Say what you like about Roger Berkowitz, but don’t tell the owner of Legal Sea Foods he's running a chain of restaurants.
“Each of our restaurants is unique, not cookie-cutter,” the chief executive insists in a new commercial. “So, you can call me stupid, an egomaniac, or even an (bleeped out expletive), just don’t call me a chain.”
Berkowitz is the star of a new Legal Sea Foods marketing campaign that will appear on television beginning Friday. A version of the ads, which humorously express his disdain for the word “chain” and refer to it as a “four-letter word,” will also appear in print.
In one commercial, Berkowitz is strapped to a lie detector and asked if the person who called Legal Sea Foods a chain is “a complete moron.” He answers “no” and the machine says he’s lying.
For years, Berkowitz has taken offense when the term is used to describe his seafood restaurants. And it happens a lot.
Legal Sea Foods owns and operates 34 seafood establishments from Georgia to New York. About 25 of the restaurants are traditional Legal Sea Foods concepts, well-known for their similar menus, appearance, service, and quality. Berkowitz has even referred to these establishments as “identical twins.”
He broke the mold in 2005 with Legal Test Kitchen, a smaller restaurant at Logan International Airport that features more multicultural options to go along with traditional seafood. Berkowitz branched out again in 2007 with Legal C Bar, a drink-centric bar and restaurant. Both concepts have since been duplicated at other locations.
Now the company is developing more unique eateries, from Legal Oysteria, a Coastal Italian restaurant in Charlestown, to Legal Crossing, an edgy spot Downtown.
Berkowitz said he plans to further differentiate his restaurants in the future. He said the strategy is intended to attract a wider range of consumers, but adds that it may be a subconscious move to convince people to stop calling his company a chain.
It’s not so much the word, Berkowitz said, but the negative connotation that comes with it.
“It’s dismissive. It’s denigrating,” he said. “When people hear it, psychologically they are shut off to the nuances of what makes us different and special. There is a built-in unsaid prejudice about chains. When you say chain, it’s almost as if it’s soulless.”
Taryn Luna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org