Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant
Visitors to Virginia Beach have certain expectations when they come to vacation at the Atlantic coast resort town; miles of sandy beaches, a bustling Boardwalk, and of course, lots of fresh seafood. Since 1979, Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant has been bringing the bounty of the sea to buffets across Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant was founded by the son of Greek immigrants, George Pitsilides, and his wife of 42 years, Sherry Pitsilides. Their first restaurant, The Hampton House, started out as a small diner serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. By showcasing some of the region’s best seafood such as soft-shell crabs, oysters, clams and scallops, the restaurant quickly earned a reputation as a premier destination for fresh seafood, and the business expanded rapidly. The Hampton House, then located on Mercury Boulevard in Hampton, VA, soon became the home of the original Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant.
“Most people are afraid to cook seafood, so eating out is very appealing to them,” says George Pitsilides, president and owner of Captain George’s.
Today, the Pitsilides operate Captain George’s locations in Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, Virginia; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; as well as an Outer Banks location in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. The company employs some 400 people during the offseason with ranks swelling to almost 800 when the tourists arrive.
The upscale, all-you-can-eat seafood buffet empire has grown to the point where it is now the largest independent purchaser of Alaskan snow crab legs in the world, steaming more than 1.5 million pounds of crab legs each year. In addition to its full slate of fresh seafood offerings, Captain George’s also offers fare for even the pickiest eater, including steak, prime rib, pork barbecue ribs, pulled pork and chicken.
Outgrowing its shell
Captain George’s has experienced rapid growth over the past few years, with a record patronage necessitating expansions at two of the company’s four locations.
“We have two locations - Myrtle Beach and the Outer Banks (Kill Devil Hills) - that have outgrown their capacity,” says Pitsilides. “Virginia Beach is also definitely over capacity, but we don’t have any more property to expand on next to that location, or we would.”
The Myrtle Beach location is currently in the midst of a $2.5 million renovation that will see the location increase its overall capacity by some 15 percent. While the heavy renovation began in January 2016, construction crews are now continuing their design work behind-the-scenes so as not to interfere with the busy summer tourist season.
In the Outer Banks, Captain George’s is adding 100 seats to its Kill Devil Hills location as well as an addition to the location’s kitchen. A major tourist attraction along the North Carolina coast, the 200-mile-long stretch of peninsulas and barrier islands are home to the company’s newest location, which opened in 2009.
The emphasis on increased capacity has allowed Captain George’s to not only boost overall sales but also to make room for those who would otherwise not get a chance to visit the renowned eatery. “Years ago, when the restaurant was smaller, we didn’t see the locals because the lines were too long due to the vacationers. Now, because we’ve expanded, we are starting to see more locals between Memorial Day and Labor Day.”
Captain George’s was recently recognized by TABELog as one of the top three all-you-can-eat seafood buffets in America, an honor that Pitsilides credits not only to the company’s commitment to fresh, quality seafood but also its general emphasis on atmosphere.
“One unique characteristic that isn’t always prevalent in our industry is the amount of money we reinvest into our restaurants by way of décor, atmosphere, and landscaping, all so our guests can truly have a wonderful dining experience,” he says. To that end, the Captain George’s location in Virginia Beach boasts two stained glass domes, created by Art Glass in Norfolk back in 1984. Weighing over 5 tons and measuring some 34 feet in diameter, each dome cost $125,000 and is a landmark for both locals and tourists alike.
Catching the next wave
As the business steadily expands, Pitsilides is confident in the business model that has served him so well over the last 36 years. This approach includes an emphasis on employee appreciation that has seen Captain George’s attain some enviable employee retention figures.
“I’ve never had trouble attracting employees. We have a great employment reputation within the community. Most often, we promote from within the company. Even starting at the ground level, employees can grow within our company.”
Many of the restaurant’s full-time employees have been with the company for 10 years or more, a statistic which Pitsilides credits, in part, to his unique approach to management. “I’m a hands-on owner who oversees operations in all four of my restaurants. I have developed a great working relationship with the staff and my management teams at each location,” he says.
Having worked alongside his wife, Sherry, for nearly 40 years, Pitsilides credits the restaurant’s success to their team approach and the way they handle the everyday operations together.
Some restaurant owners might measure success in terms of revenue or new locations: it’s a much simpler metric that gives Pitsilides a sense of satisfaction. “At the end of the day, when your guests are truly and completely satisfied, and when all is well with your family and loved ones, that is the true measure of success,” he says.
With newly increased capacity at two of the restaurant’s busiest locations, Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant is doing everything it can to keep the business growing and to bring fresh, quality seafood to patrons across the mid-Atlantic coast. Stay tuned for the newest location to be announced in 2017!