Frisko Freeze co-owner Mark Jensen grew up eating at the Tacoma landmark and getting advice from the restaurant’s founder, Perry Smith.
Jensen died July 1 at 63 from congenital heart failure and cancer.
In 1986 he married Smith’s daughter, now Penny Jensen. They took over running the restaurant in 1991, a year after Smith’s death. Smith opened Frisko Freeze, which sells hamburger-stand fare, on Division Avenue in 1950.
Until the end, he helped the best he could with the business and kept in touch with the restaurant’s workers, his wife said.
“The employees all adored him, although he could still put the fear of God into them when he needed to, even is his frail condition,” she remembered, laughing.
Jensen also is survived by his son, Christopher, 37, of Tacoma.
“He had a big heart when it came to the employees down at the restaurant,” Christopher Jensen said. “He would just give his time and help a person out.”
Manager Tom Myers has been working at Frisko Freeze on and off since 1984.
“When I was 18 years old I was scared … of this guy,” Myers said. “Toward the end, Mark just kind of became like my dad. I could tell him anything. He’d listen to me and give me advice.”
Every now and then Jensen would cook up some hamburger for his dogs, who would be in the back of his truck, when he checked on the restaurant, Myers remembered.
Jensen was no stranger to driving in snow and sometimes would pick up the restaurant crew for work on poor-weather days, he added.
“He was the kind of guy who had done a lot, had seen a lot,” Myers said. “Nothing you could tell him would shock him.”
Jensen was 6 feet, 5 inches, and operated with military precision.
“He’d tell you, ‘I’ll be there in 39 seconds,’” Myers said. “Everything was planned out like that.”
Jensen was a commissioned Army officer in the Vietnam War. He served as a helicopter pilot, and was nominated for the Silver Star for “gallantry in action” and given the Bronze Star for “heroic or meritorious achievement in service.” Jensen’s burial Thursday will include military honors.
Jensen and his wife made arrangements for the future of Frisko Freeze before his death.
He told The News Tribune in 1995 that the restaurant “will remain open until the year 8000.”
When Penny Jensen passes away, the restaurant will go to family friend Bob Dobler, and its profits from then on will be donated to charity, she said.
The building is on Tacoma’s Registry of Historic Places, which restricts changes that can be made.
“That gives me a great sense of peace,” she said.
Her husband asked that Dobler take care of Penny if she needed it and make sure that the restaurant be run the same as it is now.
“Their wish is to have a trust set up and to make sure that restaurant doesn’t change,” Dobler said. “And it won’t. … I assured him that would take place.”