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What's in Store: Service sells

Retailers find success with added foodservice components

By Christine Blank
September 01, 2010

Phil DiGirolamo throws clams and mussels into a huge pot while smiling and shouting to customers gathered in Phil's Fish Market in Moss Landing, Calif.

A fun, casual atmosphere has been part of the market since the 66-year-old DiGirolamo opened it in 1982, as has the boisterous chef's popular cooking demonstrations. Today, he is making his famous cioppino, which consists of fresh clams, mussels, squid, white fish, scallops, prawns and Phil's special sauce. This is the dish that beat out Bobby Flay in the Food Network's "Throwdown With Bobby Flay" 
in 2009.

Soon after DiGirolamo began his entertaining style of cooking, Phil's Fish Market customers began asking to buy the food he was cooking to try preparing it for themselves at home. Instead, DiGirolamo opened up a restaurant, The Eatery at Phil's Fish Market, in 
the same building as the market a few years ago and launched a 12-seat oyster bar last year.

"The Eatery is a family-style restaurant and is 
laid-back. You come up and order at the counter, get your utensils and choose your beverages," says DiGirolamo of the 175-seat restaurant. The Eatery has actually become more profitable than the fish market, and the oyster bar is usually full, says DiGirolamo.

Boosting profits are the main reason DiGirolamo and other retail seafood markets across the country have expanded into the restaurant business in recent years.

"Straight fish markets cannot make it any more. What do you do with the fish when you can't sell it at the market?" asks DiGirolamo.

The owners of Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, Calif., also transitioned into foodservice as a natural extension of their oyster farming and wholesaling business. "We made the move to retail first, because it is hard to make money in Marin County, just growing oysters and selling them [wholesale]. We are on Highway 1, so in late 1988, we put in tanks for live fresh oysters [and a retail store]," says John Finger, the company's founder and co-owner.

Once the infrastructure for the oyster store was in place, Hog Island opened its first oyster bar in San Francisco's popular Ferry Building Marketplace a few years ago. The menu features a variety of raw and baked oysters from the Pacific Northwest - including its trademarked Hog Island Oysters - along with local fish, chowders and 
oyster stew.

Finger quickly realized success with the oyster bar. "The margins were too great to ignore," he says. So Hog Island opened a second oyster bar in Napa, Calif., in 2008. Like the San Francisco location, the Napa location is around 1,000 square feet, but has a greater selection of wines and entrées, such as lamb sliders.

"We shifted it to where we use 80 percent of our [oyster] production ourselves, between two restaurants and retail," says Finger. Each of the restaurants and the retail store are set up as separate entities, and they purchase product from one another. Sporting a total of 80 employees, there are separate managers for the store and each restaurant.

The restaurant business has been so successful that Finger is in the process of adding an "oyster shack," a small outdoor oyster bar, at Hog 
Island's farm in Marshall. "We haven't seen any impact from this economy; 2010 was better than 2009, and 2009 was better than 2008," says Finger.

While they may have gone about it differently than most joint fish markets and restaurants, the owners of Wimpy's Seafood Café & Fish Market in Osterville, Mass., have cleverly developed new revenue streams. In their case, the company owners decided to add on to the 250-seat Cape Cod seafood restaurant, which opened in 1938, with a retail fish market.

The 400-square-foot Fish Market was opened in 1995 and Wimpy's owners, Lawrence and Karen Siscoe, opened another seafood restaurant, The Riverway Lobster House in South Yarmouth, Mass.

"There is a big demand for seafood on the Cape, and a lot of people grill out and cook at home. Not everyone eats out every night, so [the market] is a great way to capture the people who aren't going to come into the restaurant," says Adam Theran, GM and operations director for Wimpy's.

The store and restaurants support one another, adds Theran. "Anything we serve in the restaurant, we will sell to you in the market. Even if you would like a steak cut, we will cut it for you," says Theran.

Wimpy's Fish Market - which sells around 10 fresh seafood items daily - also serves as a take-out operation and sells a line of packaged heat-and-serve seafood meals that are menued at the restaurant.

Many traditional retail fish markets have transitioned into the foodservice arena after realizing profits from their signature clam chowder, stuffed fish or boiled seafood recipes. Taking seafood retail to the next level with everything from 12-seat cafés to 250-seat restaurants, independent fish markets are thriving in the restaurant business.

 

Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary, Fla.

 

 

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