Legal Sea Foods
|Founded||Cambridge, Massachusetts, fish market (1950); restaurant (1968)|
|Headquarters||Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
|Number of locations||31 restaurants|
|Key people||Roger Berkowitz, President & CEO
Rich Vellante, Executive Chef
Sandy Block, MW, VP of Beverage
Legal Sea Foods is an American chain of upscale casual-dining seafood restaurants operating in seven Eastern states, though most are in the Greater Boston area. The company was founded by George Berkowitz who opened the Legal Cash Market grocery store in 1950 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and he opened the first restaurant next door to the market in 1968. The current company headquarters is located in Boston and as December 31, 2013, the chain operates 31 restaurants. Legal Sea Foods also operates an online fish market and ships fresh fish anywhere in the contiguous United States as well as a retail products division.
In 1904, Harry Berkowitz opened the "Legal Cash Market" in the Inman Square neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts and the name for the market came from the "Legal Stamps", also known as trading stamps, to loyal customers. Up until the late 1940s, the store provided a good living for Harry and his family when chain grocery stores like Stop & Shop and others entered the picture and provided stiff competition to the family business.
In 1950, George Berkowitz, the son of Harry, opened a fish market adjacent to his father's grocery store and named it Legal Sea Foods. This was done to add a degree of specialty to the grocery business by offering customers a fish counter where they could get fresh fish. From the early 1950s the market sold fresh fish as well as fish and chips that could only be taken to-go. In 1968, the Legal Cash Market was closed and the Berkowitz family decided to open a restaurant in the space. They served mainly fish and chips, fried clams, fried shrimp, and fried scallops served on paper plates while the customers sat on picnic tables.
In 1975, the restaurant expands to a more traditional restaurant at the site of the former S.S. Pierce building in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. In 1980, the original Inman Square restaurant is destroyed in a fire. With the help of this two sons, Marc and Roger, they open their flagship location in the Park Plaza Hotel in the Boston Theater District of downtown Boston.
At the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981, Legal Sea Foods clam chowder was chosen to represent the state of Massachusetts and has been served at every presidential inauguration since. Also in 1981, the restaurant established one of the first quality control centers for fish processing and distribution.
In 1990, the restaurant partnered with the United States Department of Commerce in developing a hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) program and establishing a landmark fishing industry standard for freshness and food safety.
In 1992, Roger Berkowitz, the son of George, takes over as CEO of the private restaurant business. Roger has worked in the family business since the age of ten and is a graduate of the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. During this time Roger became the company spokesman and voice many of the Legal Sea Foods radio commercials, including the award-winning “Fresh Insights” radio campaign.
In March 1994, Food Arts Magazine awarded the Silver Spoon Award to George and Roger Berkowitz for sterling performance and raising Americans' consciousness about seafood for 30 years. Legal also opened their first airport restaurant at Logan International Airport's Terminal C. The restaurant later opened locations in Logan Airport and in the Philadelphia International Airport. Also in 1994, the restaurant invited chefs from China to fuse Asian cuisine into the menu at the restaurants. This program was called "Cusineast" and some of the dishes created are still on the current menu.
In 1998, Roger Berkowitz is invited to join the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Roundtable, a group of people with personal and professional interests in nutrition. It was during 1998, when Bon Appétit magazine awarded Legal Sea Food one of the Top Ten Tried and True restaurants in America. Rich Vellante also becomes the restaurant group's Executive Chef in 1998 and is currently still in this position.
In 1999, The International Food Manufacturers Association awards Roger Bekowitz with the Silver Plate award for the best full-service, multi-unit restaurant operator in America. This award is the food industry’s highest honor.
In 2000, the American Institute of Food and Wine sponsor Legal Sea Food's 50th birthday with celebrity chefs and Julia Child in attendance. The CBS news program, Eye on America, focused on Legal Sea Food restaurant's quality control program with a segment on food safety. During the year, Legal opened a new sea food restaurant in Huntington Station, New York.
In 2003, Legal Sea Food restaurants became one of America's first restaurant chains to go trans-fat free. This was done well before it became a national issue. The New Legal Sea Foods Cookbook is published.
In 2005, a new type of restaurant, Legal Test Kitchen (LTK), opened with a menu that is 50 - 60 percent non-seafood and a lower price than their more traditional locations. Also in 2005, Legal begins to offer gluten-free options on the menu for the first time, giving patrons with celiac disease more dining options.
