The modest Belgrade Street retail shop that houses Fishtown Seafood offers high-quality, mostly sashimi-grade seafood that is preserved at peak freshness using a super-freezer. The space also has an entire wall of seafood and culinary equipment, from fish spatulas to grapeseed oil.
“I want people to be successful with preparing their seafood at home,” says Bryan Szeliga, owner of Fishtown Seafood.
Seafood often scares people, he says, because of misconceptions around quality and sustainability — which, in the seafood world, is a “big black hole.” He’s trying to change that through consumer education and full transparency about his own methods. He refers to his standards as “thoughtfully sourced seafood,” which includes ensuring that there are no added chemicals to preserve freshness while also not buying seafood that was flown by plane to his distributor. It’s a tall order, but one Szeliga accomplishes by partnering with True Fin, a Maine-based retailer that ensures their fishermen a floor price, so even if the market drops, which it often does, they have a guaranteed income.
“Seafood inherently has a lower carbon footprint,” he says, “so we’re doubling down on that.”
Which means, first and foremost, not buying any seafood shipped by plane, thus keeping the supply chain as short as possible.
He also sources via aquaculture, and though farm-raised seafood is relatively new, he believes it’s the future.
“That’s where feeding the planet is going to come from,” he says.
There is more quality control in aquaculture, he adds, and things you can’t get from wild caught fish — such as consistency in size and fat content.
He doesn’t sell any seafood that has been treated with chemicals. Sodium tripolyphosphate is one that’s often added to fish and shrimp as a preservative, and carbon monoxide is added to commercial tuna to obscure its state of decomposition.
“Bryan is a dream client,” says Brigette Fuscia, a boxed sourcing supplier for Fishtown Seafood. “Both his product and philosophy are completely genuine and extremely thoughtful.”
Szeliga has worked with seafood for many years — attending culinary school, working with James Beard Award-winning chefs and third generation fishmongers. He’d been racking up his supply chain knowledge and expertise when he finally got his own shot at entrepreneurship in September 2021. After two and a half months of preparation he had a soft open on Christmas Eve, followed by a full-fledged launch in January.
Currently, the entire operation is run by Szeliga alone, but he is looking to ramp up business. His ultimate goal is to change the model on seafood distribution and have a positive impact on his immediate community.
Jonathan Sullivan, a neighbor and regular oyster customer, says his family eats a lot more seafood since Fishtown Seafood’s arrival, and also knows a lot more about it.
“I like knowing that I can support oyster farmers and fishers from New Jersey and the Northeast,” he says.
Sullivan and his family are among the more than 40 people who have attended Szeliga’s popular oyster shucking class, and are impressed by Szeliga’s oyster shell recycling program, which allows the used shells to return to the watershed to mitigate erosion and enrich oyster beds.
Szeliga currently works with nine women-owned businesses, a list he keeps posted on the board in the retail shop. From trash can selection to air purifiers to apparel, he carefully sifts through the sourcing options.
“Being a white male I am aware of my privileges,” he says. “I’m the owner and founder, and can’t change that — but I am actively trying to support woman-owned and locally owned businesses,” he says.
“I’m trying to do things better and differently,” says Szeliga. “There are a lot of things I could’ve compromised on, and sold more fish, but I’m just not doing it.”