Herb Rosen, who founded Skipper's, had Midas touch

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An entrepreneurial spirit and a Midas touch followed Herb Rosen everywhere he went.

The son of Russian immigrants and a child of the Depression, Mr. Rosen learned early the value of hard work. The Bellevue resident parlayed his business sense into a record-distribution company and later founded the Skipper's Seafood 'n' Chowder House chain.

He died Tuesday (June 19) of heart failure. He was 79.

Mr. Rosen's father came to Seattle in 1905 and immediately formed his own business picking up other immigrants at the railway station and taking them to their destinations - sort of an early taxi service. He noticed their luggage and thought he could build a better suitcase. He started Durabuilt Luggage, which became a national company.

During World War II, Mr. Rosen, a lieutenant in the Army, was stationed in France, where he acquired a love of French language and culture.

After the war, he worked for the family business for a few years. He also married a woman he had met before he went off to war. The couple, who met on a blind date, were married 54 years. Rita Rosen survives.

Along with several partners, Mr. Rosen co-founded Consolidated Distributors, a company that distributed records throughout the Northwest.

"They met all the artists," said his son, Stan, of Seattle. "People like Nat King Cole and a bunch of others."

Mr. Rosen sold the company to ABC Records in 1965.

The next big thing for Mr. Rosen came out of his love for fish and chips. "It was one of his favorite foods," his son said.

He started Skipper's Fish and Chips Chowder House (which later became Skipper's Seafood 'n' Chowder House) in Bellevue in 1969. It grew to become the fourth-largest seafood chain in the country, with more than 200 outlets in the Northwest and British Columbia. He sold the company in 1989 to National Pizza, the franchisee of Pizza Hut and Burger King.

After he suffered a heart attack at 42, Mr. Rosen started re-evaluating his place in the Jewish community, his son said.

"He gave his money to bricks-and-mortar and buildings, things that live on," said Carol Starin of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. "People went to him for advice because he thought like a businessman. He was always no-nonsense; you ask him a question and he asked you hard questions back."

The Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, the Stroum Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Education Council are among the organizations that Mr. Rosen lent his business acumen and financial support. He and his wife, Rita, were also instrumental in the growth of the Bellevue Art Museum.

Mr. Rosen is also survived by a daughter, Judy de Jonge of Seattle; and five grandchildren.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle, 15749 N.E. Fourth St., Bellevue, WA 98008; or the Seattle Jewish Community School, 2632 N.E. 80th St., Seattle, WA 98115.

Sheryll Poe can be reached at 206-474-2718 or spoe@seattletimes.com.