Legal Sea Foods is vacating its longtime seafood processing plant in Boston’s Seaport District for a shiny new Innovation Center in nearby Milford, Mass.
But the 25-unit New England staple will maintain a presence on the city’s waterfront with a new headquarters on the Boston Fish Pier, not far from its old digs.
Legal’s former processing plant, known as the Quality Control Center, served several purposes, none of which involved processing fish: It housed a commissary that produced its crab cakes, chowders and other non-fish menu items; an inspection point for the fish going into its restaurants; and a corporate office. The 75,000-square-foot facility was actually too large for Legal’s purposes, and it also needed a lot of work.
“It was a large commercial seafood processing plant and corporate office space that was not really designed for what it was being used for,” said Matt King, Legal’s president and COO. “[It was] going to require a huge amount of investment back into the facility to bring it up to modern specifications and what it needed to be for us.”
PPX Hospitality Brands, the restaurant company that acquired Legal in 2020, had to decide whether it wanted to upgrade the building or look for a different solution. It ended up finding a seafood company that had offices on the pier and was looking to consolidate production under one roof. So that company and Legal essentially traded spaces.
Legal’s new headquarters sit right on the water, allowing it to remain close to its seafood partners. In fact, the offices are now directly above the fisherman who catches Legal’s haddock, pollack and squid. “It works out really well,” King said. And just next door is Legal Harborside, the chain’s flagship restaurant.
Meanwhile, Legal’s Quality Control Center operation is heading about 35 miles southwest to Milford, to the massive headquarters of Clarke, a wholesale distributor of Sub-Zero, Wolf and Cove kitchen appliances. Clarke is also Legal’s refrigerator supplier.
There, PPX will carve out its 30,000-square-foot Innovation Center, which will function much like Legal’s Quality Control Center with additional culinary and creative space for PPX’s other brands, Smith & Wollensky and Strega Italiano.
The big move is indicative of PPX’s big plans for Legal. It will soon open the first Legal Sea Foods outside of the East Coast, in Chicago, for instance. It’s also doubling down on Legal’s ecommerce business that ships food all over the country. The Innovation Center will be a critical part of both initiatives.
“This space will be able to continue to service our current restaurants and have the capacity to grow for more restaurants as well as the capacity for us to continue to grow our ecommerce business,” King said.
The company is particularly bullish on that ecommerce line, which began years ago as a mail-order business and evolved into an online operation. When PPX bought Legal, it licensed the ecommerce division to Legal’s longtime CEO Roger Berkowitz but has since brought it back into the PPX fold and is putting more money behind it.
King said there was always a disconnect between the food Legal served in its restaurants and the food that was shipped to households. With the Innovation Center, both groups of customers can expect the exact same thing.
“You order chowder in the restaurant, it’s the same chowder,” he said. “You order salmon, it’s the same salmon.”
The new, more modern facility will also allow Legal to package its products into meal kits that are easier for customers to prepare. And it will have more capacity, allowing Legal to fulfill more orders.
While it’s building the Innovation Center, Legal is leasing space in the former Quality Control Center to keep the ecommerce business and other functions running. But it currently has more ecommerce demand than it’s able to fill. “We see a lot of opportunity to grow it,” King said.
As for when the Innovation Center will open, King called that “the million-dollar question.” If all goes well, the current target is February.
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