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What's in Store: Gourmet gills

Dorothy Lane Market defies traditional retail seafood woes

By Christine Blank
January 01, 2010

Lobstermania, salmon cookouts and food and wine festivals are just a few of the events that gourmet retailer Dorothy Lane Market holds to get shoppers excited about fish and shellfish.

The Dayton, Ohio-based three-store company also holds cooking demonstrations and classes - some highlighting seafood and sushi preparation techniques - throughout the year. Dorothy Lane executives aim to give their foodie shoppers an education in an atmosphere that promotes high-quality foods from around the world.

Lobstermania is a popular Dorothy Lane seafood event, held every Memorial Day. "We sell lobsters very, very cheap for one day only, and are cooking them outside. Last year, we sold out by 11 a.m.," says Jack Gridley, director of meat and 
seafood. Lobsters were priced at $9.99 per 1.5-pound lobster during the event. "Lobster prices have been depressed, so they have been a good value."

The gourmet retailer's annual food and wine festival, held in November to get customers excited about upcoming holiday meals and parties, is also well attended. The event has demonstrations and samplings of numerous foods and wines, and includes a variety of seafood pâtés.

"We have an oyster bar, where we have shucked oysters on the half shell, fresh king crab, along with a complete variety of smoked fish, smoked pâtés and salmon caviar. We are acquainting people with the items that we carry for the holiday season," says Gridley.

During last year's food and wine festival, a representative from Dorothy Lane's sablefish supplier - Favco of Anchorage, Alaska, - talked about the benefits of sablefish and explained why many consumers are unfamiliar with the species.

"Over the last few years, we have been working to get people to cook Alaskan sablefish as a substitute for Chilean sea bass. You can't go wrong: The oil content is so high that you can't overcook [sablefish]," he says.

Bringing seafood company representatives and fishermen in to talk to shoppers is also vital to Dorothy Lane's seafood program. "People want to see where their fish is coming from, and that there are real fishermen behind it," says Gridley.

Dorothy Lane also holds sidewalk salmon sales and salmon cookouts a few times a year, featuring its chefs grilling the fish and making sandwiches. "We feature sockeye and coho salmon. You buy it as the whole fish, and we cut it into steaks," says Gridley.

Last June, Dorothy Lane sold salmon sandwiches for $6.50 each during the two-day salmon cookout.

Dorothy Lane even offers a year-round grilling station for seafood at its Springboro, Ohio, store. "You can purchase any seafood item, and have it grilled [to order], and take it home," says Gridley.

The grilling station serves as an excellent seafood education tool for shoppers. "You are watching how the chef is preparing your fish, and the oils and seasonings he is using."

In addition, throughout 2008 and part of 2009, Dorothy Lane's chefs focused on teaching shoppers how to grill whole fish, "showing them fun, unique ways to cook on the grill and the flavor profiles you can have," says Gridley.

Dorothy Lane is also placing renewed focus on buying American and even local farmed Ohio seafood. "For our sea scallops, we 
buy direct from Oceans Alive in New Bedford, Mass. For our shrimp program, we are going more and more with a certified American-caught shrimp from Woods Fisheries [in Port St. Joe, Fla.]," says Gridley.

This year, Dorothy Lane will work with the Ohio Department of Agriculture to buy and promote Ohio aquaculture products. "Because there are now 200 small farms in Ohio, we are going to work with some of these local producers to try to establish a market for their products," says Gridley. Some of the Ohio aquaculture products that Gridley wants to purchase include rainbow trout, white shrimp, perch and catfish.

Sustainability and carrying antibiotic-free proteins has always been an important part of Dorothy Lane's philosophy, according to Gridley. To that end, the grocer sells Black Pearl Organic Shetland salmon.

"They are farm-raised, antibiotic-free and fed certified organic feed. We don't advertise them as organic, because there are no 
organic rules for seafood [in the United States]," 
says Gridley.

Overall, Dorothy Lane carries between 40 and 50 SKUs of fresh seafood at any time. Some of the seafood entrées prepared in-house include: Crispy Dijon Tilapia, Bacon Wrapped Scallops and Oysters Rockefeller. In 2010, Gridley plans to bring in more seasonal fish from Hawaii, including snapper, wahoo and opah, for the retailer's fresh cases.

Because of the excitement created around seafood and its quality offerings, Dorothy Lane was able to achieve slightly higher seafood sales in 2009 - quite a feat for a gourmet retailer in a difficult economy. "We have shown a modest increase [in sales]; it has been a good year for seafood," says Gridley.

While some shoppers cut down on portion sizes throughout the year, most are not "trading down" in terms of seafood selection, according to Gridley. "They are still trying all the unique items," he says.

Dorothy Lane Market is proving that, even during challenging economic times, upscale retailers can succeed. Offering quality seafood from around 
the world and getting consumers enthusiastic about the seafood they are preparing and eating continues to support Dorothy Lane's bottom line.


Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in South Portland, Maine


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