Up Close & Personal
Always Sailing Ahead
Ryan Cooper reiterates the unpredictable nature of uncovering up-and-coming and innovative lure for Cooper’s Seafood. He and his family have striven for three generations to magnetize crowds into their restaurant’s seats. Over the years, they have cultivated their franchise both at their original location in Scranton and their second location in Pittston. Outside expansion consisted of various unique, creative venues, such as their lighthouse bar, pirate ship, dock and cabana. Inside, a wealth of community, family and cultural history continuously splashes across every wall, enlivening customer experience while dining. Cooper’s caters both on its location and off, assisting in weddings, family celebrations, corporate breakfasts or lunches and even private parties. Meet Ryan Cooper …
What was life like before Coopers?
For me, there was no life before Cooper’s. I’ve worked here since I was around 13 years old and throughout my years at school. I went to St. Ann’s before attending Riverside High School and, later, the University of Scranton. I never veered from desiring to be a part of the family business in some way or another. I stayed in Scranton my whole life to be around it. I think it was bred in me. Even when I went to college I majored in restaurant management, because that’s what I knew I wanted to do. I just love it! I’m delighted to be working with such great people where my work is always enjoyable.
Tell us what it’s like having the restaurant as a family business.
It’s 99.9 percent awesome. It really is. Growing up, it was frustrating at times when I had plans and craved to go out on the weekends and something would come up at the restaurant, and my dad would tell me I wasn’t going out despite my plans. For instance, if the dishwasher called off, then I wasn’t going anywhere until the dishes were done. When it came down to it, it was instilled in me that the family restaurant needed to be taken care of first. With the exception of some family in New York, everyone in my family is pretty much here. It’s nice to be so close-knit. We’re all involved in one way or another with the business.
What gave your family the idea to start up Cooper’s Seafood?
My grandpa started Cooper’s in 1948 after World War II. His brother, Frank, invented a machine to make braided rugs back in the 40s. Frank had a rug mill that made him a multi-millionaire. He used the extra money he had to invest to buy this building and open Cooper’s Seafood. Yet, Frank didn’t want to run it. So, he asked my grandpa to do so, while my grandfather was still working for him. In the 70s, my dad and his brothers came into the picture and bought the business from my grandpa. It’s been a continuous family enterprise since the very beginning.
Talk about your role and typical workday with the business.
When I was younger, my day at the restaurant could be filled with washing dishes or hanging up coats when we used to have a coat check. Right now, my day starts at about 7 a.m. On a normal day, I can spend about 12 hours here. I do everything from checking the beer, making lists for the beer, making sure the beer is tapped and trapped, assuring that the bar tenders know what beer is coming in, buying beer, taking beer inventory and changing menus and bottle menus. Then I take care of any Internet and computer-related business, which falls under my reign. I will handle emails, answering customer questions or other email correspondence. After this, I log into Facebook to respond to any other questions presented to the company. Then I will come down to fix anything that breaks or find somebody that can when I can’t. Truthfully, we all do everything. I don’t have one specific job. One day the bookkeeper’s computer might crash and need fixing and the next day there might be a light bulb out in the gift shop that requires changing. When we get new equipment, such as TVs and the like, I’ll set them up. When it comes to live entertainment, I am in charge of booking bands. Further, I customized an app, proprietary to all of our beers, which allows customers to search through our 500 bottles of beer for the drink they are looking for or something similar to it as well. Essentially, it’s Amazon for beer!
What motivated your family to establish the restaurant in both Scranton and Pittston?
We started out by opening here in Scranton first because we are from here, and we still live in the area. Pittston came about after Scranton. It’s been maybe 20 years that we have been there and we owe a huge amount of our success to being successful in Scranton. Back when the economy was booming, there were three-hour waits just to get dinner at our Scranton location. So, due to this achievement and many calls we received about setting up in other areas, we added on to the business. And we still get these calls about three to four times a month with opportunities to open other restaurants in brand-new locations — from Florida to Hawaii. We have customers even inquire about starting up in other areas nearer to them. But Pittston was a good fix, since it was still close enough that our family could manage and run it ourselves. We can drive down there about three times a week to take care of the same things that we do here.
Tell us what customers will experience at Cooper’s, including the various, popular seafood dishes that they can choose from.
Customers can expect freshness when it comes to our food. We don’t buy anything that is processed and nothing goes to waste. We actually donate all of our food scraps to a local pig farmer who tells us his pigs eat the best food in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our main staples are shrimp and our crab dip. Right now, our biggest seller is our crabby pretzel, which is pretzel covered in crabmeat and cheese sauce, then baked. It’s huge on our deck. Also, we do different specials every day. We have $2.99 clams on Sunday and Monday all day and we sell thousands and thousands of orders in just a couple of days. As far as dinners go, lobsters are probably the biggest. Everyone wants lobster, shrimp and crab. It’s hard for me to say exactly what the most popular dish is myself, because I eat something new here every day and absolutely love it. As far as other experiences not concerning food, customers can enjoy the live entertainment we request to come in on weekends and the bike nights we hold on Tuesdays in Pittston.
What’s your secret that keeps customers coming in?
Well, our crab bisque is our biggest seller that keeps customers coming in. But that’s not too much of a secret. Everyone knows about it. I like to think our customer service is our key ingredient that keeps customers coming back. We have had many servers here for more than 25 years. They have been with us forever. I remember some of them from when I was 10 years old and they are still here today working with us. Therefore, I truly believe the secret is the good people who are working here. When you have good people in a restaurant, then customers are going to enjoy a good experience. And it’s the same notion with our food. We buy good product, so we are putting out good product. We always strive to move forward. When you get stagnant, you’re done. We try to keep our customers from getting bored by coming up with the next big thing to continue to attract their interest.
Is there something specific about Cooper’s that you find most exhilarating?
I’m a beer guy, so I love the beer selection we have here. And I enjoy coming in every day to tap, trap, braid, check and taste it. I like to pair the beers with food and prepare it for various beer events. I believe it was 1977 when my dad decided he was going to do an international beer list. In the 70s, there were no craft beers, small breweries selling beer in the states, whereas now there are tons. So, we did international back in the day — 30 beers from Germany, 10 from Australia, five beers from Korea and 10 from Russia. We had about 150 bottles back then. And that was a ton at that time. No one else was doing this kind of stuff. It was new and exciting and we became known for it. Now, of course, times have changed with craft beers now available. People no longer desire the import beer. They want beer from the little breweries that are located in the United States. We aim to get special brewery beers that are very rare to get, even in Pennsylvania.
Cooper’s has had famous guests stop in. Could you tell us a few who have? And what it was like having them come here?
Sure. President Clinton and Hillary Clinton are probably two of the most well-known. It was surreal witnessing a week of surveillance, snipers on the roof, secret service, the kitchen food had to be served to a food tester first and every beer had to be drunk first before going to President Clinton. President Eisenhower was here in the 50s. Derek Jeter recently came in maybe four or five times when he was with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and he was very sociable. Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) was here and he was awesome and very professional. Most of The Office cast was here, so we were able to meet them. They were all amazingly fun to be around. They even used footage that their film crew shot here as a scene in one of their episodes. So, that was very exciting for us. Brian O’Halloran, who plays “Dante” on Clerks, came in and he was very friendly. When I was younger some famous wrestlers stopped in — Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog and André the Giant. Having them come into the restaurant was loads of fun. They acted like they were putting on one of their shows. Really, it was delightful to see.
— katelyn english