TNT Diner

New owners of Johnny's Dock plan big remodel for the waterfront restaurant

Johnny’s Dock Restaurant is known for its waterside perch with a view of the marina.
Johnny’s Dock Restaurant is known for its waterside perch with a view of the marina.

A series of changes is in store for Johnny’s Dock Restaurant & Marina, the Tacoma waterfront restaurant and surrounding property that was purchased this month by a group of five property developers.

Steve Novotny, representing the five owners, said this will be their first foray into restaurant ownership.

“We didn’t buy the place for the restaurant. We bought the building for the space. We’re property developers mostly. But we’re also Johnny’s Dock lovers,” said Novotny, who worked 10 years in the dining and hospitality industry before becoming a property developer.

They hatched an idea to give the restaurant a modern makeover.

Novotny will oversee a host of remodeling projects that slowly will change the look and feel of the restaurant. He's also working with Executive Chef Steve Ng, who has been with the restaurant 40 years, to update the menu.

All staff members have stayed on, which includes several long-tenured employees, said Novotny.

John Crabill and Dave Bingham bought Johnny’s Dock in 1986 from Crabill’s grandfather, Johnny Meaker, after whom the restaurant is named. He was also the Johnny behind Johnny’s Seasoning Salt and the company that sold it, Johnny’s Fine Foods.

Johnny and Beulah “Bea” Meaker originally founded the restaurant about 64 years ago on Pier 3, but it burned down in 1961. The restaurant was rebuilt in the same location and then moved to its current location at 1900 E. D St. in 1977.

Crabill continues to operate a sister restaurant, Johnny’s at Fife. Johnny’s Fine Foods also continues to operate. Those were not part of the sale.

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The fish and chips, a menu mainstay at Johnny's Dock, also will remain. Sue Kidd

When it opened, Johnny’s Dock was the go-to place for proms, anniversary dinners and banquets. In recent years, it’s become a place for live music and a solid martini but equipped with a dated dining room and design.

Its new owners expect to invest six figures in modernizing the space, which is more than 10,000 square feet and a total of about 360 seats.

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Johnny’s Dock Restaurant and Marina are located on the Foss Waterway. Sue Kidd

Construction already has started. The deck was torn off, and a new, larger one is expected to be open by Mother’s Day. They plan to add fold-up glass doors in the bar that when flung open connect the bar to the deck outside.

The front entry also will receive a considerable makeover.

Other plans call for tearing out an old office at the front of the building and turning it into a space that will double as a live music venue and sports bar. They plan to add a dance floor, something the building currently lacks and is in short supply around Tacoma.

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The dining room of Johnny's Dock will be getting a remodel this year. Sue Kidd

The dated decor— featuring a sort of burgundy, mauve and tan motif that hasn’t been in favor with restaurant designers for a few decades— will be replaced with shades of blue and other sea-inspired colors. Novotny said the designers plan a wall of Johnny’s Dock memorabilia and nods to waterfront living along the Foss Waterway.

“We want people to feel like it’s the jewel of Tacoma,” said Novotny. “We want to pay homage to the history here.

“... every single day I’m down here, somebody tells me about their prom dinner. A lady showed me a picture on her phone when her husband asked her to marry him at Johnny’s Dock. I feel like I’m dealing with sacred territory here.”

Novotny said portions of the building might be closed during the remodel. They plan only a few down days of total closure.

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The clam chowder at Johnny's Dock will remain on the menu. Sue Kidd

“We’re trying to stay open as much as possible and doing the work at night,” he said.

The remodel will take most of the year to complete.

While Novotny and his business partners — Roy Kissler, Adam Raygor, Neal Holden and Ken Rody — plan to focus on revamping the restaurant, they also are researching developing the sizable property surrounding it.

As for the menu, Novotny said Ng plans to modernize the steak-and-seafood offerings.

About 80 percent of the menu they’ll keep, including the restaurant's popular clam chowder and fish and chips. Several existing dishes will be reinvented to appeal to a more modern palate. They’ve already started making changes to the bar menu. This weekend, a gourmet burger menu will debut in the bar.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270, @tntdiner

Johnny’s Dock Restaurant & Marina

Where: 1900 E. D St., Tacoma

Info: 253-627-3186 or