They’ve still got crab legs.
For nearly 40 years, the Sea Galley restaurant in Union Gap has been serving its Northwest-inspired steak and seafood menu. But that’s not all that has remained the same.
Harkening back to the 1980s, owner Steve Hart still relies on the legendary “We’ve got crab legs” jingle in his radio and TV ads.
“Back in the day, our commercials were up there with the best,” said Hart, who ran several Northwest Sea Galley locations before coming to Union Gap in 1996. “We still use the tune in our advertising because it’s part of our history. People remember us for it.”
Hart said the Union Gap Sea Galley is among the longest-running restaurants in town, tracing its opening date back to December 1979.
Today, it is the last remaining Sea Galley location (the restaurant in Anchorage, Alaska, closed in October 2018).
“We’re the grandfather of local restaurants,” said Hart, who estimates the number of guests who have come through over the years to be in the millions. “We’ve been here a really long time. People that were coming here in car seats are now pillars in the community.”
Sea Galley opened its first restaurant in Seattle in the 1970s before expanding to the former drive-in movie theater lot east of the Valley Mall in 1979.
The company peaked in the mid-1980s with 57 West Coast restaurants, but declared bankruptcy in 1994. Some of the restaurants fell into private hands, including others in Kennewick, Spokane and Anchorage.
“I went down with the ship,” Hart said. “But we had built a strong brand, and it made sense to stay open in certain markets. I decided to come over here because I’m a lifer.”
The Tacoma native remembers his dad’s love for seafood and family trips to the coast when he was a kid. Those memories have stayed with him, and they continue to influence his direction in life.
“I was raised on a bucket of clams,” he said proudly. “Since I’m from the Northwest and I grew up around seafood, it was hard to see myself doing anything else. This is just what I love to do.”
Committed To Service
Hart may not have stuck around so long if it weren’t for that passion for seafood and the restaurant industry. He found that doing business in the Yakima Valley also suited him well.
He says there’s a familiarity to the Union Gap Sea Galley that you can’t replicate.
The rustic décor matches the restaurant’s maritime theme, and the crew of 60-plus employees is always friendly and attentive.
Some staff members, such as supervisor April Flascher, predate Hart.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and having the right staff is essential,” Hart said. “There are definitely some advantages to being an owner/operator. When you’re part of a corporation, there can be a disconnect at the store level. But here, we can make local decisions that help us maintain consistency. That allows us to provide a better value for our customers.”
Hart pointed to some additional factors that have allowed Sea Galley to remain a Valley favorite for so many years.
Running catchy advertising spots, offering regular specials and building a strong relationship with the property owner have worked to Hart’s advantage.
But the real reason for Sea Galley’s long-term popularity in the Valley is that Hart has remained true to his core mission of offering great food at a decent price.
“You have to be sure the value is there,” he said. “That’s what
has worked for us and we’re sticking to it.”
Success Breeds Success
One way Hart draws in new business is to track what his competitors are doing.
When Red Lobster launches Crab Fest, Sea Galley opts for salmon specials instead. When Outback Steakhouse is pushing prawns, Hart might offer a steak and lobster promotion as a way of catching people’s attention.
But the reality is, Sea Galley is always going to have a loyal following.
“The real key is building up your base of regulars,” Hart said. “That’s what it’s all about. We love seeing young families come in because we’ve known them since they were kids. We’ve seen generations of people over the years.”
While the quality of the food and service are widely known, you can’t talk about the Union Gap Sea Galley without paying tribute to the Shipwreck Lounge.
The dark, spacious bar inside the restaurant sees crowds of people nearly every night, and has for decades.
“The Shipwreck Lounge is famous around here,” Hart said. “It’s become a great gathering spot on the weekends and during happy hour. It’s just a festive atmosphere that people seem to really enjoy.”
Visit Sea Galley at 25 E. Valley Mall Blvd. or call them at 509-575-1216.
• This article originally appeared in the Yakima Valley Business Times in the spring of 2018, when it was one of two remaining Sea Galley restaurants. As noted in the story, the Anchorage location closed in October 2018.