La Mer Fish Market: The Ocean in Downtown Montreal
You may have already seen their products in our pages with their magnificent oysters that are the delight of Montrealers all year long and they adorn our with delicious Quebec crab. We decide to dedicate an article to them to make them discover you. Here is our interview with Alexander Meletakos, vice-president of sales of La Mer Fish Market and grandson of the founder Mr. Kosta Katsoulis.
Interview with Alexander Meletakos from La Mer Fish Market
While the local seafood season is really underway at la Mer Fish Market, how are things going?
It’s going really well. In recent years, we have been trying to create more passion for local products because there are several people who come in January and ask for products from here, but it’s almost impossible in January, it’s more from the end of March to the beginning of April that we receive the crab, the seafood that excites people the most, but we have several other Quebec products to showcase, such as the northern shrimp, which is magnificent and everyone knows too.
But there are also other species that are so beautiful and that we know less like fresh whelks, sea urchins. It is related to the melting of ice and not just quotas. This is really the moment. In addition to the whelks, there are also the “steamer” clams that people associate with Cape Cod, in Boston or on the East Coast of the United States of America, where you’ll eat your clams steamed with a little clarified butter or Garlic and it’s delicious! We also have this product in Quebec. There are also fish that are beginning to arrive, like the little-known Rockfish, which eat a lot of shrimp, so to preserve the marine balance, it is important that we fish for these fish and that we make them discover to our customers at la Mer Fish Market.
I guess it’s a bit like seal?
Yes, that’s right, it’s an ecosystem that needs to be in balance. We stop the seal hunt, the result is that they reproduce and eat a lot of cod, make the stocks disappear and thus prevent the cod fishermen from working. (Editor’s note: This phenomenon has completely destroyed the economy of certain cities in the Gaspé Peninsula. Newport which had a fish processing plant and was one of the major fishing ports). But little by little, it’s starting to come back. Recently, we received cod from Newfoundland, which I believe was the first time in almost 30 years that I had seen Canadian cod. Normally, our cod comes from Iceland, it is the one that has the highest quality and that we find in greater quantity. If we can have a local product, we will put it forward at la Mer Fish Market.
The environment and the impact on the sea
Is it difficult to work in this industry that is subject to season and temperature variations?
We live frustrations and disappointments daily. If there’s a storm, the crab cannot come in, there are 50 restaurants that wanted this product and are disappointed, not to mention the consumers. It hurts us financially, but emotionally too. You promise something, and when you break your promise, it’s a disappointment. The restaurant owner must readjust his menu and I lost my sales that I already had in hand.
It is not a delay that causes these frustrations, but it is especially that these products are offered for a limited period. It is a constant discussion with the restaurant owners so that they put the product on the menu at the right time to ensure stocks and notify them when the product is not available for them to remove from their menu. It’s a constant discussion. The chef will want to put the sea urchin on his menu in February when there will be none. It’s a big challenge, it’s not like the chicken in terms of availability.
You talked about restaurants, what is the proportion of your customers, is it more restaurant or more public?
It fluctuates constantly, but it’s almost 50/50. In terms of volume of products for example, if we bring 1000 pounds of crab, 500 will go to the La Mer and 500 will go to restaurants. Certainly some products will be more bought by restaurants as more exotic stuff, but we always try to have a quantity for the consumer. It’s a bit of our strength to be able to collaborate with customers and with restaurants.
Where does your experience come from to work in this industry? It’s the family? But still?
I worked here for years while I was a student and learned everything from my dad as well as my grandfather. I made the crate as I cut fish, opened oysters. It’s really a passion. I was not trained in this field, but at the university, I took courses in food science, anthropology to understand the issues. As for my diploma, I am computer scientist. My role here is more in marketing and in business development and especially the website. It’s a new point of sale that we have.
So, it’s a new way for the consumer to shop at La Mer. What’s changing for you this new sales channel?
It changes our way of communicating a little, telling them to go to the website, even before coming to the store what is offered. Before, we had calls for the reservation / availability of a product and we did not have the opportunity to do so while with the website, we can easily and quickly respond to this request. We therefore allow reservations, information. For example during the crab season, people who booked on the website could have some while people who came to the store on Saturday morning were disappointed, because there were more. It really helps us plan and tell our customers.
Oysters delivery at home
I know you’ve introduced oyster platter delivery, it’s a whole change.
