« August 2007 Table of Contents
In the Kitchen: Brew crew
Ram promotes seafood across casual and upscale dining concepts
By Joan M. Lang
August 01, 2007
Seafood has emerged as an important vehicle to express the
quality strategy at Ram International, the Lakewood, Wash.,
parent of Ram Restaurant & Brewery and Prime Dine
"Over the years, seafood has become an increasingly
important menu category for us," says James Cassidy, Ram's
corporate chef and purchasing director. "When we opened the
first Ram in 1971 our menu was pretty simple: burgers, pizza,
salads and sandwiches. Our premise was to focus on superior
quality for these products."
With 16 locations in Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Oregon and
Washington operating under the Ram name, the casual
brewpub/restaurant has emerged as the primary growth vehicle in
a multi-brand stable. Ram International's other concepts
include C.B. & Potts (the same concept as it is known in
Colorado and Wyoming) and two more upscale concepts under the
Prime Dine Group umbrella: Murphy's Seafood & Steakhouse
and C.L. Shenanigans, for a total of 27 restaurants
"We commit to serving the best, and for us that means wild
product," says Cassidy, who has worked with the company for 24
years. "It costs a little more, but we believe our patrons
really appreciate that."
Alaska sockeye salmon, cod and halibut feature prominently
on the Ram menu, along with jumbo prawns, rock shrimp, calamari
and crab. Species are cross-utilized into appetizers, salads
and sandwiches, as well as entrées.
With an average check of $13.90, Ram is positioned slightly
above Applebee's and Chili's. The fact that the company brews
its own beer has also helped the concept find its own niche.
Handcrafted beers like Total Disorder Porter, Colorado Blonde
and Buttface Amber are memorable specialties.
In addition to its core menu, Ram runs half a dozen
extensive promotions a year, and top performers find their way
to the regular lineup. A recent Wild Seafood Celebration this
spring netted several new items, including Pacific rock shrimp
fajitas and penne, and Basket of the Sea Cobb, a salad made
with sockeye salmon, Pacific rock shrimp and wild Mexican
Sinaloa jumbo prawns.
"We're always looking for new products and new ways of using
them, and the promotions have been very effective for us," he
Some of the company's best-selling seafood specialties were
discovered through promotions, including rock shrimp scampi,
potato-wrapped prawns and a top-selling crab and artichoke dip
made with Dungeness crab.
"We get 12 to 18 percent of our orders from our features,
which is outstanding for casual dining," says Cassidy.
The top-selling seafood items, however, remain old
faithfuls: salmon, blackened or simply grilled, and fish and
chips menued as Arctic Cod, Chips & Kickin' Slaw. That's
not to say there's nothing new here. Being a brewpub, Ram menu
items utilize their housemade craft brews in menu items
"We recently switched the fish and chips batter to use Big
Horn Hefeweizen," says Cassidy. "It has a light, lemony flavor
that's perfect with fish. I don't know why we never thought of
The company has sourced wild Alaska seafood since the early
1980s, says Cassidy. But as the market changed and Copper River
became too expensive, the company has moved to other rivers and
other species, and now is a huge user of wild Alaska sockeye
That loyalty has put the company in an excellent position to
grow into the seafood business - that and the fact that Ram
International has also worked with one vendor, Pacific Seafood
of Clackamas, Ore., since 1983. "They've done an outstanding
job for us, especially in the area of sourcing and handling,"
Ram's usage of salmon and other wild products has grown
considerably over the years.
Last summer, Cassidy flew up to Alaska and went out on a
salmon boat, making all the necessary arrangements to purchase
the season's haul of sockeye salmon and have it frozen for
In markets like Chicago and Indiana, being able to offer
wild sockeye salmon is a distinct advantage.
"In the Northwest, it's common, but in the Midwest, our
guests don't have that many opportunities to try a fish with
such great flavor and color," Cassidy notes. "It really helps
set us apart."
Prime Dine Group is also a significant seafood buyer -
almost all of it from daily fresh sheets.
"At that menu price point [$32 to $34 per person], we're
able to bring in fresh fish from all over the world, and we're
looking for sustainability there, too," says Cassidy. Seafood
accounts for about 90 percent of the menu at Murphy's and
Shenanigan's, both which have an extensive daily oyster
selection. Care is taken, however, to avoid any crossover
between the Prime Dine brands, many of which share a parking
lot with Ram.
Over the next year-and-a-half the company will open four
additional Ram restaurants and Sonrisa, a new high-end
fresh-Mexican concept in Seattle. With a focus on authentic
fresh ingredients and recipes, Sonrisa will feature a number of
signature seafood items. Although the menu is still in the
early planning stages, Cassidy says it's been fun working with
a whole new set of ingredients and cooking methods.
Even as the company branches out into new menu concepts and
specialties, however, quality remains the No. 1 focus.
"It's been our focus from the beginning, and as the market
has changed, the issue of quality has also come to include
sustainability," says Cassidy. "Being able to offer cleaner,
more natural products, seafood as well as other categories, is
a tremendous advantage for us. It contributes to our check
average, and it meets the expectations of
Contributing Editor Joan M. Lang lives in Cape Elizabeth,