Finding good-quality seafood often feels like a shot in the dark: Raise your hand if you’ve had misgivings about buying a side of salmon or fresh shrimp at Acme.
That’s not a concern for Philly’s riverwards residents thanks to Fishtown Seafood, a corner store selling sashimi-grade salmon, cold-cracked lobster, super-frozen big eye tuna, tinned fish, and 12 varieties of oysters. Owner Bryan Szeliga launched the business as a home-delivery service last September, transition to to brick-and-mortar in March, when the storefront opened in a former deli at Belgrade Street and East Columbia Avenue.
Szeliga came to retail after years of working in the seafood industry, including at the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, a nonprofit that works to promote sustainable sourcing in big companies like Sam’s Club, Walmart, and US Foods. He’s channeled lessons learned there when stocking the shop, selecting from a global network of fisheries and suppliers with the best environmental practices.
“I want to have impactful sourcing standards, rather than just checking the box and saying something has achieved a third-party certification,” Szeliga says.
None of Fishtown Seafood’s inventory has been flown on a plane, nor are there any added chemicals. Much of the frozen seafood has been ikejime-harvested, a Japanese method for killing fish that results in a more humane catch as well as better-preserved protein. Or consider the lobster, which has been “cold-cracked,” where the meat is pressure-extracted from the shell, then blast-frozen. There’s more advantage to that than having to deal with shellfish crackers, Szeliga says.
“Whether [customers] know it or not, the live transportation of an animal outside of its environment while it’s decreasing in quality, dying, suffocating, and then potentially being boiled live — you’ve been able to remove that from the supply chain and give people a better option for consuming something,” he says, quickly adding that there are still improvements that could be made to the system.
“It’s not perfect, but at this point it’s the best I believe we can do with lobster. And the quality of it is awesome.”
That sentiment reflects Szeliga’s larger sourcing philosophy. He aims for the lowest carbon footprint possible, but much of the seafood is nationally and globally sourced. There’s king salmon from New Zealand and Alaska, shrimp from Costa Rica and Indonesia, snapper and grouper from Florida, and other products from Korea and Australia. Szeliga also works closely with True Fin, a New England-based wholesaler.
The geographic diversity of suppliers means he can stock a wide variety of seafood, including sought-after stuff like sablefish, go-tos like sea scallops and calamari, and more obscure items like plant-based seafood and cusk (”it’s like a warm-water lobster tail”). Salmon has been the shop’s best-seller so far, and oysters have been popular, too — especially during Friday’s happy hour, when select oysters go for a dollar apiece. (Fishtown Seafood is a public drop-off site for Philadelphia Water Department’s oyster shell-recycling program, so bring back the shells!)
Szeliga hopes to add to his product selection as he grows a customer base. He offers classes — primarily oyster-shucking classes for now — on Monday afternoons and evenings for small groups; they’re priced at the cost of the product. It’s a good outlet for Szeliga to offer seafood education, which he’s eager to do. He’s quick to give customers info on everything from where and how a fish was caught to the best way to defrost and prepare it.
“I’m just happy to tell a story to anyone who will listen,” he says.
Fishtown Seafood at 339 Belgrade St. is open 2:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. 215-804-9636, fishtownseafood.com