A brief history of yoyos who hailed from the Pacific Northwest rather than the Midwest, OK ?! – slog
Mmmmmh. Fried. YOURS SINCERELY
When I was in high school, after class we went to that dark, dusty mini market next door that had creepy things like a whole chicken in a can and a deep fryer with yo-yos too. They cost about 50 cents a pound in 1994, and as a teenager you can inhale them endlessly without a single synapse firing in between, which we did. Get a 2 pound bag and start cramming. Steamed potato will fill your sinuses. This place hasn’t been around for a long time, but it had the best yo-yos I’ve ever eaten.
If you’re new or something, yo-yos are those little tater wedges that are breaded, dusted with lawrys, and not fried, but pressure fried. The inside is light and fluffy like a baked potato; the outside is crispy and lightly caramelized, with those thick, knurled ends. They are orange. Potato more than French fries. They are not “home fries” or “breakfast potatoes” and you must not cook them in a pan – that is something else. Usually they are cooked in the same oil as fried chicken and are essentially chicken-like themselves. Basically, yo-yos are fried chickens’ little sister who share their DNA and join in whenever they can.
You can get them in a supermarket or mini market, preferably at a gas station, out of a foggy cellophane bag. Or in truck stops and rest stops, maybe in a hut on a country road with a sign with the word “Braast” on it. Here are your yo-yos.
Recently someone tried to tell me that several places in the Midwest think they are the birthplace of Jojos and I had understood them as a northwest thing. So I read about it.
Let’s start where yo-yos did it: with quick fryers.
Pressure fryers, originally designed for cooking meat, use screaming hot oil and a pressure of 5-15 pounds PSI to crisp the outside of things while locking their juiciness inside. Inspired by pressure cookers that use water, not oil, “Colonel” Harland Sanders first experimented in the 1940s with turning them into deep fryers – an extremely dangerous, ill-considered art that sometimes involved 375-degree oil explosions. For Sanders, however, things went well; In the end, he had a faster cook time for his fried chicken and a much more delicious product.
Over a decade later, in the mid-1950s, the Broaster Company of Beloit, Wisconsin began selling high-speed fryers. Ohio-based manufacturing company Henny Penny was the first to patent it for commercial use in 1957. So the quick fryers themselves are a Midwestern creation. For sure.
However. It’s a Vancouver, Washington-based salesman named Nick Nicewonger (oh my god) who is believed to be the father of the yo-yo. In 1958 Nicewonger was distributing pressure fryers for a manufacturer called Flavor-Crisp in the northwest, and at a restaurant show that year it was displayed next to a booth owned by Idaho potato dealers. It writes itself: By throwing wedges of potato in the oil, he discovered a cheap, quick way to demonstrate his fancy space-age fryer – and a useful one too. “A potato cleans the oil very well,” said Nicewonger’s son Paul in 2017 at Willamette Week.
These test wedges were initially thrown away. But at some point someone was like hey, that smells like food, and Nicewonger put them on trays for guests to try. When he was pressured (heh) to name her, he blurted out “Jojos” and a star was born. This happened somewhere in the PNW, probably in the greater Portland area, which Nicewonger was focused on.
The Midwest, meanwhile, is trying to move forward. A guy in Omaha called “the oral historian of yo-yo” tells an identical story to Nicewonger’s except that there are multiple vendors, they are nameless, they are in Chicago, and it takes place in “1962 or 1963” several years according to Nicewonger’s account. At some point, ’62 or ’63 becomes ’61.
Sounds fuzzy, man. I selfishly prefer to believe Nicewonger Junior who has a few more details and sticks to his facts.
In a miserable world of chia pudding and fitness water, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find yo-yos with the right fat content. The Shell stations on Beacon Avenue and Corson Avenue obviously have them. Hop-In Grocery in Renton, Quick Pack Food Mart in the Central District, and Seward Park Grocery in Rainier also have killer yo-yos. Quick Pack, famous for its chicken, uses russets, so the yo-yos are extra long and chunky, more like jacket spud. They want hot sauce to break up the big, beautiful clouds of potatoes.
Roast chicken, extra long Biggie yo-yos and hot sauce in the Quick Pack Food Mart. YOURS SINCERELY
In conjunction with the (temporarily closed) Duck Island Ale House in Greenlake, the Marco Polo Bar and Grill in Georgetown and the Monte Carlo Pub in Kent are also roadhouses with really greasy, crispy yo-yos. Heaven, the chicken and the duck’s yo-yos were just awesome. Please open again soon, Duckie.
Anyway, thank you Mister Nicewonger for staying somewhere in the northwest when you decided to let people eat your demo trash so Seattle can benefit from local credit. And for not having to name them after you, so that I don’t have to say “nicer” to strangers at gas stations. Well done. These things are great.
Some places to find yo-yos:
Hop into groceries and deli
5325 NE 4th St Renton, WA 98059
Quick Pack Food Mart
2616 S Jackson Street, Seattle, WA
Marco Polo Bar & Grill
5613 4th Avenue S, Seattle, WA
Monte Carlo Pub
1617 W Meeker St, Kent, WA
Duck Island Ale House (Temporarily Closed)
7317 Aurora Avenue North, Seattle, WA