsupervised and in packs wearing our splotchy Jams and checkerboard Vans to the local arcade for Ms. Pacman—our bliss.

When I became a mother at the age of twenty-nine I had never learned how to cook. During my college years I worked in restaurants and was fed by them. And by the time I was a young professional I ate a lot of cereal. Even after I got married, my husband (also a latch key kid and generation X’er) didn’t know how to cook and didn’t expect me to either.

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