The Fisher King

By Kris Frieswick | Boston Magazine |

“I suppose he sort of wanted to emulate part of what we were doing when he opened up his operation,” Berkowitz says. “I think there’s always the feeling that you’ve opened up your kimono too much. When someone tries to do a knockoff on what you’re doing, inside, you always feel a little, what is the word? I suppose ‘betrayed’ in some way might be one adjective. But I thought back to the good things he did and frankly, he does his thing now and we do it on two different levels. I have respect for what he’s done. I really do.”

“There is nothing that Roger Berkowitz knows that Jasper White can’t figure out,” counters Lydia Shire, the Boston culinary legend who has partnered with White on the restaurant Towne. Shire, who calls White her “best friend in the whole world,” says she likes and respects Berkowitz, but wonders, “How can you belittle someone who has such great talent? That’s impossible.” For his part, White would say only that “I enjoyed my time at Legal and I think it was a mutually beneficial experience.”

BERKOWITZ, WHO HAS GAINED a reputation as a humanitarian, sits on a number of boards for charities, hospitals, and educational institutions. He is especially interested in the issue of public health and education — a field that Berkowitz thinks he might be interested in pursuing one day…if he ever retires.

At 59, Berkowitz is only a few years younger than his father was when he handed over the business. The problem, though, is that Legal is Berkowitz’s life. He says he feels bad for entrepreneurs who spend a lifetime building a business, then sell it, only to realize they’re unhappy without it. “They’re depressed because they have lost their raison d’être,” he says. “They don’t understand that at the end of the day it wasn’t about the money. I keep watching those people and count the months before they’re miserable.”

Berkowitz hasn’t come up with a specific succession plan. He and his wife of 35 years, Lynne, have two sons involved in the business — Matt, 31, who is director of Legal’s plant operations and new business development, and Scott, 29, who is assistant general manager of the new Harborside restaurant. (Their daughter, Jaclyn, 27, is a social worker.) Berkowitz says he’s not worried that history will repeat itself when he, too, must choose one of his sons as successor. “As a family we talk about that a lot,” he says. “We talk about what transpired and how we can avoid scenarios like that. I think the situation we were in earlier was just different. Today, both boys like doing different things and have different interests, but they still like the business. There’s not the competitiveness. There’s not a rivalry.”

But, as Berkowitz has learned, talk is cheap. And one day, he’s going to have to choose. “I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen,” he says. “A lot depends on how motivated the guys are.”

“He’s working it through, I guess,” says Heller, Legal’s general counsel. “I’m not saying he’s not going to get there, but in his mind, he’s too young to think about it.”