Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant
There are many reasons Kristina Chastain, president and CEO of Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant (Captain George’s), loves the restaurant industry, but her main motive has always been people. Today, the seafood-buffet is expanding across the East Coast, with four locations in three states and more to come, but no matter where Captain George’s sets up shop, the family-owned eatery puts people first, from employees to the community.
“Our goal is to make our restaurants an integral part of the community,” explains Chastain. “We make a real effort when we come into a community to show our support. When we launched our newest location in the Outer Banks, we invited the city, the town, the whole community to the grand opening and found a list of charities because we want them to embrace us and know we’re not big business; we’re family-owned.”
That’s the stance Captain George’s has taken from the beginning when Chastain’s parents, George and Sherry Pitsilides, established the first small restaurant in 1978. As Greek immigrants, the Pitsilides set a course for a more successful, happier life in the U.S. and ended up in small town Hampton, Va. Overlooking the water, Hampton was not only a beautiful coastal town, but also home to some of the best seafood on the East Coast.
“My father opened a small cafeteria-style restaurant in 1978 and within months, he knew he wanted to expand,” recalls Chastain. “The location was ideal for premium seafood from soft-shell crabs to oysters, mussels to clams, shrimp, scallops and much more.”
Chastain and her sister were brought into the business almost as soon as they could walk. “My parents started bringing me in when I was just 3 years old,” she recounts.
While Captain George’s continued to grow, Chastain and her sister left for college. “I’m a communications finance major,” she reveals. “Right out of college, my sister and I came back to the family business and we have been here ever since. We are co-presidents, she handles the financial aspect, and I’m more on the operational end of things.”
Positive female leadership
While Captain George’s has outgrown small town Hampton, expanding into Virginia Beach and Williamsburg, Va., as well as Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the Outer Banks, N.C., with 800-plus seat buffet-style restaurants and 1,200 employees, Chastain assures the company hasn’t forgotten its humble beginnings.
“My sister and I feel very fortunate for what we have and the success Captain George’s has attained over the years,” she shares. “Our daily task is to be a positive influence on a large scale and a small scale in the small business community. Someday, we would like to establish our own female leadership foundation to give back even more.”
Chastain says Captain George’s goal is not only to serve customers the freshest, top-quality seafood, but also to foster the growth of young people. “We employ so many young people, so I believe it’s our responsibility to offer them strong, interactive training,” she explains. “We coach our young employees and offer positive leadership. For me, that’s the most rewarding part; seeing a rough-around-the-edges young person turn into a friendly, knowledgeable employee. That’s the nature of the restaurant industry… taking chances on people.”
Chastain’s female leadership has been a driving factor for Captain George’s. “Due to our size, we deal with vendors and many higher-up companies and executives,” she reveals. “I love this industry because there is a high rate of females in leadership positions, myself included.”
The captain’s catch
With Chastain and her sister at the helm, Captain George’s continues to offer an upscale-buffet experience, where customers can sample everything from Alaskan snow crab legs to steamed clams, oysters Rockefeller to steamed crawfish, broiled salmon, seafood casserole and much more for approximately $30 per person.
“It’s about culinary integrity,” says Chastain. “That’s been the cornerstone of the business since our father established Captain George’s. We’re an ode to things not done anymore and we take a lot of care to ensure items made in-house are with top-notch ingredients. We don’t take something out of the freezer or a bag and call it good and it shows in taste and quality.”
In an effort to serve the freshest ingredients possible, Captain George’s began to build the framework for the restaurant’s own garden last spring. “We wanted to supply our own produce, so we planted more than 20 raised beds, including one specially market for employees so they could also have their own produce,” shares Chastain. “For the most part, our menu doesn’t change a lot because we have specific recipes we’ve been using since the beginning, but we have given our chefs lots of creative freedom to use the fresh vegetables.”
It’s about keeping the chefs inspired says Chastain. In the spring, when kale, bok-choy and collard greens come into peak harvest, Captain George’s culinary team implements the seasonal ingredients into fresh, vibrant sauces. “As an avid gardener myself, it has been a great project because it’s from the heart,” reveals Chastain. “It was something I wanted to do for a long time and seeing it come into reality has been wonderful. We’re looking to expand the garden concept to other locations outside of Virginia, as well.”
Sink or swim
But even a restaurant of the size and strength of Captain George’s isn’t immune to economic hardship. “In a down economy, it’s more sink or swim, survival of the fittest, but the businesses that are operated really well remain on top,” explains Chastain. “Our biggest challenge is controlling costs because seafood prices vary widely and we can’t pass that onto our customers. Over the years, Captain George’s has gained an excellent purchasing director and more purchasing power as one of the largest seafood buyers in the world.”
However, Chastain says the economic outlook is looking up. “I see an improved economic forecast without a doubt, especially in tourism,” she declares. “Fortunately, we’re in a fairly sustainable industry, people have to, and love to, eat.”
Chastain says food is much more than a way of sustaining yourself. “It’s celebratory,” she says. “We’re the place people come for special occasions and it’s an honor when people choose us for birthdays, family reunions, graduations and more.”
As more families and friends pick Captain George’s for their special occasion, Chastain says expansion is in the future for the family-owned establishment. “We’re looking at more year-round tourist destinations, such as Florida,” she reveals. “We’re focusing on slow, steady growth because we know what we can manage and we don’t want to grow too quickly, but I see a new location in the next three to five years.”
After 36 years of family ownership, Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant has become a landmark in communities throughout the south, offering a celebratory feast for people to share in experience and memories.