Legal Sea Foods
|Founded||Cambridge, Massachusetts, fish market (1950); restaurant (1968)|
|Headquarters||Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
Number of locations
|Roger Berkowitz, President & CEO
Rich Vellante, Executive Chef
Sandy Block, MW, VP of Beverage
Number of employees
|Footnotes / references
Legal Sea Foods is an American restaurant chain of upscale casual-dining seafood restaurants. 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 of August 6, 2014, the group operates 33 restaurants in six states, plus the District of Columbia, with most in the Greater Boston area. 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, given to loyal customers. The store provided a good living for Harry and his family up until the late 1940s, when chain grocery stores like Stop & Shop and others entered the picture and provided stiff competition for 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 Berkowitz family decided to open a restaurant in the adjacent 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 expanded 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 was destroyed in a fire. With the help of his two sons, Marc and Roger, they opened 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, took over as CEO of the private restaurant business. Roger had 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 voiced 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. Later in the year, the restaurant later opened a location 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 dishes created are still on the current menu.
In 1998, Roger Berkowitz was 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 named 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 presented Roger Berkowitz 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 sponsored Legal Sea Food's 50th birthday with celebrity chefs, including 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.
In 2005, a new type of restaurant, Legal Test Kitchen (LTK), opened with a menu that is 50 to 60 percent non-seafood and with lower prices than at their more traditional locations. Also in 2005, Legal began 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) opened in the newly developed South Boston Waterfront District in Boston and offers multicultural dining options. In 2006, Legal became 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 was awarded "#1 Best Family Restaurant" by Parents magazine. And later in the year, Roger Berkowitz was 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 opened in Dedham, Massachusetts, focused on serving casual seafood and custom cocktails. Also that year, Cheers magazine gave Legal Sea Foods the two top awards for their outstanding beverage program.
In 2010, Legal Sea Food celebrated sixty years in business,the restaurants offering clam chowder for 60 cents a cup.
In 2011, Legal opened their new flagship restaurant, Legal Harborside on the Boston waterfront and it was soon named "Best New Restaurant" by Esquire magazine. The Harborside location has a trout fishing pond in the restaurant's main lobby where children can catch and release fish from a licensed indoor fishing pond.
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.
In February 2018, Legal announced they would be opening a Legal C Bar location in the Garden City section of Cranston, Rhode Island. The restaurant will be the anchor of a new 30,000-square-foot building that is part of Garden City Center.
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 gluten-free menu options 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.
- 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
- Legal Sea Foods clam chowder served at every presidential inauguration since 1981
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 23,000 square feet (2,100 m2), 700 seat, flagship restaurant on the South Boston Waterfront. In 2014, three neighborhood restaurants, Legal Crossing, Legal Oysteria, and Legal on the Mystic, debuted.
District of Columbia
Advertising and marketing
In the late summer of 2014, Legal began running print and television spots, in six states and the District of Columbia, that argue that its seafood restaurants should never be called a chain. The series of advertisements, created by the New York advertising firm DeVito/Verdi, uses the restaurant's chief executive, Roger Berkowitz to explain why his seafood restaurants should not be called a chain.
In March 2015, Legal partnered with the ride-sharing company Uber on a promotion to deliver bowls of clam chowder anywhere in the city of Boston. The chowder cost $10 with $1 being donated to the Greater Boston Food Bank.
In 2015, Legal once again teamed up with DeVito/Verdi to launch a multimedia advertising campaign that attempts to establish a new religion whose members will be known as "pescatarians," comparing them to Catholics and Presbyterians. CEO Berkowitz said that the campaign was the widest-reaching to date and spanned all forms of media from print, online, television, and even a gag website. The humorous campaign did face some minor backlash from religious people who were offended by comparing the restaurant to Jesus and Moses.
During the presidential primary of 2016, Legal launched a campaign themed parody produced by DeVito/Verdi. On Super Tuesday, Roger Berkowitz declared himself a candidate for President of the United States in a parody ad campaign of the "fishy" election. Among other things, he promised that on his first day in office he'd legalize seaweed, and he urged voters to #feeltheberk on social media. The spots aired in newspapers, news radio and in print.
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