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One on One: Durwin Daniels

Food and beverage director, The Fish Market, Palo
    Alto, Calif.
By James Wright
January 01, 2007

Durwin Daniels is a busy man. His promotion to food and beverage director of The Fish Market in October 2005 has him running up and down the West Coast to oversee purchasing and quality control for the seafood restaurant chain's nine locations (eight in California and one in Phoenix).

But he wouldn't have it any other way. For Daniels, 44, his occupation is a labor of love. He has spent nearly half his life, 21 years, working for The Fish Market and has a deep understanding of the company philosophy and the foodservice industry. He served as general manager at five of the chain's restaurants before his promotion and has experience as a sous chef.

Wright: The Fish Market prides itself on being "seafood people 
in the restaurant business." 
Are you a seafood guy or a
restaurant guy?

Daniels: I've always been a restaurant guy, but I'm working to become a seafood guy. I've always had an appreciation for seafood, growing up near San Francisco, which has only continued to grow here.

 

What are your job responsibilities?

Quality control is the essence of what I do. Quality must meet our standards from the back door all the way through production and to when it's served to our guests. It's really fundamental, but we have an excellent communication system. I like to think that I'm the hub, but there's a certain amount of autonomy [at each restaurant]. I think all of our employees have a sense of partnership in the company. We take a lot of pride in what we serve every day.

I'm primarily on the road and I spend two days each month at each location; having nine [restaurants] keeps me busy. Maintaining our specifications in several markets is challenging, but Web-based technologies and voicemail forwarding help unit purchasing immensely.

But I really need to be present, hands-on and involved. My day starts at 5 a.m. when I check in with Farallon to see what's available, and they're in constant contact with [dozens of] vendors. I support the product once it leaves Farallon and make sure it gets handled properly. It's a team effort and without [Farallon and the kitchen managers], I wouldn't be able to do it. I'm excited about [2007], because I have a base to work from and we have a motivated staff.

 

You sound busy. How do you 
manage your schedule?

I love the chaos; I love the excitement of the restaurant industry and all the teaching and training. I have an assistant, Linette Morales, at the Palo Alto office who handles menu updates and our recipe books. She translates our written materials into Spanish. Communication is key and she's an essential component because Spanish is a primary language in California. All of our kitchen managers are bilingual; about 80 percent of our kitchen staff members speak Spanish.

Personally, I make sure to put Laurelle (his wife of two years) first and work second in the sense that I balance my home and personal life. We've been together for 10 years; she reminds me of what's important. But all the traveling is great, you really meet some neat, interesting people when you move outside of your comfort zone.

 

How much fish 
on the menu is fresh?

It depends on the season. Usually we have about 15 finfish and maybe three or four of them are frozen. [Fresh] selections in the summer go up to maybe 20.

We print menus twice a day. Some of our restaurants have different formats, which is challenging. One is quick-service, three have sushi bars, a couple have retail markets and all of them have oyster bars.

 

What's your favorite 
part of the job?

Wine. I'm a wine drinker at heart. [The managers] get together with our "finds of the month" and make up dishes and pair them with wines. Because of where we are, there are unique finds everywhere. I have access to everything here, and the two (food and wine) really tie in together.

 

Who's your mentor?

Aiden Coburn (The Fish Market's director of seafood education and quality control), who is also a personal friend; I've gained so much knowledge from him and appreciate his willingness to help. I've learned so much from him. He gives without being asked, which is a true characteristic of a teacher. I'm fortunate to have worked with him for 20 years.

 

Two decades is a long time at one company; what keeps you there?

When I first started, I noticed [The Fish Market] had a culture I'd never experienced before. There is a sense of pride here that is unparalleled. In this industry, this is as good as it gets. If there was a perfect job for me, this is it. There's not a day that goes by that I have to worry about going to work. It's a pleasure.

 

Assistant Editor James Wright can be e-mailed at jwright@divcom.com

 

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