In 2006, the free-standing Legal Test Kitchen (LTK) opens in the newly developed South Boston WaterfrontDistrict in Boston and offers a new menu every six weeks. In 2006, Legal is one of the first restaurants in the United States to allow diners to pay their bill using a table-side device to self-pay.
In 2008, Legal Sea Foods is awarded “#1 Best Family Restaurant” by Parents magazine. And later in the year, Roger Berkowitz is inducted into the Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters Hall of Fame. and Legal open a new restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 2009, Legal C Bar opens in in Dedham, Massachusetts focused on serving casual seafood and custom cocktails. Also this year, Cheers magazine gives Legal Sea Foods the two top awards for their outstanding beverage program.
In 2010, Legal Sea Food celebrates sixty years in business. The restaurant celebrated by offering clam chowder for 60 cents a cup.
in 2011, Legal opens their new flagship restaurant, Legal Harborside on the Boston waterfront and is named "Best New Restaurant" by Esquire magazine.
In 2013, Legal Sea Foods announced they would be opening a restaurant in the Downtown Crossing section Boston and the name would be Legal Crossing (LX).
On February 22, 2014, a carbon monoxide leak killed the manager of the Legal Sea Foods at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, New York and sickened 27 others. The leak was reportedly caused by a faulty flue pipe attached to a gas water heater. President & CEO of Legal Sea Foods, Roger Berkowitz, said that the company would install carbon monoxide detectors and conduct comprehensive safety audits at all locations. He also pledged to be at the forefront of legislative efforts to require the use of carbon monoxide detectors in commercial buildings.
The menus vary by location, season and concept, but they all include a wide variety of specialty seafood entrees, appetizers, salads and desserts. Over 40 varieties of fresh fish and shellfish, simply prepared according to New England tradition, are featured throughout the year. Most popular items include: lobster, clam chowder, fried clams, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, tuna burgers, baked scrod, surf and turf and grilled fish fillets. Extensive wine lists and full-service bars are also available at all locations and have garnered recognition for its philosophy of offering value at all price points. The restaurant offers separate lunch and dinner menus as well as a gluten-free menu and award-winning kids’ menu.
By buying directly from day boat fishing operations, the company markets itself as having the freshest fish. The company also made industry advances on fish handling and has worked with the federal agencies on developing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
In the media
Bon Appétit magazine touts a meal at Legal Sea Foods as among America’s “Top Ten Tried-and-True” dining experiences. Legal is also included in Patricia Schultz’s popular guidebook, "1,000 Places to See Before You Die." During 2008 it ran a series of humorous radio advertisements, created by its advertising agency DeVito/Verdi, capping with its aforementioned motto as well as a 'really fresh fish' ad campaign on Boston's trolleys that won industry awards.
The Boston, Massachusetts Legal Sea Foods restaurant sponsored a January 2011 dinner that featured several species of fish which were listed by the advocacy organization Seafood Watch as ones to avoid for sustainability reasons. Legal Sea Foods CEO, Roger Berkowitz said in a statement that much of the science around sustainable fisheries was "flawed" and "outdated." While the protest was criticized by several environmental organizations, it was praised by others, including some in the media. Representatives of fishermen in Gloucester supported the choice to use locally sourced fish.
Legal Sea Foods has been voted "Boston's Most Popular Restaurant" by Zagat, 2012/2011 and every year since 2003/2004.
In 2013, Legal Sea Foods had more than 30 locations, in addition to retail and mail order divisions, and has garnered critical accolades for its status as a mid-sized seafood chain. Legal Sea Foods also operates Legal Test Kitchen (LTK) and Legal C Bar concepts and in spring of 2011 opened Legal Harborside, a 20,000 sq ft flagship on the Boston waterfront.
District of Columbia
- Best Seafood Restaurant, USA Today, 2013
- Boston’s Most Popular Restaurant, Zagat, every year since 2003
- Most Admired Restaurant, Boston Business Journal, 2013 and 2012
- Best Classy Restaurant for Kids in Philly, Philadelphia Magazine, 2013
- Best New Restaurants, Legal Harborside, Esquire magazine, 2011
- Listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler’s Life List, Patricia Schultz
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