By Pamela Marean
NEW BEDFORD — If Peter Martone has what it takes to strike gold selling fish off a truck in New Bedford — which he acknowledges as the “mecca of seafood” — his new South End fish market and seafood restaurant also might grow into the winner he envisions.
Not concerned with the stiff competition, Mr. Martone said he and his wife, Jacqueline, are planning to conquer this “Wall Street of fish” with top-notch seafood for sale, exceptional service and unusual offerings. You simply won’t find “the cool stuff” in other stores, he said.
Officially open for business on Jan. 1, 2008, the New Bedford Fish Company is selling fish and fine porcelain tableware from the Czech Republic at its 363 Rivet St. location.
Mr. Martone knows the Goulart Square address is virtually guaranteed to be a hit, he said, because “I used to sell fish out of my truck on weekends in front of what is now my store.”
Catering to those who like whole fish with the head on, and to people who want fish cut to order “butcher-style” while they wait, Mr. Martone said the company will feel like a throwback to 1920s friendly attention to customers.
The Martones stock their case with king salmon, blue crab, tuna, tilapia, catfish, whiting, squid, octopus, hake, snapper and imports that especially appeal to local Cape Verdean, Hispanic and Portuguese communities. Plus, they welcome requests and suggestions.
Mr. Martone is funding his venture the old-fashioned way — by working very hard — and he brings with him 25 years of experience in fishing and fish supply quality control. “I’ve sold eels to Korea and clams to China and Japan. I’ve been a captain since the age of 29. I’ve done everything from clamming to swordfishing, from Brazil to Newfoundland to Alaska,” he said. Mr. Martone also did a stint managing seafood selections at the high-end natural food boutique Bread and Circus.
To keep the capital flowing for his startup business, Mr. Martone flies to Washington, D.C., every Sunday afternoon, where he oversees quality for a $45 million-a-year specialty seafood supplier that serves restaurants up and down the coast. On Friday afternoons, he returns to New Bedford to work all weekend in his new store.
For now, Mrs. Martone runs the New Bedford Seafood Company during the week with Portuguese-speaking manager Jen Bernier and assistant Helena Revelo. She thinks the woman-powered staff is a nice spin for people who are used to seeing mostly men throwing heavy catches around. “We’re kind of swimming upstream,” Mrs. Martone said of the split-shift lifestyle she and her husband are leading at the moment.
The Martones moved to the Whaling City three years ago from the Gloucester area. She knows how to take care of a shop and customers from past experience running her own in Rockport. That is where the Czech porcelain comes into the mix. Mr. Martone had a brother who lived in the Czech Republic, so he became familiar with the beautiful hand-painted wares and started to import them.
Mr. and Mrs. Martone met when he tried to persuade her to sell the porcelain in her shop. “I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Then he invited me out to dinner. That was it. We ended up getting married, and now I’m selling it anyway!”
Although Czech serving plates, pitchers and vases might seem an odd pairing with fresh fish and fried food, Mr. Martone said, the porcelain makes for “a good window display. People slow down when they drive by to look at it.”
Although the New Bedford Fish Company’s storefront is a blend of edible goods and small gifts today, virtually everything but the porcelain, the fish and the complementary foods such as figs, whole nuts, Lebanese olive oil, Portuguese sea salt and coffee will disappear in the coming weeks as the couple brings in dining tables to launch the restaurant portion of their enterprise.
Hands-on personal attention is going to be the secret of their success, Mr. Martone said. “This area is saturated in fish.
There is a tremendous amount of fresh fish available. But I buy fish from the boats and bring it to the store myself. And, I’m going to end up cooking it.”
In April, the Martones will start serving fried fish and chips, plus some steamed seafood for more health-conscious eaters.
During the summer, the softball field across the street from the New Bedford Fish Company is perpetually full of players and fans, who Mr. Martone plans to solicit by sending waitresses out hotdog-vendor-style with fried fish and potato snacks.
This tactic, combined with the traffic he already captures thanks to an established customer stream for the neighboring bakery, pizza joint and church, bode well for future sales, he said.
Mr. Martone vows to maintain the highest of standards for his fish market and restaurant.
“It’s about quality presentation. In a town like this, the fish should be pristine.”
March 30, 2008
By Pamela Marean