Ocean to Table: An Interview… | San Franpsycho

Ocean to Table: An Interview… | San Franpsycho

For those of us who live near and love the ocean, we know the importance of treating it well. After all, it provides us with endless mystery to ponder, salty waves to traverse, and bounties of delicious food. That’s why here at San Franpsycho, we love supporting our brothers and sisters who do what they do while keeping the ocean in mind. Hook Fish Co. is one such company that we admire. If you haven’t heard of it yet, Hook Fish Co. was started by two friends, Christian Morabito and Beau Caillouette, who were inspired by a coastal adventure Christian and his brother Chad took in the Fall of 2013. They wanted to “bring the joys and roots of the ocean” here to San Francisco by starting a business that would create a “community around fish that comes straight from our coastline and helps empower small-scale fishermen.”

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What exactly is Hook Fish Co and when did it start?

Hook Fish Co is a seafood business with a commitment to hook-and-line caught, transparently sourced seafood. We currently provide a simple lunch and dinner menu of prepared seafood and grill items at catered or pop-up events.

Hook Fish Co started in July of 2014. Our first event was held in Beau’s backyard – we made a bunch of poke and ceviche, and had friends come over, try it, and give us feedback. We held about five of these events in his backyard, changing up the menu each week until we came up with a base of menu items we serve today. Since then, we’ve brought these stories of the fish we use to connect with several communities across California.

Why did you start this company/ what purpose does it serve? What fuels your passion for the ocean?

Back in the Fall of 2013, my brother, Chad, and I rode our bicycles down the Pacific Coast—from San Francisco, we rode HWY 1 to the border, we then followed the westward-most dirt tracks until the end of the Baja Peninsula in Cabo San Lucas, MX. We spent these three months sleeping on beaches, spear fishing for subsistence, surfing for meditation, and getting to know people who position their lives around the ocean. The 2,000 miles introduced us to coastal fisherman, communities, and surf and dive spots we still frequent. The prolonged time spent at the shoreline confirmed that whatever I got into post-bike tour would include staying close, connected to, and in a steady state of learning from the ocean.

Likewise, Beau ventured down the coast of Baja in a truck he bargained down to $1,200. His goal was to meet us upon our arrival in Cabo—and to spare us from the three-month-long bike ride upwind back to San Francisco. On his way he camped, surfed, fished, and experienced the culture of Baja’s seafood producers: their connection with the place, their deep knowledge, and their creative approach to solving truck problems.

When we returned to SF, we started craving a quality, local, casual seafood spot, but we couldn’t find anything. So, we decided to begin working to bring locally-caught seafood to the Outer Sunset community. It has been growing since.

 

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What benefits are there (environmentally, taste etc) with sourcing from smaller local farmers rather than from “large conventional fisheries”?

We view seafood as more than something to put in our bodies for nutrition or health benefits. Rather, it’s that opportunity to connect with a place. It’s a deeper interaction with one’s environment to be consuming its local bounty—whether it’s the ocean or neighbors in our community who are fishermen. By consuming from large, conventional, international fisheries, there’s a loss: the experience of being connected to the environment where that fish or vegetable came from. By sourcing from local fisheries and sharing their stories, we hope that consumers go on to make larger shifts in their behaviors that respect and acknowledge the environments around them. As for taste, there’s much less travel time from boat to plate, meaning you get a higher quality fish. And, there’s more care from the fishermen this way, because they know their neighbor, or perhaps themselves, will be eating it.

Take me through the process of how you get the fish. Where do they start and how do you come into contact with fishermen and wholesalers?

We purchase fish a couple times per week. If purchasing direct from a fisherman, communication is typically done through a text message and we’ll arrange to meet them at the harbor or pier—the pickup time always varies. We started Hook Fish Co with a network of friends that are fishermen and often meet others through friends of friends’ introductions.

Running the catering and popup events while also working on business projects is pretty time consuming, so we also source from a couple of local wholesalers, Small Boat Seafood and 2xC, that are buying direct from fishermen. We are updated by Small Boat about what she has available for the week from her network of small-scale, local fishermen, and we will pick the order up early in the morning from Pier 45, SF.

