Bill Ranniger, the longtime executive chef at Duke’s Seafood and a beloved fixture of the Northwest restaurant community, has died after an 18-month battle with esophageal cancer, Duke’s announced this week. He was 62.
The announcement credited Ranniger’s love of seafood to a childhood spent in part on his family’s cabin on Henry Island, in the San Juans. “His father took him fishing all the time, they dropped crab pots every day, dug clams, and ate oysters right on the beach,” his family wrote. “They would pack some tabasco, salt and lime to make them even more delicious. This was always Bill’s ‘happy place’ and he never tired of telling this story to anyone who would listen.”
Ranniger started working in restaurants as a teenaged dishwasher and bounced around gigs in Seattle and the Eastside before getting a job as a sous chef at the Bellevue Duke’s location in the mid ‘90s. He worked a variety of jobs for the famed local seafood chain, including general manager at the Green Lake location, and became the executive chef in 2004. That was a big job at a time of rapid expansion for Duke’s: In the next four years it would open three restaurants in Tacoma, Tukwila, and Kent.
On the memory wall Duke’s has set up to honor Ranniger, guests, employees, and vendors remember “Wild Bill” as a gregarious, kindhearted person, someone who didn’t seek the limelight but entertained guests at the special wine and beer pairing dinners occasionally thrown at Duke’s. During the pandemic lockdown, when Duke’s was serving to-go meal kits, Ranniger put handwritten notes in them to thank loyal customers.
Ranniger is survived by his wife Lisa and their three children. In lieu of flowers, the family asks instead that well-wishers give to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.