The Fisher King

By Kris Frieswick | Boston Magazine |

[sidebar]Those who have worked for Berkowitz say this tendency sometimes creates an environment where unless you “speak Roger,” you can never be sure you’re doing it right — whatever “it” happens to be. For starters, Berkowitz has a nasty case of what Heller calls “men’s room syndrome,” which he explains thusly: “If you’re coming out of the men’s room and Roger’s walking by and he’s got an idea, he’ll turn to you and say, ‘Do it.’” Jeff Tenner, who, until departing on good terms last December, was Legal’s executive director of culinary operations, concurs. “He was the kind of guy who didn’t always give the clearest directions. A big piece [of the job] was learning to interpret his vision.”

So yes, Roger Berkowitz can be challenging to work for. But after 40 years at the company his father started in 1950, and almost 20 as a CEO who now oversees 4,000 employees and 32 restaurants, Berkowitz seems to be doing just fine at Legal Sea Foods. The management and staff at each of Legal’s restaurants are “very aware of his passions and beliefs,” says Tenner. “He set a bar and a level of standard for folks to work toward. Whether you were in DC or in Florida, Roger’s presence was always felt.” This focus has allowed Berkowitz to produce staggering results: more than $200 million in sales and 8 million people served each year.

“We have a philosophy,” says Berkowitz. “It’s very simple. It’s called ROG, Return of Guest. And everyone in every aspect of the operation has got to be doing something that translates into the guest wanting to return.” As Berkowitz sees it, his role — his passion and purpose — is maintaining the integrity of the customer experience.

You’d think that the best way to promote customer loyalty and the company brand would be to keep a low-key public profile. Most CEOs in Berkowitz’s position will avoid saying anything that might anger the customer base or negatively affect public opinion. They are highly trained by media experts, and seem to never actually say anything in public unless accompanied by a script and a PR watchdog.

Not Berkowitz. For him, challenging the status quo tends to manifest itself as shooting his mouth off in public, consequences be damned. He seems to relish conflict, especially when he’s at the center of it — and even more so when he’s created it.