Restaurants that become an institution are rare. There is one in Raleigh, Angus Barn. Until this week, I only knew of Angus Barn as such an institution. I now know of two, Angus Barn in Raleigh and Sea Captain’s House in Myrtle Beach. Mike and I discovered Sea Captain’s House by accident, and I am so glad we found it, for it is now a favorite that I hope to visit time and again.
Looking for a place for lunch, wanting a salad and fresh fish, I googled “restaurants for salad and fresh fish.” The first restaurant that popped up was Sea Captain’s House. Interestingly enough, the restaurant was close to where we were staying, so we decided to try it. When we arrived at the restaurant, I was smitten by the physical structure. The white frame building was charming. When we entered the restaurant, it was welcoming and warm, in part a function of the décor, and in part due to the fire in the fireplace in the lobby. We were greeted by the hostess, Susan, who was friendly and informative. She told us that the restaurant has been in business for sixty years. I told her how thrilled I was that we had found it, that I could tell it would be a great experience. She said she was also glad that we had found it, that it would be a great experience, and then showed us to our table.
The Grilled Shrimp and Berry Salad that I had was delicious, and it was one of the best salads I have ever had. The hush puppies that were brought for the table were also very good, light and slightly sweet. The fried oysters that Mike had were good. The food was all very good, yet many restaurants have good food.
Good food alone does not an institution make. One expects good food from a reputable restaurant. The restaurant had much more going for it than good food. The care and attention that had been given to all aspects of the business was what set it apart. This was made obvious to us when the Assistant General Manager, Ethan Phillips, came to our table to welcome us, and shared information about the establishment, along with the information given to us by Susan, the hostess.
Sea Captain’s House opened in 1962, and the children of the original owners are now at the helm. The owners know all of the staff. One of the staff members, Marie, has been on the staff for forty years, and this is the only job she has ever had. Susan has been on staff for eleven years. The owners treat the staff as “one of them, like family.” Susan said there are three rules: “Be on Time, Do Your Job, and Go Home.” “Go Home” means do not bring your personal stuff to work with you; leave it at home, and when your work is finished, go home. It is interesting that pay was never mentioned.
The décor of the restaurant was relaxed chic, with a “clubbish” feel. Ethan Phillips told us that the restaurant’s décor is changed out every year. Every year window treatments are replaced and the restaurant is painted. As I looked around, it did not seem that either was needed, although the restaurant would close in a few days for the yearly refurbishment. Yet while it might not be “needed,” redoing the décor yearly keeps it fresh.
What are the lessons other businesses can learn from Sea Captain’s House? I have three takeaways.
- Treat the Staff like Family, yet hold them accountable. Make your rules clear.
- Manage by Walking Around. Be present, consistently.
- Keep it Fresh. The décor, the food, and the entire establishment. Even after sixty years, and for the next sixty years.
Is your business an institution, capable of staff wanting to work there for forty years? Do staff who work with you feel the pride that was obvious in Susan and Ethan, pride so palpable that it can be felt by customers? Are you providing just a job, or traditions that will last for many years?
Not every establishment can be an institution like Angus Barn and Sea Captain’s House. But many more can be than are. What about your business? Are you up for the challenge?
Why not get started?