« January 2011 Table of Contents
Behind the Line: Bleacher creatures
Ivar's diverse settings, including sports stadiums, fuels long-term success
By Lauren Kramer
January 01, 2011
Twelve years ago when the Seattle Mariners were building
what's now known as Safeco Field, Ivar's was asked to open a
seafood bar onsite selling its famous fish and chips and
chowder. The restaurant company jumped at the opportunity to
diversify and today, that part of the company's business has
blossomed into 22 stadium locations and was projected to reach
$10 million in sales last year, according to Bob Donegan,
company president. "[Concession sales are] an
marketing tool for us, because it gets people to try our food.
Once they've done that, they tend to come into the restaurants
Diversification has been key to the continued growth and
success of Ivar's, a privately held Seattle company that
operates 63 food establishments, including 27 seafood bars, 22
walk-up counters at stadiums, eight hamburger restaurants and a
seafood, soup and sauce company for wholesale, private label
and retail sales.
"Despite the recession, 2009 was the best year in our
history," says Donegan. "I think it's because people were
reverting to comfort food like fish and chips and chowder.
Also, we're very affordable. People are looking for value, and
they find it in our restaurants."
The seafood, soup and sauce company accounts for Ivar's
biggest growth and has doubled in size in the past two years.
With 23 employees and a 16,000-square-foot facility in
Mulkilteo, Wash, it boasts 10,000 accounts nationwide,
including accounts in Canada, Mexico, Japan and China. "We're
finding more and more restaurants want products they can heat
and serve," says Donegan. "We do all the product development
and packaging for these products and all the restaurant or
consumer has to do is open the bag, heat the product and
sometimes add water."
The company has come a long way since its beginnings in
1938, when the late Seattle entrepreneur Ivar Haglund opened an
aquarium and began selling seafood dishes and chowder at the
waterfront's Pier 54. One of the three full-service
restaurants, Ivar's Acres of Clams, is still at that original
location, not far from the city's new aquarium. Ivar's Salmon House is on the shores of Seattle's Lake Union, while Ivar's
Mukilteo Landing is adjacent to the Mukilteo Ferry Landing, 30
minutes north of Seattle.
Each of the three full-service restaurants offers a daily
and weekly fresh sheet and a menu with predominantly grilled
food served with fresh accompaniments. The seafood bars, by
contrast, offer mostly fried food with slightly smaller portion
Affordability for customers has been a priority for the
company, says Donegan, especially during the recession. An
entrée of king salmon from Washington State's Neah Bay, for
example, costs $12 at one of Ivar's full-service restaurants,
but will sell for between $23 and $31 at any other seafood
restaurant in the area, he says.
The price of Alaska cod is another example of the company's
commitment to affordability and quality. "Cod fluctuates with
the strength of the U.S. dollar and we struggle with that all
the time," he says. "Seattle is a really literate market and if
you start using a less flavorful fish, customers don't like it.
So when the dollar is weak we take a decreased margin rather
than penalize customers. We know it will reverse ultimately and
we want those customers coming back. We don't want to
contaminate the relationship we have with them because of the
weakness or strength of the dollar."
Ever value-conscious, the company offered a fall promotion
at its full-service restaurants to reward regular customers who
tend to dine at Ivar's every 10 days. "We gave everyone who
ordered an entrée a free cup of chowder," says Donegan. "It
saved them $3.50, and rewarded those regular customers but also
encouraged new customers to come in and try us."
Sales were up 11 percent last year at Ivar's three
Ivar's sources the majority of its seafood from Alaska, with
10 percent coming from Washington state and
the remainder from
Oregon and British Columbia. Suppliers include
American Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Unisea, Odyssey Seafood, Taylor Shellfish and Kwik'Pak, a native fishery group on Alaska's
Yukon River. Ivar's purchases chum salmon from Kwik'Pak, using
it for broiled salmon sandwiches and salads. "The oil content
is higher than king salmon from most other rivers in the
country, so it's
really tasty," Donegan says. "And Kwik'Pak
[has] the nation's only fair-trade agricultural product."
Buying seafood from Alaska is an easy decision for Ivar's,
which uses wild fish exclusively. "The Alaska state
constitution requires that its fish stock be managed
sustainably, so when we buy from Alaska we know those fish will
be around for a long time," he says. "That's really important
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British