Whaler’s Catch

Catch the cadence of the coastal south at Paducah’s landmark seafood establishment

whalersCatch2The interior walls are constructed with rough-cut wood. Thick, burly rope suspends gleaming maple tables. Patron sit comfortable before an antique bar flanked by mirrors reflecting an ambiance of Cajun charisma. You can small the aroma of freshly cooked fish, rice, baked potatoes and hot bread. Jazz fills the air with classic cadence of southern Louisiana. For a moment you’re on the coast. But you’re actually home. Home in Paducah. Home at Whaler’s Catch.

Linda has been catering delicacies for diners for 21 years at Whaler’s Catch. Tom has been cooking up John Harris’s selected catches for 23 years. David has been stirring things up at Whaler’s for 20 years. Shawn has been a part of Paducah’s tasteful seafood restaurant for 25 years. Bill and Maria have kept a watchful eye on staffers for 20 years. Ask them why? “It’s a great place to work and it’s like a family atmosphere,” they say collectively. “When people leave it’s usually because they have to,” the group adds.

John Harris had a successful restaurant and insurance business in Florida, but deep down inside he had always harbored a desire to bring his family back to his roots. “I was very comfortable there, but when my first child, Caroline, was born it made me think about coming home. When Johnny was born two years later, I thought more about it,” John Harris remembers. “I wanted to raise my children in a friendlier and safer atmosphere. I sold my business interests and bought Whaler’s Catch from Roberta “Ro” Morse in 1991. I feel I’ve made two major decisions in my life: one was to move away and get the experience life has to offer; the other was to return.”

He brought with him a new expression of an original idea that Ro Morse began on 13th Street in Paducah in 1977. The opening of Whaler’s Catch was an introduction of a Cajun, New Orleans-styled seafood restaurant. The Whaler’s of today displays many of the charter dishes and entrees that Ro cooked up originally along with a number of delectable specialties that have been created along the way. “Many of the original recipes came from Ro when I purchased Whaler’s,” John says. “She did a fantastic job of putting together recipes and had multitudes of ideas. My job was not to mess it up and listen to the staff ’s input. I have to give credit to Shawn, Tom, Bill, Linda and Ed, who together come up with new menu ideas and concoctions.” John says he and the staff make subtle changes all year long and also look to customers to tell them what they like and what they’d like to have added to the menu—because customer satisfaction is king at this river-front establishment.
Traditionally, entrees are checked three times, staffers say. They are looked over, of course, by the cook, then by the expediter and finally by the server. “We think consistent, predictable food items are the key to our continued success,” John adds. “The customer can expect the same quality entree time after time.”

Tommy Amidon, an ex-Floridian who worked with John in the sunshine state, seconds that emotion. “I worked with John at his seafood restaurant, The Old South Oyster Bar, for over 12 years before moving to Paducah,” Tommy says. “John and I worked so well together that it was an easy decision to move to Paducah and work with him here at Whaler’s.” Tommy says the two operate on the same wavelength. “When John needs a colorful specialty tray or a unique dish, I know what he means with little said. And I know the quality of what we want to present to our loyal clientele.”

To ensure fresh inventory at Whaler’s, fish market items are rotated on a daily basis. Customers are treated to an alternating selection of fish such as fresh salmon, swordfish and tuna to an assortment of shrimp and other shellfish. Along with the seafood, spices and other accompaniments can be purchased at the market. The entire lot can be conveniently picked up right behind the landmark river-front restaurant.

The staff at Whaler’s supports John’s philosophy of customer satisfaction. Each repeatedly says that owner John Harris is the primary reason they stay on the job. One of the employees who was injured in a serious automobile accident several years ago attested to that loyalty. “The staff brought food to me each night,” Linda R. Crowe remembers, “and John assured me my job would be waiting for me. It’s a strong network.”

Now celebrating more than 28 years in business, Whaler’s Catch Restaurant, Oyster Bar and Market offers a unique blend of past and present. The restaurant is located in the historic Johnson Building on 123 Second Street in Paducah’s historic downtown district overlooking the Ohio River. When Harris opened the downtown restaurant in 1996, there was only a flame of entrepreneurial fire sparking new interest in the historic district. But with the courage and “can-do” attitude of most business owners, John made the investment in what would later become a bustling center of tourist traffic and new business development. Supporting him in that effort was, of course, Paducah Bank.

“I see Paducah Bank as a business much like our own, performing activities of total commitment to its customers and the city of Paducah,” John explains. “Their staff is courteous and professional and, like our waiters, their dedication to their customers makes the bank’s service second to none in my opinion. Decisions are made quickly and on site. Their locations and branches make banking easy and convenient and they are very knowledgeable when explaining their products and services. It’s a win-win situation for us as a local business.” John attributes the restaurant and market’s years of success to the community at large and the encouragement of many members of local government as well as his Paducah Bank associates. “Everything is right here in Paducah to help any forward-looking business owner make a go of his or her dream company.”

Now enough talk. How about lunch or dinner?