 

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How do you nurture or maintain your relationships with these people?

We maintain positive relationships by viewing ourselves as working together to create positive change in the seafood world. There aren’t too many players in the seafood industry focused on a supply of local, hook+line seafood so we definitely value the partnerships we have and others that share this passion.

What does it take to make this company successful? As in, what positions exist within the company? Who does what?

Consistent focus on using quality ingredients and good fish, along with people who care about knowing where their seafood and food they buy comes from.

Beau and I are still the sole, consistent contributors to Hook Fish Co so there’s quite a bit of crossover at this stage in our business.

Is it successful? Or rather, what would make it a successful endeavor in your eyes?

Yep, it has been a successful year. We’ve grown from a small, backyard popup event to a successfully-funded kickstarter project to a weekly popup restaurant. We are providing our Outer Sunset community with a casual setting to enjoy quality, local seafood, which was one key initial goal of ours.

Going forward, we are still aiming towards our goal of Hook Fish Co’s practices setting a new standard for seafood so that consumers around the world are aware of what type of seafood they are buying.

 

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Why do you think our generation romanticizes the lives of fisherman/farmers etc?

We have huge respect for those that commit their time and lives to working with a natural environment—it’s one of the toughest things you can do. As our generation has become more removed from their local producers and eating more processed foods, we’ve become disconnected from what it takes to really harvest or fish for the food we consume everyday. We want to highlight these producers and share their stories with our local community, without any illusions about what it really takes to do this kind of work: its hard, costly, and takes a strong individual who is truly passionate.

Have you thrown any particularly memorable events recently (or in the past) that you’ve been really proud of?

At the beginning of August, we held our first annual campout event at a friend’s farm, Root Down Farm, in Pescadero, CA. We had about 75 guests arrive in the afternoon for cold beers by Calicraft Brewing, wine by Bonny Doon Vineyards and lawn games around the property. That afternoon, everyone went on a rad farm tour to learn about why Dede and her team at Root Down are committed to raising heritage-breed chickens and turkeys. That night, we served a grilled salmon dinner we made for the group and live music by a couple local bands, Jackie Zealous and Eyes on the Shore.

Everyone camped on the property and we woke up to freshly-brewed coffee by Bedfellows Roasting, teas by Steep Tea Co, and tasty toasts by the Cupped Ox.

It was a super memorable weekend and we can hardly wait for next year (might have to turn this thing into a quarterly event).

What are your future plans for Hook Fish Co.?

In the next few months we will have a food trailer rolling around the streets of SF, and are excited to share this mobile seafood market and grill with all of our customers. From there, we are researching the existence of fish on the moon and its potential market demand.

 

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Is there a typical workday at Hook Fish Co or is every day different?

Every day has been different for the most part, although things are starting to become more defined as our popups are more consistent and we’ve become more familiar with what it takes to host or cater an event.

What’s your take on the ongoing environmental crises surrounding the fishing industry right now? Do you feel obligated to educate people on what’s going on? Or to offer up solutions on lessening the damage?

Material and content published on the seafood industry is often skewed, doomsday-ish, or misreported. There are a lot of good projects, progressive conservation efforts, and moves toward consumer awareness going on in the seafood industry, and we choose to focus on highlighting the efforts of our local market and educating our customers on why it is important to support a certain fishery over another rather than focusing on the negatives.

We hope to be in a position to create change in the seafood industry through a commitment to only purchasing hook and line caught seafood. With enough volume and purchasing, we hope that we can continue to provide paths to market for these fishermen that are caring for their local fisheries and community.

Right now you guys do a lot of catering, events and popups. Is there a plan for a brick-and-mortar location down the line? What would your dream restaurant look and feel like?

The mobile approach has been for us so far. We’re both young, always moving and traveling guys. The food trailer is our next step, which will give us more consistency, but still allow us to travel quite a bit.

A brick and mortar is still in the cards. We’ve talked about the ideal brick-and-mortar space being in an under-utilized space—something outdoor-focused with benches, strung lights, heat lamps, and some native landscaping. But we aren’t rushing it and are having fun with what we have going now.

 

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