« March 2010 Table of Contents
Kansas goes green
Angler's Seafood House brings sustainable seafood to
By Lauren Kramer
March 01, 2010
Many restaurants are trying to make sustainable seafood
choices today, but when you're landlocked and far from the
water, those choices become more difficult, both financially
and pragmatically. When Jeff Lewis and Ted Nguyen partnered to
open Angler's Seafood House in Lawrence, Kan., in September
2008, a menu containing exclusively sustainable seafood was at
the top of their priority list.
The two met when they were working at a brewery in Lawrence.
Lewis had been a professional chef while studying industrial
design at the University of Kansas, and Nguyen had grown up in
a family restaurant business. He had opened two restaurants out
west before partnering with Lewis.
When a space became available next to the Nguyen family's
existing restaurant, the pair decided to open a seafood
restaurant that would specialize in fresh, seasonal seafood
with Lewis in the kitchen.
"As a professional angler, I've spent many hours on the
water, time that has fueled
my passion and appreciation for
different species of seafood," says Nguyen.
"Our ocean is a finite
resource that we all need to care
for. So even before opening Angler's, Jeff and I made a
decision that it would offer sustainable seafood, and that the
logistical difficulties associated with that decision were
something we'd take on as a challenge."
Angler's is a member and associate partner of the Monterey
Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program and is committed to
menuing and educating guests about sustainable seafood.
Every table contains Seafood Watch pocket guides and
information about seafood species, and when guests receive
their check it comes with a take-home guide.
"We want our guests to understand why we're carrying
specific species and not others, where they're from and how
they're harvested," says Lewis.
There's a delicate balance, however, between educating
guests and overwhelming them with information, particularly in
a region where sustainable seafood is far from the norm.
"We're the only seafood restaurant in Lawrence to offer
exclusively sustainable seafood, and we see this as a chance to
create a new seafood culture in an area where most people are
almost oblivious to the issue," he says.
While some guests are skeptical in the beginning, once
they've eaten at Angler's they are more open to the concept of
sustainable seafood and appreciate the education, Nguyen
"Most of our guests praise us for our efforts and look
forward to seeing what new species we bring in every week," he
Angler's has presented guests with some 10 menus since it
opened two years ago, featuring more than 90 different species
of sustainably sourced seafood. Distributors have been very
supportive of the restaurant's needs, allowing Nguyen and Lewis
to fill their menu with a range
"Seasonal availability is a constant challenge but also
enables us to offer our guests a variety of species each time
they visit," Nguyen says.
Traditional favorites include steamer clams from Wellfleet,
Mass., jumbo shrimp cocktail using wild Texas Bay white shrimp,
diver-harvested scallops from the Atlantic or Baja, Mexico,
hybrid striped bass from Alamosa, Colo., and farmed rainbow
trout from Idaho.
"We try to keep all of our entrées below $20, with the
average price ranging between $10 and $17," Lewis says. "But
our guests must be willing to put themselves in a somewhat
vulnerable situation, many times trying something for the first
time and usually at a price point above what they would
normally pay for something familiar."
Operating a sustainable seafood restaurant with fresh
finfish and shellfish in the Midwest might sound like an
impossible business plan to execute, Lewis concedes.
"I can't think of a more challenging restaurant concept to
undertake. But my goal is to prove to the industry that a
couple of guys in Kansas can create a sustainable seafood
culture and create a landlocked epicenter to coincide with the
work of those on the coasts. We are attempting to reframe the
culture of seafood, and it is a viable business plan, but a
long-term one that takes patience and dedication. The payoff,
though, is beneficial to everyone."
Operating the first sustainable seafood restaurant in the
region is a source of pride for the pair, and they hope
Angler's will pave the way for change among other
"We hope that by incorporating sustainability as part of our
branding, we will help pave the path for other businesses to
embrace sustainability and take the necessary efforts to change
their offerings. With strength in numbers and demand,
distributors will be forced to also make the necessary changes,
which will mean that ultimately, sustainable products will be
accessible to more people."
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer Lives in British