Good People make it Possible; From a Shack to an Empire
Almost everyone in Alaska knows Juneau businesswoman Tracy LeBarge. Yes, she is the Tracy from Tracy’s King Crab Shack, a favorite Juneau dining location for visitors and locals during the summer season. What you might not know is how she landed in Alaska in the first place, and how she became the proprietor of five eateries and a seafood & meat processing plant.
Ms. LeBarge began her adventure in Alaska when she moved to Skagway in 1992. She noted how the weather was so perfect she was “tricked” into thinking summers in Southeast Alaska were always that way. Nevertheless, she fell in love with the Last Frontier and soon settled into making it home. After three years, she moved to Juneau to work for a large tour operator.
Tracy would not classify herself as a visionary. In fact, when she moved to Alaska from Colorado she joked that one day she would own a hot dog stand and sell delicious crab legs. That’s it. End of story. When her shack opened, locals would frequently ask her if she was ever going to open a true restaurant and she would emphatically reply, “Nope, I just want the shack.”
But then she met Dave McGivney, her partner, and her plans took a significant turn. With Dave’s encouragement, she expanded the shack and in 2014, she relocated it to a larger area that included seating under a warm tent, a larger cooking area, and a fun gift shop. She also opened SALT, Juneau’s high-end fine dining restaurant; Saffron, an authentic Indian restaurant; and McGivney’s a sports bar in the suburbs of Juneau. True to her word, Tracy didn’t open one restaurant. She opened four in the same year.
Her reason for expanding so rapidly is very telling of Tracy’s principles: “I have great employees, and I want to keep them. The best way to do that is to offer them year-round work.” Even so, she didn’t stop with her expansion plans. Recently, Tracy opened a second McGivney’s in the downtown area and purchased Hooked, a seafood/meat processing plant. This last purchase is what will complete the culinary circle for Tracy. She now has direct access to the boats that bring in our local Alaskan seafood.
Again, Tracy took a step away from the corporate norm when making this purchase. A young man, Oliver Christensen, from Petersburg had worked at the shack for a summer or two. He came from a long line of commercial fishermen and his knowledge and passion about both cooking and sustainable seafood were impressive. The decision to add Hooked to her business family was based on a single, key element: Oliver would be the plant manager. If he chose not to, then she would not make the purchase. You can guess where you’ll find Oliver these days.
Hooked has been in operation under Tracy’s umbrella for several months. Diners who frequent her Juneau locations are enjoying the benefits of direct access to unique seafood items such as Alaska octopus and sea snails.
Tracy’s success is a testament to her dedication to her employees and a desire to deliver an extraordinary dining experience. It is an unusual business model to decide growth based upon one’s employees, but this model has definitely worked very well.