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