A Tacoma waterfront landmark, shuttered since January, will reopen Monday after a multimillion-dollar remodeling and expansion that created a new waterside light-dining option for Tacomans and returns the company that owns it to the retail seafood business.
Johnny’s Seafood’s updated building at 1199 Dock St. on downtown’s Thea Foss Waterway remains in the location the seafood market has occupied for 39 years, but it has several new uses.
The expansion will increase employment at the Tacoma location from the four who operated it before it closed to 24, said Bob Simon, general manager of Pacific Seafood’s Washington division.
The old building’s on-site eating facilities consisted of two picnic benches outside the building where customers could eat the shrimp and crab cocktails and smoked salmon they had bought inside at the retail fish counter. The rehabilitated structure has tables for 48 diners inside and a like number outside along the expanded esplanade overlooking the waterway.
The building is equipped with a full kitchen and bar as well as the traditional retail cases for seafood. The bar will also serve beer and wine.
Johnny’s, owned by Oregon-based Pacific Seafoods since 2006, added the bistro in part at the suggestion of the city of Tacoma, which owned the building before selling it to Pacific. In return for a reduced price on the structure and the land, the city required Pacific to invest in the remodeling and to create amenities that would add to the liveliness of the Foss Waterway.
The Foss is a former industrial inlet from Commencement Bay that the city and its Thea Foss Waterway Development Authority have been cleaning up and improving for two decades.
Pacific also operates waterfront bistros at two of its Oregon coast locations.
In addition to the bistro and the expanded retail market and distribution facilities that Pacific created, the seafood company expanded the waterfront esplanade that stretches along the waterway’s east side through its property.
The trick for Pacific Seafood, one of the nation’s largest seafood companies, said Simon, was to create an attraction for waterway visitors without competing with its own wholesale customers who buy seafood and meat from Pacific.
“We didn’t want to become competition for our own customers,” said Simon. That’s why the company carefully created its bistro menu to include mostly lighter items with emphasis on fresh fish and shellfish.
The bistro’s menu includes, for instance, steamer clams, oysters and Penn Cove mussels on its appetizer menu. The entree side of the menu includes grilled salmon sandwiches, Wagyu bacon cheeseburgers, halibut and chips, a Dungeness crab cake sandwich and a fried oyster poor-boy.
The restaurant will be open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week.
In addition to the restaurant, the Dock Street Johnny’s location has taken on two other new functions with the remodeling.
The building will now serve as a distribution center for Pacific Seafood in the South Sound and Southwest Washington. And it has become the meat-cutting and packaging center for the Northwest for the company.
A large semi-trailer will bring seafood from the company’s Mukilteo processing and distribution plant at 4 a.m. each day. The trailer’s load will be transferred to four smaller trucks that will fan out to deliver to restaurants and markets.
Having the four trucks based in Tacoma will improve Pacific’s reach because drivers won’t have to deliver from Mukilteo, thus allowing them to drive to more distant destinations south of Tacoma within the time the Department of Transportation allows them to be at the wheel, Simon said.
Pacific Seafood branched out into restaurant-quality meat several years ago, at first contracting out the cutting and packaging to another company. When the meat business reached 25 percent of the company’s sales, said Simon, Pacific decided it made sense to do the meat cutting and packaging itself. The company had made an offer on a Seattle-based meat company, but that deal collapsed. When that happened, Pacific decided to create a meat-cutting plant at its Tacoma Dock Street location.
That facility includes two large meat aging rooms and a cutting and packaging room. The meat the company supplies to restaurants will also be available for retail sale at the Dock Street store.
When the company was remodeling, it debated how to identify the upgraded facilities. Should Pacific keep the Johnny’s name or change it to the corporate Pacific Seafood?
Simon said Johnny’s, which was founded in 1954 by “Little John” Gerontis and his business partner, “Big John” Cologerou, had long ties with the community and a sterling reputation for its seafood. On the other hand, Pacific, a family-owned company, has itself established a brand well-known on the West Coast for its quality and connection to the communities it serves.
In the end, the new building bears both names. Johnny’s will remain the most prominent, but Pacific’s will be displayed boldly in the lighthouse-like tower that now makes up one corner of the building.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663