Tony’s Seafood Restaurant opens under new owners

David Briggs
Carol Elliot, who has worked at Tony’s in Marshall for 27 years, brought a meal to a customer over the Labor Day weekend. Tony’s Seafood Restuarant remains mostly unchanged under new ownership, aside from an improved menu.  

It took no more than 25 minutes after opening last Friday for Tony’s Seafood Restaurant to begin filling up with hungry customers seeking refuge from the heat wave. A staffer flipped on an upbeat playlist and a grill on the terrace sent flavorsome smoke into the dining room. 

Tony’s, founded in 1948, opened in August after sitting empty for eight months, under the  ownership of Hog Island Oyster Company. Questions have swirled over how the relaxed eatery, where locals flocked on Fridays for live music and specials, would emerge from the sale by its founding Konatich family owners. 

“We don’t want to change much,” co-owner John Finger said. “It’s an iconic old place and we want to save that. We want to update what Tony’s has been and keep that old, Northern California coastal-house feel.”

Leading the back of the house is Chef Matt Shapiro, who previously developed a seafood program for Hog Island’s three oyster bars (in Marshall, San Francisco and Napa). An avid fisherman, Mr. Shapiro keeps a close watch on all the seafood brought into his kitchen. He is toying with the menu until January, when Tony’s will close for about three months for a complete renovation of the kitchen and other parts of the bayside property. 

For now, some staples from the previous menu remain—such as the Tony’s Burger and steamed mussels and clams—but the barbequed oysters are gone. Mr. Finger said that although Tony’s has a reputation as one of the first places to barbecue oysters, it must meet county requirements before it can continue the tradition.

“In the long term, of course barbecued oysters have to be on the menu,” he said. “We’ve done a riff on their old recipes.”

Rebecca Ng, deputy director for the county’s Environmental Health Services, said the county has an agreement with Hog Island that the restaurant will be brought up to code after the remodel in the winter. (She said the kitchen requires a new hood exhaust system.) 

Even though temperatures in Marshall last Friday reached triple digits, the steaming linguine with clams Bagna càuda made for a refreshing lunch, with its sauce of white wine and olive oil mopped up by sourdough bread. Inside, buoys and nautical lanterns dangled from the ceiling and familiar plaques and paintings adorned the walls. Starting this Friday, live music will return under the direction of Ingrid Noyes. 

A few of the original staffers have also been retained. Carol Elliot—known as “Alice” to regulars, a nickname given by the restaurant’s co-founder Anton “Tony” Konatich—has been waiting tables there for the 27 years. She said she’s “very pleased” with the new owners, whom she recalls serving for decades and whose children she’s watched grow up.

Yet she’s also met her match with the new digital point of sale system—one of the few noticeable changes since the purchase—located on the back wall beneath a plastic marlin.

“It’s so much more different than having a pad and paper in your hand and adding it up yourself,” she said. “This is just such a different system. Everybody said I could do this and, through the confidence of my coworkers and [Garret Hamner, the general manger], I’m getting it. So far, at 67, I’m still in the game!”

Hog Island’s purchase continues the oyster company’s growth along the east shore of Tomales Bay. Hog Island, started when Mr. Finger and Terry Sawyer began planting oyster seeds at the mouth of Walker Creek in 1983, leases 160 acres for shellfish cultivation and sells over five million oysters, Manila clams and mussels annually. The company recently expanded operations onto the 250-acre Leali Ranch in Marshall and, further north, is building a hatchery, nursery and farm in Humboldt Bay.