Basque Fact of the Week: The Basque Ice Cream Maker

We are all familiar with the Basques who, like my dad and his uncles before him, came to the United States on contracts to herd sheep. They all came looking for opportunity and for a better life than what they could make back in the “old country.” But, sheepherding wasn’t the only route to a new life. Take the story of Gregorio Salegui Urain, as told by Koldo San Sebastián and Ana Vega Pérez De Arlucea.

The kitchen at the St. Francis. Gregorio is the second person from the left. Image from The Center for Basque Studies blog.
  • Gregorio was born in Itziar, Gipuzkoa, not far from the border with Bizkaia, on February 14, 1889. He was one of eight children, though two sisters had died not long after being born. He had been sent out to apprentice as a carpenter, but he didn’t take well to his presumed occupation. To escape the military draft, he left to make his fortune in the United States, arriving in New York in 1909.
  • He had traveled to New York with José Uruazabal and his family. José already ran a fruit shop in the city. Gregorio boarded with the Uruazabal family, including José’s brother Frank, who made ice cream. Gregorio soon found work in the same ice cream parlor where Frank worked.
  • Gregorio’s sister, Concepción, and her husband Eufemio Lizarzaburu had found their way to the Pacific Northwest. Gregorio joined them in Oregon, working on a ship.
  • His ice-cream career took a hiatus as he was called into service during World War I. He served as a cook for a few months before being discharged for medical reasons.
  • Back in civilian life, he ultimately found work at the famed St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, working for Victor Hirtzler. The hotel was famous for its cuisine and the celebrities — such as Charlie ChaplinDouglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Sinclair Lewis, and Isadora Duncan. The famous menu included many ice creams, with flavors such as nectarine, peach, banana, pineapple, vanilla, and coffee that undoubtedly were created or influenced by Gregorio.

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