John Yokoyama bought one of Seattle’s most famous landmarks in 1965, when it was just another stall in the city’s Pike Place open air market. Over the last 53 years, he and his longtime staff of dedicated, friendly fishmongers have grown Pike Place Fish Market into the stuff of legends. Now that Yokoyama is ready to finally retire, he’s “gone out of his way” to pass the fish-tossing torch to four longtime managers who helped him succeed.
Even folks who’ve never been to the Emerald City have a passing association with the flying fish landmark that is a go-to stop for thousands of tourists each day. John Yokoyama, who bought the nearly 90-year-old business in back in 1965, only integrated the now-famous fish-flinging into his workflow to save himself time and steps.
“One day I just said, ‘Here kid, catch!’ and threw the fish. He caught it and I said, ‘Man, I just saved 100 steps.'”
Yokoyama’s business has been wildly successful since a rebranding helped him avoid bankruptcy in the mid-1980s. All the same, after over fifty years of twelve-hour days, the 78-year-old was ready to retire, and he wanted to keep the legend alive.
So he made his managers the new owners. Ryan Reese, 40, bought the market this month with equal partners Jaison Scott, 45; Samuel Samson, 52; and Anders Miller, 42. All have worked at Pike Place for years on years; Scott’s mother also worked for Yokoyama when he was growing up.
“It’s surreal,” said Samson, who managed the store for three decades. “I guess it will seem real when we get the first bills on the loan and the lease.”
“He could have sold it to just about anyone, but he went out of his way to sell it to us,” said Reese.
Reese is right. While nobody’s talking about how much money exchanged hands, Yokoyama did admit he “worked with the kids” to make the deal happen.
What a rare and beautiful choice, to choose people over profit, especially in these days of stagnant wages and Trump’s corporate-friendly tax cuts.
Seattle’s legendary flying fish market just got that much more interesting. And as we constantly endure terrible news and a worse president, a little good news can make the heart soar as high as a Pike Place salmon.