Last March, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar celebrated its 20th anniversary, marking two decades as the Pacific Northwest’s premier destination for seafood and the fine dining anchor of downtown Bellevue.
Seastar’s anniversary also commemorated another milestone for Chef John Howie: 20 years of generously supporting hundreds of local philanthropic organizations.
Howie, who is also proprietor of John Howie Steak, Whiskey by John Howie, Beardslee Public House, Wildwood Spirits Co. and John Howie Catering, has intentionally ingrained giving back into the culture of his establishments. He believes when you generously support the local community, the community will support you right back.
When Cathy Lalley, Chef John Howie’s director of marketing, sought parameters for a community giving program, Howie told her to give to any qualifying organization requesting a donation – to put it simply, he instructed her to “never say no.”
As long as the organization was affiliated with a school or an established non-profit, he did not feel it was his place to determine that one organization was more deserving than another. Lalley did as Howie asked but did not believe such a program could realistically continue as demand increased. Sixteen years later, the ‘never say no’ policy is still in place.
Today, Lalley oversees a giving program that has supported just about every local public + private school and non-profit organization in the area – even two different rabbit rescue organizations in Redmond. Since 2002, the company has donated more than $8 million dollars in goods and services to the local community.
Howie is particularly passionate about supporting hunger-related causes and has created numerous events over the years to support local food banks and hunger-relief agencies.
“I have been fortunate to be blessed with more than I need so I wanted to give back to the community I grew up in,” said Howie. “Our team members are proud to be part of something larger in the community, so being able to provide auction items for their children’s schools and other passions feels like a way to extend the closeness of our restaurant family into the community.”
For the past 19 years, with the exception of the pandemic years, Seastar has hosted a special Thanksgiving feast at no cost for guests who might otherwise not enjoy a holiday meal. By closing to the public, Seastar can accommodate approximately 650 guests each Thanksgiving for a complimentary fine dining feast.
Attendees come from Bellevue Lifespring, Hopelink, Olive Crest, Redmond YWCA and the Sophia Way, and are treated to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The meal is made possible each year by Chef Howie, local vendors and countless volunteers.
For eight years, Howie co-led the Seattle Kick Hunger Challenge team in partnership with the Seattle Seahawks and raised more than $1 million for Seattle-based Food Lifeline. The Kick Hunger Challenge was a friendly fundraising competition between all 32 NFL teams to raise money for local food banks before it was dissolved in 2020.
Chef Howie, along with former Seahawks Craig Terrill, Walter Jones, Jordan Babineaux and Cliff Avril, hosted numerous local events that provided more than 5 million meals for Washington State’s neighbors in need.
Last year, during the Covid pandemic, Howie and his team prepared and delivered more than 10,000 individualized gourmet meals to healthcare heroes, first responders and, through a partnership with World Central Kitchen, thousands of hot, nutritious meals to local individuals and families in need.
Many know Chef Howie for his culinary innovation and accomplishments, or for the many business and community awards he has received. Of all his achievements, however, he is most grateful for what his restaurants have allowed him to contribute to the local community.
Howie believes his ‘Never Say No’ policy has been good for business and, most of all, the foundation for his own personal satisfaction and happiness.