What began as a dockside cafe known for its home-cooked meals has become a must-visit Seattle restaurant with a majestic view of Puget Sound and the rugged Olympic Mountains.
In 1939 the original owner, Ray Lichtenberger, moved his growing boat rental and bait house to the current location and in 1945 opened a coffee house. By 1952, he’d built the neon sign that flashes “RAY’S” in bold, red letters on the dock overlooking Shilshole Bay at the crossing point to Puget Sound and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks leading to Lake Washington.
Through the 1960′s Ray’s operated as both a casual fish-and-chips cafe and boat rental. In 1973 Russ Wohlers, Earl Lasher and Duke Moscrip bought Ray’s Boathouse and quickly refurbished the structure, transforming into a nationally respected seafood restaurant while maintaining its cordial, glad-to-see-you atmosphere. While Moscrip left to pursue other restaurant ventures, Elizabeth Gingrich joined the owner team in 1975 and former Seattle Sonic Jack Sikma joined in 1986.
Under Wohlers guidance, Ray’s built its reputation on seasonal dishes prepared simply to highlight the flavors of impeccably fresh seafood and the freshest locally grown produce. Ray’s became part of what has been called a food revolution in the Pacific Northwest, helping to introduce a fashionable and distinctive regional cuisine built around Northwest products, microbrews and wines.
Ray’s was the first to reintroduce to Seattleites Olympia oysters, the region’s only native oyster, and heralded Northwest delicacies such as singing scallops, Loughborough Inlet spot prawns, Copper River Salmon, Bruce Gore “frozen at sea” salmon and the concept of red wine with fish. In 1976, Ray’s was also the first local restaurant to purchase its own wholesale fish buyer’s license, allowing it to buy directly from the fishermen, ensuring the freshest catch.
On May 26, 1987, at the height of its popularity, Ray’s Boathouse burned to the pier. The four-alarm fire was reported by major newspapers across the country and footage of the fire appeared on national newscasts. Seattleites responded overwhelmingly to rebuild the landmark and a new Boathouse opened in April 1988.
On May 23, 1997, Ray’s suffered its second fire nearly ten years to the day of the first fire. Fortunately, damage was contained to the Boathouse kitchen and the restaurant reopened in July 1997.
Ray’s maintains a strong commitment to the community by participating in local fundraisers and supporting local charities. Sustainability practices and nurturing relationships with local purveyors also remains a strong focus. In 2013, Ray’s will celebrate its 40th birthday year with a variety of activities to thank the community that has supported Ray’s over the decades. With a complete overhaul of the Boathouse dining room in late 2012, under the direction of Eric Hentz and his team at Mallet, Inc., Rays is looking ahead to the next 40 years with passion and excitement.