We always hear about the shiny, new food companies. The Spot is a series about the Philadelphia area's more established establishments and the people behind them.
In 1966, Frank and Diane Galloway opened an Italian restaurant in Wildwood. They grew restless from the seasonal business, so in 1970, they opened a seafood take-out in Northeast Philadelphia behind a shopping center on Frankford Avenue at Academy Road. People asked for tables at Gallo's, and the business grew.
Beset by parking issues, the Galloways moved in 1983, buying a lot on Roosevelt Boulevard at Holme Circle and erecting a building. A decade later, they expanded and remodeled, shedding the fluorescent lighting.
The Galloways' son Michael died of leukemia in 1994, and Diane Galloway died in 1999. Frank, now 78, is retired but still has his hand in when he is in town.
Son Fran Galloway, who runs the restaurant with his sister, Lisa Galloway-Rollins, sat last week for a chat.
What was the reception like on the Boulevard when you moved?
Really busy. These were the times when there was no Olive Garden, there was no Boston Market, there was no Applebee's. Red Lobster was the only chain that was really up here. Fisher's was still big up here, Kelly's, Ruhling's, all the diners were doing well.
Tell me about your employees.
The big thing here is, we have a good handful of people who have been with us since the mid-'70s. They've been here 40 years. The chefs, there's six or eight of them. Even like our dining room manager, Sue - she's been here since 1985. She's been here 30 years. She still seems like she's new because they were here before. We still have a nucleus. We have probably five guys that were with us on Frankford Avenue.
Why do they stick around?
Working conditions, for the restaurant business, are fair. There's vacation time, the salaries, obviously, have gone up where they can raise their families. There's health benefits. We did that long before anyone else did that. We're fair. When things have come up in their life, like everybody else over the years, we've always worked it out for them. We've never been, "There's only one way." We always looked at it from their angle a little bit, too. On the flip side, they've really worked hard at taking care of things for us over the years. We couldn't be here today without that group of guys.
Was it ever a question that you would go into the business?
No, I don't think so. I was young when I started here. My sister and I, we started probably like less than 10, busing tables, or washing dishes, or she was working in take-out, or wrapping orders, or something like that. Sunday was always the day, when we were young, 8, 9, 10 years old, helping out. I was a freshman in high school, I was already cooking, doing different jobs on the line, and things like that. None of us have any formal training, but we grew up and we always knew what we needed to do around here.
How about trends?
I think what we do is, we try to keep up with what's going on, but we still try to keep what we started out doing - really high-quality, simply prepared, fresh fish and shellfish, at a reasonable price. At one time, we were really, really cheap, but fish was really, really cheap. Now, seafood's very expensive. We're not cheap anymore, but there's good value here.
Tell me about Burger Bar in the back that opened in 2010.
We had this room we were only opening a few days a week on the weekends for a few hours a night. We said, "What can we do with it?" We went to [design firm] DAS. They came in, they helped us out. We wanted to do a version of Village Whiskey for this neighborhood. We grind only fresh every day, and we have lots of seafood appetizers, the raw bar, spiked shakes.
Tell me about your customers.
We have customers here that have been coming since they were like 8-year-old kids and they're 55 years old now and they bring their grandchildren here. We do baby showers of people who were here when their mother had the baby shower for them.
... I think as people move to the suburbs, it became harder and harder for established places. Most of our clientele has left. The children of the families that were here in the '70s and '80s, very few of them live in the neighborhood now. They live in South Jersey, but they come back. For people here now, we've managed to grab enough of them to keep us solid. We're solid.
Yes, this year's going to be a good ... Look, it's never what you want. You couldn't even get more people in here, we want it to be busier. You always want to be busier. We were never the type, I don't know if it's going to happen, we've had many times we've had the idea, "Okay, let's open a second place." You know what? There's so much going on here and now we're raising families. It's a huge commitment to open a second place the way we do it. We don't have investors, we don't have ... It's us. We put our money up. We put our time up. For the people working here even, we settled into a nice rhythm for this business where the chef was off all weekend, it was fine. We were busy all weekend, but we have enough people here to cover. We don't have a lot of craziness here. Sometimes the restaurant business can be a crazy business. We don't really have that. It's stable.
Is there another generation coming up?
It's going to be a while if there is. They're young; we started late. I've got twins, 12 years old. My sister has one son; he's 8.
Gallo's Seafood: 8101 Roosevelt Blvd.; 215-333-0484; www.gallosseafood.com