WASHINGTON — When Apollo West Food first came to market in 1972, the recipe called for a lot of rice, meat, cheese and potatoes.
Today, the iconic Apollo Western dishes, which have long been the signature dish of the Washington area, are all made from the same ingredients and are considered “The Food of the Gods.”
“We’re going to keep doing that for the rest of our lives,” said Apollo West co-owner Michael Kowalczyk, who is a native of Northern California.
“It’s going to be part of our culture for a long time.”
Apollo Western, which has been a staple in the Western states for more than a century, originated as a simple dish with a simple recipe that featured rice, carrots, tomatoes and onions, all in a sauce.
Today the dish is popular with restaurants and restaurants in Washington and in the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest.
Kowalski said the original recipe called only for chicken, which he recalled being very lean.
“I remember the chicken was just barely past 10 percent fat, but it was cooked down to 10 percent,” he said.
“I had a big pot of it on the stovetop, and it was just cooked down.
I think that’s the only reason it made it to the top.”
After the Apollo West recipe came out, the company expanded to include more ingredients, including cornmeal and wheat flour, adding meat, chicken and pork, and added fish, beans and eggs.
The Apollo Western family, founded in 1896, started in Northern California with one chef and now has nine locations in the Washington, Oregon and Montana regions.
Kowalskis son, Michael, founded Apollo Western in 1972 and his daughter, Carol, started the company in 1973.
The company has expanded rapidly in the past 20 years, with about 200 locations now open, and Kowaleskis wife, Carol Kowalyczyk (nee Wawalski), is the president.
The restaurant chain is now the third-largest restaurant chain in the U.S., according to the company.
“I was lucky enough to be able to buy the Apollo Western brand,” said Carol Kowskys.
“My dad and I have always loved the dish, and I hope to keep on doing that.”
Kowskies restaurant empire includes restaurants in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana and Idaho, as well as other locations in Southern California and Florida.
The family business began as a small family farm in Northern Utah in the 1950s, and Michael Kowsky worked as a farmhand for 40 years.
He developed the recipe for the dish while on the road in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he was an avid reader of the Northwest Pacific Northwest magazine, Western Food, and later as an apprentice in the kitchens of local chefs.
Kowsksi said he became familiar with the dish when he visited the Apollo Southwest restaurant in San Francisco.
“When I came to the Western Food article, it was very easy to pick up on the fact that this dish was one of the dishes that was being served in that restaurant,” Kowayski said.
He went on to work at the Apollo Northwest in Santa Rosa, California.
When he returned to his family farm, he began to look at other ingredients for the next Apollo West.
“The only thing I couldn’t find was beef or lamb,” Kowski said, “so I thought, I’m going to look around for beef or meat.”
The family began searching for fresh produce to use in the recipe.
When the family found the same ingredient that was used in the Apollo-West recipe, they immediately began researching what was available in the market.
They came across a local company called Wild Harvest.
The company had been a family-owned business for more then 50 years, and the family began buying up its produce, including beef, pork, chicken, pork shoulder, duck and turkey.
They eventually became so large they owned about 40 percent of the business.
“That’s when the whole family became involved, and we became very involved in the business,” Kowersk said.
By 1973, Kowskas family owned about 70 percent of Wild Harvest, and by 1977, they had expanded to more than 100 stores.
KOWALSKI’S DIFFERENCES WITH FOODS OF THE GODS”I’m a huge fan of all food, but I always thought of Apollo West as the one dish that’s probably the best that we’ve ever made,” said Michael Kowerski.
The recipe has been passed down through generations, and he said he is grateful to his parents, who brought the recipe to him.
“We’ve never tasted a better sauce, a better meat, a tastier sauce, any of it, and all the ingredients were in the right order,” he added.