Celebrating 50 Years this June!

We’re 50!! Thank you to everyone who has spent the last six months celebrating with us (and to many, the last 50 years). This June we’re diving into our 50th summer season so grateful for this community.

Though our roots in Ballard date back to the 1930s, the Boathouse and Cafe that you all know and love came to be 50 years ago when our owners had the idea to take a steakhouse approach to fresh, sustainably sourced fish and local seafood, grilling and preparing it simply to let the seafood shine.

50 years later we are honored to continue this same approach with the love and support of the incredible Ray’s community!

We remain locally owned and operated in the same location we opened at in 1973. After a devastating fire in 1987, another fire in the 90s, and many economic ups and downs, we’ve always bounced back with the help of our hard working team and unwavering support from you, our loyal guests.

We thank all of Ray’s staff, past and present, for being stewards of our mission and we thank our guests for making Ray’s a tradition that continues on with each generation.

Please raise a glass with us this month and cheers to the next 50 years!!

Highlights of Ray’s history, 50 years & beyond:

  • Ray’s begins: In 1939 namesake Ray Lichtenberger moved his growing boat rental and bait house to the current location and later opened a coffee house. Through the 1960s 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 transformed it into a nationally respected seafood restaurant while maintaining its cordial atmosphere. Moscrip left to pursue other restaurant ventures and Elizabeth Gingrich joined the ownership team in 1975. Seattle Sonics star Jack Sikma would join the ownership team a few years later and is still an owner today.
  • Under Wohlers, 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 a Pacific Northwest food revolution by helping to introduce its distinctive regional cuisine built around Northwest products, microbrews and wines.
  • This approach drew national recognition from top food critics, writers, chefs, and personalities including Julia Child who received a personal tour of the Puget Sound from Russ’ seaplane in the 1990s. It also captured the hearts and palates of locals and tourists who packed the restaurants nightly to enjoy the fresh, seasonal fare.
  • Many “firsts:” Ray’s was the first to reintroduce Seattleites to Olympia oysters, the region’s only native oyster, elevated Northwest delicacies such as singing scallops, Loughborough Inlet spot prawns, Copper River Salmon, Bruce Gore “frozen at sea” salmon and the then-novel concept of serving red wine with fish.
  • In 2002 Ray’s earned an America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation.
  • Notable Employees: Ray’s has had the pleasure of employing and fostering many local chefs and notable figures including Chris Cornell of Soundgarden who worked as a line cook in the 1980s.
  • Sustainable seafood before it was popular: 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 fisherpeople, ensuring the freshest catch—light years ahead of today’s “sustainable seafood” consciousness
  • Ownership from within: Two new co-owners stepped into the partnership from within the Ray’s family after Gingrich retired in 2017: Tom Olsson, a longtime Ray’s team member who started in Ray’s kitchens and worked his way to Chief Financial Officer, and General Manager Douglas Zellers, best known for managing iconic local restaurants.

Photo by Ali Nassersaid

Reeling in the years at Ray’s by Russ Wohlers

Russ Wohlers

Ray’s started with the small kernel of an idea that salmon and other fish could be broiled just like a steak on a beach bonfire grill, after reeling it into the boat from a good day of fishing. Then came halibut, lingcod, sable fish, oysters, mussels and clams. Excellent seafood that could be cooked in a way that made the true flavor of the food shine. Simple, good ingredients, cooked with herbs and salt and pepper…

But lets back up to how this simple idea mixed with the right people at the right time, altered the way Seattleites and the Northwest not only dined, but approached food.

Growing up on a small apple farm in the Wenatchee Valley, there was nothing but fresh seasonal food to enjoy, and fishing salmon and trout in the Wenatchee River with friends was my reward for chores and hard work on the ranch. Catching and eating fresh fish, as well as harvesting fruits and vegetables was a highlight of my youth, and this way of eating was forever engrained in me.

In the mid 1960s I spent a summer in Southeast Alaska as a cook and crewmember of a purse seiner, learning the ropes in the kitchen and furthering my knowledge about fishing. The money I earned allowed me to spend a quarter at the University of Washington where I met an exchange student from Austria whose older brother was managing a boutique hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. So, off I went on a grand adventure that was to last three years in Jackson Hole, where I tutored under a European trained chef for a period of time.

