Legal Sea Foods, a concept with more than 25 stores along the East Coast, has been acquired by Smith & Wollensky Steakhouses parent PPX Hospitality Brands for an undisclosed amount.
PPX will operate each restaurant under the Legal banner, including the airport locations. PPX’s purchase also includes Legal’s Quality Control Center in Boston’s Seaport.
Former Legal CEO Roger Berkowitz—the son of restaurant founder George Berkowitz—will retain ownership of the name for channels outside the restaurant, including e-commerce and retail. Both sides will work in complementary fashion to grow the 70-year-old brand. Anne Marie Escobar, formerly the COO of Legal, will now serve as president.
“The recent pressures COVID-19 has placed upon the restaurant industry have been enormous and nearly impossible to tackle alone,” said PPX CMO Kim Giguere-Lapine in a statement. “As someone with decades of experience with Smith & Wollensky and several other New England brands, including a brief time at Legal Sea Foods, seeing restaurant operators come together to find solutions that support each other is a cause for celebration. We are confident we’ll get through these challenging times together.”
PPX, headquartered in Medford, Massachusetts, was founded in 2019 with the goal of preserving the brand equity of newly acquired restaurants while also “utilizing PPX resources and infrastructure to invest in the brands, the people, and the operations to bolster growth and prosperity.”
In addition to Smith & Wollensky and Legal, PPX also owns a collection of Italian restaurants known as Strega Italiano Restaurants and Caffés. Employees of Legal have been invited to remain with the team. PPX hopes to employ roughly 3,000 workers among the three brands.
“Delivering a memorable dining experience has so many different layers to consider and it starts before the guests even walk in the door,” said Chef Matt King, PPX chief culinary officer in a statement. “At Legal Sea Foods, we will continue the Legal legacy of sourcing the best seafood available by identifying local partners that source, harvest, and process only the freshest quality seafood for a truly memorable pier-to-plate meal.”
Legal started in 1950 when George Berkowitz opened a fish market in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He debuted the restaurant portion 18 years later. The restaurant offers more than 40 varieties of fresh fish and shellfish throughout the year. Its New England Clam Chowder has been served at every Presidential Inauguration since 1981.
The brand operates 27 stores in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Because of the COVID pandemic, six stores have permanently shut down. Eighteen of the 27 locations have reopened.
Roger Berkowitz, who has led the chain since 1992, told Boston.com that under ordinary circumstances, he probably wouldn’t have sold the business, but COVID has been far from ordinary. He doesn’t expect business to return to normal until next fall.
“If you’re a restaurateur and you have a large war chest, and you’re going to sit on that and then look at it as an opportunity to expand, that’s certainly one avenue,” he told the publication. “Certainly the group that we sold to, that’s their strategy, and I think it’s a perfectly sound strategy to tell you the truth.”