Yes indeed, we were able to add the delivery. We are our secret, but we found that we can open the oysters and close them, without detaching the nerve. In France formerly, in restaurant, I know that oysters were not detached to prove that they are fresh oysters and they do not come out of a cane. It is thanks to our French chefs and colleagues that we have introduced this idea of not detaching the oyster, so even after 1 hour, you can come home and eat your oysters by simply detaching the nerve. she will have redone her juice, etc. It’s really something that has allowed us to deliver oysters at home.
Is this a popular service?
Yes, more and more. People are in a hurry, do not have space. You can have it delivered to friends for dinner. It really started with our platters of seafood. A platter that included lobster, crab and oysters and we quickly realized that people only wanted oysters and that’s how it went. I love it personally. We even started the opening of a box of oysters. You order your oysters at the price of the box, which is very advantageous, and you add the service of the opening. If you just want a plateau, it’s good, but if you’re having a party with 10 friends, well a box can be quite advantageous. It will be presented on a tray of ice with lemon and mignonette.
Do you offer a oyster opening service at home?
No, it’s only delivery. However, we have contacts in the industry for people who are looking for that kind of service. They will come and get the oysters here and will open them in people. But we do not have enough staff to offer this service.
You also work with a company in Toronto, Diana’s Seafood Delight, which was in the family, does that give you greater buying power?
Yes exactly, it allows us to negotiate. Also, you see their logo on our boxes of oysters (the logo of the 3 fish represents the 3 founders) and then sometimes there are products that we have and we allow them to see if it works on their market and vice versa, with some products from the West Coast.
And you personally, do you have favorite products?
Me, it is always the salmon tartare that our chef does (Editor’s note: Chef of the To-go products, because there is no more restaurant at La Mer). My brother sometimes asks me how much tartare I can eat. It’s really a classic tartare. Oysters, I eat all the time, and smoked salmon. A recent favorite is the sea urchin that I did not like when I was younger, but now it’s something that I really appreciate.
What would you tell us to do with the sea urchin?
At the moment I eat it raw, but when I rediscovered it, it was in Bavarian (Editor’s note. The recipe is on their website) a sea urchin mousse where the taste was present, but not the texture. When I was young, I did not appreciate those metallic or liver tastes for example. And here I begin to love. I really like clams too. The royal clam for example. These are my favorites, these products tasting. And also, there are always oysters. I love coming to someone’s house and taking care of opening oysters, that’s my favorite part.
Do you have varieties that you like more than others?
Yes really. The oyster Glidden Point, from where I went to pick the oysters on board the boat, is diving and where I sent them to Montreal. It’s something everyone can understand. We try to pass on our passion to our customers and make them discover the different products.
The Bluefin Tuna
Have you been proud since you’ve been here, I heard about a Quebec bluefin tuna?
This initiative with tuna is a source of pride for us because we stopped selling bluefin tuna for the sustainability issue, and it is a species that is still overfished and globally endangered. But we have seen that a bluefin tuna (variety of the western Atlantic) was present in Quebec, for a period of about 1 month, not only in Quebec, but also in Canada in the Atlantic provinces. The fishery for this fish in Canada is much more regulated than elsewhere. These are not populations that are at risk locally, but we must protect the resource worldwide anyway. As it is a product that is appreciated by the consumer, we will show them how to eat it; that is, when it is in season, when it is offered locally, with quotas, with permits, etc. Either once a year.
If the global population did that, the tuna would not be in any danger. Our goal is not to say that we will never sell bluefin tuna, but we will sell it when it is responsible to sell it. In addition, we went to help our fishermen. We had discussions with people who told us that we should never sell it and that it was not a sustainable fishery, there are many opinions. We think that we have to educate people. And we had very little. And besides, according to the statistics, the fishermen took less than the allocated quota. It was a difficult question and we must always question ourselves, and we are open to discussion and change our opinions as well. We must understand that we want to protect the resource, because it is our raw material, we depend on it, so we do not want it to disappear either.
Thanks Alex, it was really interesting to learn about the fishmonger and the different products you sell.
The Quebec crab and the Asian market…
The discussion on crab and the local product continued off record, and Alex was telling me that it is almost impossible to find 4L crab in Quebec. Even if it is caught here, it is sent elsewhere. If you want to know a little more about the subject. I personally invite you to read this very interesting article on the website of our friends Caribou magazine with Normand Laprise (in french), whose restaurant Le Toqué is one of the customers of La Mer Fish Market. I hope for myself that the recent biofood policy of the Quebec government (in french) will bring this crab back to our plate instead of sending it to Asia …
La Mer Fish Market
1840 René-Lévesque Est