It was here I discovered that I really enjoyed cooking and restaurants. This led me to Sun Valley, Idaho where I managed a steak and salad concept for two years before getting transferred to Seattle to manage a different restaurant within the company.

One day in Seattle, I was picking up supplies at Bargreen Restaurant Supply (now Bargreen Ellingston) I asked Sam Bargreen about good restaurant locations in the city and he suggested Ray’s Boathouse, “it’s a little out of town but a really good location”.

I took his advice, went out to Ray’s and was instantly inspired to make the concept of simply prepared, fresh local seafood a reality. From a partnership involving myself, Earl Lasher and Duke Moscrip, Ray’s Boathouse & Café as it is today was born.

The idea was to do as much as possible with a few really good ingredients. Ray’s started assembling cooks that had passion and ideas to do different things, to innovate. We reeled in great ideas from everyone that offered innovation. Ray’s then filtered these ideas through our identity, standards of quality and concept to ensure that we stayed on course.

We had a wholesale fish buyer’s license very early and bought fish right off the boats that fished in Puget Sound in front of the restaurant.

In order to get really good fish Wayne Ludvigson and I put out the word that we would pay cash if fisherman would bring us the best quality fish. That started fishermen as well as gatherers coming to our back door with the best they had. We didn’t overcook. We served our seafood with steamed fresh vegies, crisp salads and fluffy rice/grain mixtures, and the rest is history.

The dynamism of the Seattle market has challenged our industry to be innovative. Over the nearly 45 years that Ray’s has been reeling in ideas much has changed and much has remained the same. When I started cooking 50 years ago cooks were the “low man on the totem pole” today chefs are the stars.

What makes a great restaurant and a great chef is longevity. This requires balance between cooking skills, people skills, business skills and innovation. These skills combined create success, and success allows longevity.

Of course longevity doesn’t exist without our guests. We have the most incredible, loyal guests. They have praised us, challenged us, pushed us to innovate further, humbled us, and inspired us to never stop improving.

Hospitality has always been a driving force at Ray’s. My mother’s family was from England and manners and hospitality was very important in our household growing up. Besides an excellent seafood restaurant, I wanted all of our guests to leave Ray’s feeling as if they’d just left a family meal, full of warmth, great food and wine, and a level of care they’d not experienced in a restaurant before.

Over the last 44 years we have reeled in excellent teammates that added to the success of Ray’s then graduated to own their own restaurants, wineries, and other businesses. We are always evolving as a company and currently we are doing so both physically and philosophically. We have younger partners in our new co-owners Douglas Zellers and Tom Olsson who partner well with Executive Chef Paul Duncan to bring new energy, innovation, seek out excellent new team members, all while staying true to our roots of simply prepared local seafood.

The future at Ray’s is brimming with excitement for what the next 45 years will bring… who will be the next fisherman we discover with new improved sustainable practices, what wines will our team reel in that creates an incredible new pairing, who will cook in our kitchens and blow us all away with their talent… we don’t know yet but we hope you’ll be along for the ride!

See you soon,

Russ Wohlers, Ray’s Founding Partner

Ray’s Celebrates Alaska Herring Week

Alaska Herring Week Ray's Boathouse 2017

Alaska Herring Week starts today through June 25th!

This week celebrates herring, the most consumed fish in the world, but often overlooked in the U.S. It contains more omega 3s than salmon, a Northwest favorite, and imparts delicious flavor to any number of dishes – not just pickled! It can be poached, smoked, grilled, fried, you name it. That’s why we’re excited to be joining in the effort to raise awareness of our local Alaska herring and all it has to offer.

Executive Chef Paul Duncan has created a beautiful herring dish available today through June 25th in the first floor Boathouse: crispy fried herring fillet, potato blini, pickled radish, and tarragon cream for $26.

Join us and savor this sustainably harvested fish while it lasts! To learn more about Alaska Herring Week, click here.

For Boathouse reservations, call 206.789.3770 or click here.