Compiled by Deb Mandel, 2002
237 Hampshire St., Inman Square 1950 -1980
5 Cambridge St., Kendall Square 1982- present
Charles Square, Harvard Square 2003-2020
The original “Legal’s” thrived in Inman Square for a generation. This was where locals, including the loyal Julia Child, ate clam chowder and steamed lobsters from paper plates atop picnic tables. The business and name truly began back in 1904, when Harry Berkowitz called his Inman Square store Legal Cash Market because his customers could redeem legal, government-issued cash stamps there. The Legal Sea Foods brand was born in 1950 when Harry’s son George opened a fish market adjacent to his father’s and kept the “legal” name (“If it isn’t fresh, it isn’t legal”).
For 89 cents, you could get a haddock dinner there. An ad read, “The French Chef, A Japanese Council Officer, A Greek Engineer, An Israeli student, and your next door neighbor buy their fish at Legal Seafood.” In 1968, the first Legal Sea Foods restaurant opened next door to the market. By then Harry’s grandson Roger ran the company, becoming president and chief executive officer.
The quirky neighborhood charm of the original is lost to history via a tragic 1980 fire that occurred the same day a party was held to celebrate the opening of the new Legals at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston.
In 1982, Legals was involved in a dispute with the city of Cambridge and its neighbors for processing fish in its Inman Square warehouse for export to other stores, in violation of the zoning law. This processing caused a great stench in the neighborhood and the operation was shut down.
Legal Seafood’s early success led to further expansion. Two other Legals opened in Cambridge–one in Kendall Square and one in Harvard Square. The Kendall Square facility included a 325-seat indoor restaurant, a 75-seat outdoor eatery, a two-tiered indoor lounge, an oyster bar, take-out facility, a fish market and a function room. In 1989, reviewer Sandra DeJong praised the fresh grilled swordfish for $19.95: “succulent and smoky, this was about the best swordfish I can remember. It was perfectly complemented by the baked potato and coleslaw to make a simple but deeply satisfying meal.” By 2001, Legal Sea Foods owned and operated 25 restaurants along the eastern seaboard from northern Massachusetts to southern Florida, a catering division and a mail order division.
In commemoration of its 40th anniversary Legals promoted dinner served at special prices, such as its “Sunday extra special with a Sunday-only Scrod Dinner value for $9.95!” Since 1981 Legal’s clam chowder, its signature specialty, has been on the menu of the inauguration of presidents.
The restaurant chain earned many honors and awards over the years, and was cited by Food and Wine Magazine as “Boston’s Best Seafood Restaurant in 2001.” In 2003 Legals renovated the former site of Ristorante Giannino on the upper courtyard of The Charles Hotel in Harvard Square.
In December 2020, PPX Hospitality Brands (another Boston-based restaurant company and the parent company to Legal Sea Foods Restaurant Group Inc.) acquired the corporate Quality Control Center and 23 restaurants. The Harvard Square restaurant closed in 2020 during the pandemic; the Kendall Square location closed for a time and reopened in 2022.
On February 20, 2022, the founder of Legal Sea Foods, George Berkowitz died.
Berkowitz, George and Jane Doerfer. The Legal Sea Foods Cookbook. New York, Doubleday, 1988. (Includes introduction with restaurant’s history and “simply perfect recipes from Boston’s favorite seafood restaurant.”)
Lovejoy, Paula, editor. From the Heart of Cambridge: A Neighborhood Portrait. Cambridge, MA Longfellow Council and Neighborhood School, 2011.
“Advertisements.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 18 March 1965, p.14.
“Advertisements.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 23 January 1992, p.15.
“Business: The Dinner of Presidents.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 5 December 2001, p.9. (with photo)
DeJong, Sandra. “Restaurants: Simple Still Works Best at Legal.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 8 June 1989, p.18.
Guha, Auditi. “Legal Sea Foods rings in the month of love with oysters.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 14 February 2008, p.15.
“Legal Closes Fish Plant.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 29 July 1982, p.3.
Luberoff, David. “A Fish Tale: Legal Seafood Embroiled in Legal Dispute. The Cambridge Tab, 7 July 1982, p.5.
McLaughlin, Dan. “Restaurant Landmark Razed by $150,000 Fire.”
Boston Herald American’s Cambridge Rambler, 17 January 1980, B2. (with photo)
Kearney, Ryan. “Legal Sea Foods Moving into Charles Square.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 9 April 2003, p.8.
Wiegand, David. “Legal Sea Foods Plans Kendall Square Eatery.” The Cambridge Chronicle, 25 June 1981, p.2.