Posted by Jesse Thomas on Jan 09, 2019
Bob Donegan kicked off the first Rotary 4 luncheon of 2019 with the story of how Ivar Haglund, "Flounder" of Ivar’s, built one of Seattle’s oldest seafood restaurants. Donegan, who joined the company in 1997, and is now President, has helped to fuel the success of Ivar’s through the tripling of employees, store count, and revenue since joining the team. Donegan, who serves on several boards of directors in Puget Sound, and moved to Seattle in 1984, was introduced by Michelle Stone, Community Relations Manager at Ivar’s, who had all Rotarians wear Ivar’s paper kid’s menu face masks for a playful group photo.
Ivar Haglund, who was born in West Seattle in 1905, didn’t initially intend to get into the restaurant business. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1928 with a degree as a stockbroker, which Donegan jokingly noted was “well-timed,” in light of the Great Depression that started in 1929. Not long after, Ivar launched an aquarium on Seattle’s waterfront, and along with it, Ivar’s Fish Bar, which marked the beginnings of what the food company now is today. Donegan shared that Ivar saw the opportunity as the Fish Bar drew larger crowds than the Aquarium.
Describing him as a “restaurant innovator,” Donegan shared how Ivar developed what is considered one of the world’s first food courts on Broadway in the 1950s with seafood, Mexican, Chinese, and pizza available at different walk-up windows. Ivar, who was active in the local community, also helped ensure the fireworks on the 4th of July in 1964, as the city’s budget crisis led it to consider canceling the celebration. He happily put on the display on Duck Island in Green Lake, later moved to Lake Union as it got more popular, and finally to the Seattle waterfront.
The legend of Ivar’s clam chowder truly began to accelerate in 1996, when the company began selling it externally. It’s regularly a top seller at Costco, Mariners and Seahawks games, and Donegan recounted the tale of Ivar’s being the only two food booths operating on Opening Night at Safeco Field when the cash register system failed for 45 minutes as the gates opened. How was this accomplished? Ivar’s accounting staff was working the cash registers that night, and managed to do all the math on the fly. Ivar’s chowder is now available in 13,000 locations, and Donegan said if you take all the chowder the company has made, pour it into 8 oz cups and stack them, it would reach the height of 4,574 Space Needles!
Donegan, who received a standing ovation, wrapped up his presentation with what keeps Ivar’s successful, as the company is in its 81st year, with a breakdown of the company’s values. He noted 12 items in total, which can be summed up with 1) Employees come first, hire optimists, reward them, don’t let them leave; 2) Know your customers, provide affordable, fresh, local food, know what customers value, and be available to talk to them; and 3) Manage for the long-term with a community focus, and perhaps the most important rule, is to have fun! Donegan encouraged Rotarians to test these values and beliefs with a visit to any one of Ivar’s 21 seafood bars or three full-service restaurants by generously distributing $15 gift cards to the crowd.
President Cindy kicked off the meeting with a group of Rotary Rogues singing the Old Settler’s Song, whose chorus says “I think of my happy condition, surrounded by Acres of Clams, for which Ivar named his restaurant. Skip Kotkins shared our first inspiration of the New Year, and Sarah Weaver highlighted upcoming trip possibilities with fellow Rotarians by sharing photos of her trip to Africa, including a rafting experience that literally sent her overboard. Virginia McKenzie shared details of the upcoming Health Care Alliance Summit on January 28 and invited all Rotarians to participate.
John Steckler introduced us to our newest Rotary 4 member, Mary Johnstone. Johnstone joins us with the classification of technology, as she is a Corporate Operations Engineer at Google.  Jeff Borek highlighted our progress toward reaching our goal of 100% participation in supporting The Rotary Foundation and Seattle Rotary Service Foundation.
President Cindy closed the meeting with the Rogues coming back on stage again to sing The Times They Are A-Changin’  by Bob Dylan in a nod to the Viaduct closure, and wishing all Rotarians well in their travels to next week’s meeting at the Hilton.
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