Doing her dairy best
Seattle Times staff reporter
The History of the World in the Past 30 Years as seen through the incredibly naive/amazingly savvy eyes of Nancy Nipples, owner of The Pike Place Market Creamery.
Instructions: Hold on to your hat.
What to bring: Janis Joplin for the early years, then self-help tapes.
Nancy: Affectionate, vital, sexy, fit; tattoo wrapped around an arm, tattoo slithering up a thigh; refreshingly unfiltered in opinion and use of language, particularly a short word for manure.
Former employee labels her as: "Full of life and love and light."
Real name: Nancy Douty, only because a friend stopped her from legally changing her name to Nipples.
Impossible to: hear her describe her dairy/soy products without instantly being famished.
What Randall Guzzardo would say if you ran into him there buying jugs of cream for his restaurant, Two Dagos From Texas: "Quality, freshness, and she offers as much selection as any market in New York City or San Francisco."
Chapter 1: Nancy Falls in Love With a Convict
Instigating her 1973 move to Pike Place Market, where she will sell candles with the rest of the hippies, Nancy meets a guy from Tacoma at the California seashore. Since she's already had heat stroke at 17 in her hometown of Fresno, prematurely ending a career in a sweltering Armenian bakery, she agrees to follow him here.
"Between falling in love and dropping me off in Fresno, he'd fallen in love with a chubby blonde and didn't even care that I was coming."
Nancy does the only sensible thing. She comes anyway.
"No way in hell was I going back to Fresno."
(Light incense here, put on Janis Joplin.)
Selling candles and then vegetables at the Market, lonesome Nancy can't write more than once a day to friends back home. So she corresponds with an appreciative convict at McNeil Island Penitentiary.
Then she follows another convict from one federal pen to another, getting a two-year geographic education via the finest prison towns in America.
Wives are nuts to wait for locked-up guys, she thinks. As soon as he's released, she marries her man in stripes anyway.
"I figured he wouldn't lie to me," she says.
But he did. And, boy, did she pay for it.
(Nancy claims she still can't judge people, but there's proof otherwise. Today she's happily married to a handsome mechanical engineer who "adores her," according to her former employee, Konnie Suther.)
In her high-octave voice that stops sentences at the top of the roller coaster, Nancy says:
"No!!! I'm always giving people the benefit of the doubt! You would think, I'm 48, I'd get a clue!")
Chapter 2: Nancy Buys the Creamery; Innocence Prevails
Back at Pike Place Market, Nancy and her new convict husband buy the creamery on the strength of a wealthy customer's offer to co-sign a loan.
One morning, the bankers inform 26-year-old Nancy they'll meet her at the door.
Nancy, having never known bankers before, thinks, "Isn't this cute? Who'd have thought they come to visit you?"
("I'm so slow," she says today.)
Surprise, surprise! Nancy owes $24,000 to the bank, $7,000 to farmers and $4,000 to fellow Market workers, who cashed checks for the convict, Nancy says today. Meanwhile, he's disappeared.
"You got jack," the bankers tell her, apparently not concerned how unprofessional their language will sound in Nancy's retelling 22 years later.
But they give her a chance. Even though the equipment is old and Nancy has no interest in running a business and no knowledge of fine specialty dairy products - she grew up on Cool Whip and margarine - she gives it a try.
It takes her two years to recover, using every trick she can, including wandering over to the west side of the Market to schlepp her product. "Fresh milk! Fresh butter!"
"People would say, `Nancy! What the hell are you doing?' and I'd say, `I'm trying to build some business!' "
Finally, her high-butterfat creams are discovered by places such as Dilettante Chocolates, FX McRory's and the culinary school at South Seattle Community College.
A decade after her opening, a happy ending is just about in reach when - oh, no! - eggs, butter and cream head up the Food and Drug Administration's most-artery-clogging list.
Will the health department tack "Danger! Butterfat" warnings on her door?
Will Nancy make it?
"It was like, Yeeeeee-ooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwnnnn," says Nancy, imitating a downed World War I fighter plane. "I actually had customers come by to just say hi and tell me their doctors had told them it wasn't OK for them to buy at the creamery anymore."
Chapter 3: The 1970s Turn into 2000
Hippies, contented cows and happy chickens proved right.
It's the year 2000. Eggs have been vindicated. Butter has triumphed over margarine. Out, out, damned hydrogenated oil!
Nancy still moves as though she's swing dancing with life. She pulsates good health.
And so do many of her customers. Lately, the store's had a run of men in their 60s from Bremerton who've had heart attacks. Doctors send them to buy her soy milk, soy butter and tofu (they skip right past a soy drink called "Menopausitive").
Or do they come for the nurturing?
"Is anyone helping you, Pumpkin?"
Restaurant owners seek the other end of the spectrum. They want her richest creams, the ones that stand up when whipped. The ones made by dairymen who still wear clogs or that come from happy cows milked every eight hours for oh such udder relief.
"This English Double Devon Cream," says Nancy, as her customers lick their lips, "is super thick semi-solid stand-up gooey-ooey 50 percent butterfat.
"This whole-milk ricotta is like eating a cloud."
Her more anal customers spend 10 minutes picking out free-range eggs, she says. Do the shades of brown match? If they're speckled, are they speckled alike?
"And they don't even eat the shells, so who the hell cares?!" Nancy says with mock hysterics.
Certainly, she doesn't care, not really. She plugs into people like they're electric sockets.
Konnie Suther, former employee: "She's such a dear, dear spirit, people are drawn to her. People want to be around her."
Nancy, in fact, is so free with her caresses that she herself says: "If I worked in an office, I'd be charged with sexual harassment."
Suther again: "Most people who shop there are committed to the quality. I guarantee if you eat her eggs, you'll never go back to eating other eggs."
Nancy still sells single butter pats, single eggs for low-income senior shoppers. For the homeless, she still leaves food that's close to the pull date.
She hasn't forgotten her '70s roots. She's the Market's recycling queen, starting with the glass milk bottles that are used an average of 50 times before they break.
And her past two years have had record sales, thanks in part to the affluent new Condo Crowd.
If Suther says, "I've never seen a harder-working woman," Nancy counters, "I never wanted to own a business. Money doesn't make me happy."
She still refuses to balance her checkbook. Working hard four days a week buys her free time to be outdoors at the Maple Valley river-island home she shares with "Mr. Happy."
Maybe she has to run a business, but she doesn't have to follow all the rules.
The new logo on her delivery truck represents the goddess of milk. One breast pokes provocatively out of her gown. Nancy swears that wasn't in the original drawing, which, oh, let's see, must be around here someplace.
She meant for the goddess to be healthy, not erotic.
"But if I can get away with it . . ."
Sherry Stripling's e-mail address is email@example.com. Her message phone is 206-464-2520.
The Pike Place Market Creamery, 1514 Pike Place, No. 3, located behind the only fish market on the east side of Pike Place. 206-622-5029.
Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.