Keeping Seattle’s Iconic Pike Place Fish Market “In the Family” – How KeyBank Helped Its Owner Do Just That

August 2018

Keeping Seattle’s Iconic Pike Place Fish Market “In the Family” – How KeyBank Helped Its Owner Do Just That

When visitors and locals alike think of Seattle, one of the more iconic images is certainly that of a fishmonger tossing a heavy catch from behind the counter to the waiting hands of another at the scales. This fish-flinging technique has become the stuff of legend – and viral video gold – drawing millions of tourists every year to the Pike Place Fish Market.

Going from One Owner to Four

Yet the Pike Place Fish Market wasn’t always the bustling business it is today. And former owner, John Yokoyama, wanted to ensure that when he retired, he could pass his business along to those who’d helped make it a success – four longtime employees. That’s where KeyBank came into play – to help with the business transfer so that the former employees, and now owners, could get back to doing what they do best, flinging fishes.

Located on Seattle’s waterfront, the Pike Place Fish Market is part of the collection of about 240 mom and pop businesses within the storied Pike Place Market area. John Yokoyama, who has owned the shop since 1965, recalls the time when the business nearly fell into bankruptcy in 1986. Then he came up with an idea that went on to make the Fish Market iconic – not just in Seattle, but throughout the world.

Fish Flinging as a Marketing Tactic

Speaking to The Seattle Times, Yokoyama explained that the idea for hurling the fish through the air came out of convenience. It took him 100 steps to go from picking up a customer’s fish selection to going over to the scales to weigh and package it.

“It took me 100 steps,” said Yokoyama in July. “So one day I just said, ‘Here kid, catch!’ and threw the fish. He caught it and I said, ‘Man, I just saved 100 steps.’”

After working with a business consultant on ideas for promoting the business and increasing sales, they decided to create a video of the fish flinging. The video’s success mushroomed with visitors flocking to the fish market to watch the fishmongers at work – and to create their own videos of the experience. Soon popular figures in entertainment and television were talking about the fish market, driving additional success.

Ensuring the Fish Market Tradition Keeps Going

To keep the fish market “in the family,” KeyBank and the SBA team worked to help smooth the transition from Yokoyama to four employees (and fishmongers), including Jaison Scott, Ryan Reese, Samuel Samson and Anders Miller.

“It was so rewarding to be a part of this process – to assist this group of employees with being able to take the reign of a business they’ve worked so hard to make a success,” said Seattle KeyBank Relationship Manager Patrick Burke. “These guys were great to work with. You could tell their dreams were coming alive in front of their eyes, and Key was able to help them get there.” In addition to Burke, KeyBank SBA Specialist, Greg Williams, helped make this transaction possible – his last before retiring from Key after 18 years.

In talking to The Seattle Times about the transfer, Ryan Reese said of Yokoyama, “He could have sold it to just about anyone, but he went out of his way to sell it to us. The city is changing so fast, it’s an honor to be part of a small, 1,000-square-foot legacy that makes this city so special.”