Josephson’s Smokehouse

Local Producer Profile

By Emily Vollmer
Photos by: Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography

A gentle billow of smoke, sweet with the rich aroma of salmon, escapes the smokehouse door as we peek inside. A century ago, in 1917, Mike Josephson’s grandfather, Anton Josephson, tried his hand at smoking fish fresh from the docks. Starting in 1920, Josephson’s Smokehouse opened at the same storefront you can find it in today, just past downtown Astoria heading westbound on Marine Drive.

In the cold case at the Astoria Cooperative Grocery you can also find Josephson’s smoked salmon and salmon jerky, custom packed for the Co-op.

Cold-smoked is the traditional Scandinavian style originally used by the Josephson family. The salmon is cured in salt, then rinsed, and smoked. The relatively cool temperatures used (90 degrees Fahrenheit or less) means that the fish is preserved but maintains a delicate silky texture that can be sliced, whereas hot-smoked fish is cooked to a firm texture that can be flaked into pieces. Smoked salmon retains the bright color of the wild fish due to the smoking process itself. The flavor also becomes richer, more complex.

Traditional meets modern at Josephson’s Smokehouse. In the back of the building they still have a room set up to cold smoke large sides of Chinook salmon, hanging from individual stainless steel hooks, for 5 days, in the smoldering smoke of Alder logs (a tree still found in abundance on the North Oregon coast). For Mike’s dad and grandfather, “This was the only way they ever smoked fish, and I did it for a lot of years, too.” Mike says, adding, “My friends used to joke because we’d be out at a dance and I’d say, ‘well, we got to go to the smokehouse and check on the fire.’ So, they’d come back, and they were all familiar with the process.”

Nowadays, Josephson’s primarily uses a modern smoker that’s run by a computer using specialized software to control and monitor the process, along with precisely controlled smoke generators stoked with a blend of Alder wood chips. Mike says the current preference people have is for what they produce in the modern smoker. The traditional method creates a heavier smoked skin; it’s drier, and somewhat reminiscent of a ham. Since there are some people who really love it, Josephson’s smokes about 3 batches a year of the traditional style.

If you stop by Josephson’s Smokehouse you’ll most likely meet Ashley Moore at the front counter. Astoria born and raised, she’s worked at Josephson’s for 10 years now, starting when she was just 17. Ashley says she’s never caught a fish before, with the caveat that she did proudly reel in some seaweed at the age of 7. She knows the Smokehouse well and can offer knowledgeable answers and delicious samples.

Mike’s father, Cecil Josephson, was a fisherman. In the main room there’s still the loft where the nets were stored, and in that room Mike says he vividly remembers his dad melting and attaching the metal lead line to the nets. The current entryway walls are decorated with old photographs, and what is now the storefront was the living room for Mike’s grandparents.

Mike started helping out at the Smokehouse at age 12, using a wire brush to clean the rust and fish scales off of what were then steel hooks used in the smoke room. Pointing to a heavy wheel-shaped contraption leaned up against the wall Mike explains that it was the hoist they used in the cannery that they cranked by hand, lifting tens of thousands of pounds of Columbia River Chinook from the boats.

Josephson’s produced just one product for 60 years, until after Mike took over the business from his parents in 1978. They’ve since diversified to create 7 flavors of salmon jerky, 23 types of canned fish, 18 types of hot smoked fish and shellfish, and 3 types of cold smoked salmon lox.  They operate an extensive mail-order business, shipping worldwide from their historic storefront on the bank of the Columbia River.

Holiday Turkey & Pies

Holiday turkeys and pies are now available at the store. This year we’ve got Diestel turkeys. They are raised under strict standards including a healthy environment, fresh mountain water, and clean air from the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Vegetarian feed never contains fillers and birds are never given growth stimulants or antibiotics. In addition to an organic option, we also have a limited number of local turkeys from Blackberry Bog Farm. The turkeys are first come, first served. They are frozen, so please allow adequate time for defrosting. Click here to learn more: from thawing times to roasting temperatures.

We’re thrilled this year to offer you holiday pies with clean ingredients and a great price, made by an Oregon company. Willamette Valley Pie Company’s mission is to deliver you the best from their land to your hands. Pie varieties we’ll carry (while supplies last) include: apple, cherry, pecan, pumpkin, and vegan pumpkin. Pies are made with non-GMO ingredients with no added preservatives or starches.

Co-op Reaches Expansion Investment Goal

The Co-op’s investment campaign “Together We Grow” has reached its goal, raising $1.5 million to build a bigger store. The Co-op launched the fundraising effort a month and a half ago at its annual meeting.

“We’re blown away by the Co-op support that we’ve seen. It’s a clear demonstration of the fact people want to see this new store happen—and as soon as possible—because we reached our goal on time,” General Manager Matt Stanley said.

Almost 200 locals invested. The preferred shares investment offering was available to Oregon residents who are owners of the Co-op, a consumer owned cooperative. A team of volunteers mailed letters and called potential investors. The Co-op also maintained regular communications about the campaign progress via email and social media.

“We think it’s important to put money toward things that will create a meaningful future for our children and the Co-op not only provides healthy food for them but also a community around food and we really want to be a part of that,” Investor Megan Oien said.

Even though the investment campaign is officially over, the Co-op has more shares available for those who still want to invest. The more money kept local, the less the Co-op will need additional bank financing to make the project happen.

The Co-op will now focus on completing the design, going through a land use approval process, and working to keep the project moving forward as fast as possible.

The Co-op plans to build a new store at 23rd and Marine Drive in Astoria that’s about four times bigger than the store’s current location at 14th and Exchange. Double-digit growth in the last five years has led the Co-op to seek more space. The new store will have a larger deli, fresh meat & seafood, a wider selection of organic and local produce, and more parking.

The Co-op, formerly known as the Community Store, has been in Astoria since 1974. The number of Co-op owners recently topped 4000. About 80% of the Co-op’s shoppers are owners, but it is not a requirement to shop. The Co-op welcomes all shoppers and is hoping to expand its shopper-base even more with the new store.