New York is a city of villages: the butcher, the baker, even the gefilte fish maker. But what of the fishmonger? Samantha Lee enjoyed the East Village, but lamented its lack of fresh fish proprietors: “I didn’t feel like there was a great deal of access to local, sustainable seafood. When there is, it’s either really expensive or far away. If you’re busy and want somebody to lead you through the maze [of sustainability], there’s very little out there.”
Thus the Village Fishmonger was born. Manhattan’s first Community Supported Fishery (CSF) made its first deliveries of sustainable seafood in September to five pick up spots across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Members join on a rolling basis, signing on for 12 weeks of weekly or bi-weekly shares of whole fish or fillets. We sat down with Lee to learn more about Village Fishmonger’s story, what happens between pick ups and the joys of (non-amphibian) croakers.
Q: Before Village Fishmonger, you worked in advertising. What led you here?
A: I like when you go to your neighborhood shop, know the proprietor and trust them. You have a conversation and walk out saying, “I love what I bought. I know what to do with it. I know where it came from. I feel like I got value, whatever price I paid.” That kind of business for this niche was missing.
I wanted to explore what it was like to start your own business. My husband [co-owner Dennis O’Connor] is the director of food and beverage for Laurent Tourondel. We also have a third partner, Sean Dixon, an environmental lawyer with a background in ocean advocacy and coastal legislation. His life mission is to save the ocean. He knows change comes from people making choices with their wallets.
Q: What’s a day in the life of a Village Fishmonger?
A: For a Saturday pick up, I talk to the fisherman Friday morning to find out what they’re getting and I tell them how many orders we have. I’ll spend a couple hours on a recipe for that delivery. Sean puts together educational information about the fish, its history in terms of sustainability.
The day of, I go down to the dock with our driver. We switch between docks in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; we get all wild-caught fish. We bring the fish back to our kitchen where our fishmonger preps it. Then we package it and transport it via refrigerated truck to our pick up locations.
Q: How do you handle the pricing?
A: We built a budget from the bottom up. We got our own truck and fishmonger, which provides customers peace of mind. We pay the fishers fairly, above what wholesalers pay, but less than retail.
We give customers a little extra some weeks and pass on value when we can.
Q: Are there lesser-known species you’ve enjoyed?
I wasn’t familiar with sea trout, which is in the weakfish family. We handed it out to our members last week. It was lovely. I was surprised by the quality of the croakers, great fish with a texture similar to red snapper. Historically it was poor people’s fish, served deep fried in the South — it’s really delicious.
Lots of people have fears about consuming seafood. It’s one of the healthiest proteins. Eating seafood is better than not eating seafood!
Sign up for Village Fishmonger CSF here.
Images courtesy of Village Fishmonger.