« December 2010 Table of Contents
What's in Store: Flexible fishmongers
Santa Monica Seafood completes Costa Mesa renovation
By Christine Blank
December 01, 2010
Distributor and retailer Santa Monica Seafood's first foray
into the full-service restaurant business happened in a
roundabout way soon after it opened its second retail market in
Santa Monica, Calif., about 15 years ago.
"When we opened the store, the location we took over was a
restaurant and the owners of the property wanted to maintain
its designation as a restaurant. We just wanted to open a
market," says Michael Cigliano, executive VP of Santa Monica Seafood Co., Santa Monica, Calif.
However, Cigliano says he and other company owners Anthony
Cigliano, Gennaro Cigliano, John Cigliano, Vince Cigliano and
Marisa Neal figured they would make the best of the situation.
So they set out to operate a combination retail seafood store
and fast-casual café and soon found that it would not work
well, in terms of customer flow through the store and customer
service. "We quickly decided to switch to a full-service
concept, and trained people in two days," says Michael
In addition to a full-service, 34-seat café, the company's
Santa Monica store features an oyster bar complete with wine
and beer offerings. Café and oyster bar sales account for about
20 percent of the retail store's business.
"This is additional business that helps our brand and
introduces people to seafood. People's lifestyles have become
faster paced and they don't have time to cook," says
Santa Monica Seafood is more widely recognized as a
wholesale distributor of fresh and frozen seafood in the
southwestern United States. The company also has a keen focus
on sustainability. While it had been proactive about buying
sustainable products previously, in 2009, Santa Monica Seafood
committed to buy the majority of its seafood from sustainable
sources. It works with Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program for its sourcing criteria.
Now, after realizing foodservice success at the Santa Monica
store, the owners added a full-service café and oyster bar to
the company's Costa Mesa, Calif., location in early November.
"We are trying to keep a casual feel and keep the prices
somewhat moderate, so people can come in quite often," says
Cigliano. The 1,000-square-foot café has 34 seats, indoors and
The décor of the new café and eight-seat oyster bar in Costa
Mesa mimics the look and feel of the Santa Monica location. "We
are using lighter colors - earth tones - on the walls, along
with darker woods and Carrera marble for the tabletops and on
top of the cheese cases and seafood display cases. We have some
unique pieces such as our Dungeness crab baskets that were
converted into light fixtures,"
The oyster bar has been very popular at the Santa Monica
store and Cigliano expects the same reception in Costa Mesa.
"It gives people a feeling of ownership, a neighborhood
feeling. Some of the regulars are singles, who read the paper
and drink a glass of wine, and our bartenders get a rapport
going with them," says Cigliano.
The Costa Mesa store menu, which is the same for guests of
both the café and
the oyster bar, typically
variety of oysters from the West Coast and from New Zealand,
along with Alaska king crab legs, Alaska cod, littleneck clams,
ahi tuna, scallops and salmon.
"We will try to introduce specials on a daily basis, to take
advantage of the seasonal aspect of the industry. Also, if we
have three types of oysters that we are selling in our market,
we will prepare those three and maybe two more," says
The November menu included specials such as Baja Fish Tacos,
appetizers such as Calamari Fritti and Ahi Tuna Tartare, and
entrées that included Pan Roasted Alaska Halibut, Cioppino and
a Spicy Salmon Burger. Cigliano expects the café and oyster bar
at the Costa Mesa store to contribute 40 percent to the store's
Despite the owners' focus on foodservice in the Costa Mesa
store renovation, the retail side of the business has not been
forgotten. In fact, the Costa Mesa store has three times more
fresh fish retail space than the company's Santa Monica
"We have 36 feet
of our 'showcase,' which is shellfish,
fresh fish and fillets, plus a 12-foot deli section," says
Cigliano. In addition, the Costa Mesa store includes a live
lobster tank and a refrigerated grab-and-go-case that displays
chowders, salads, fresh produce and beverages. A wide variety
of wines and cheeses are also highlighted in the Costa Mesa
store, along with chocolates and frozen gelatos.
"We get fresh bread and fresh flowers delivered daily. We
try to make it as much of a one-stop experience as possible,"
In addition, the retail selections and the café menu
complement each other. "We don't want to offer anything in the
café that they can't make from the ingredients in the store,"
says Cigliano. Often, café customers buy seafood and sides in
the retail side of the two stores, after they have eaten in the
oyster bar, he added.
With the Costa Mesa expansion completed, one might think
that company owners are ready to expand their retail and
foodservice operation. However, Cigliano says two stores is
enough - at least for the near future.
"Our focus has
always been on foodservice distribution. It
is labor intensive, and you want to put your best foot forward,
all of the time," he says.
Contributing Editor Christine Blank lives in Lake Mary,