Welcome to the first post in LOOT's new series Market Stories. What makes this series so exciting is our collaboration with Boston Public Market to tell the stories behind some of their amazing local vendors. Our goal is to introduce you to some of the New England makers, farmers and small businesses who are offering their food and products at BPM. From bakers and artisans, to pasta and wool, we are looking forward to showing you some of what happens behind the scenes to bring you what you see on a visit to Boston Public Market.
This week our profile is on one of Boston Public Market's largest vendors, Red's Best. Providing the highest quality seafood from New England fishermen, there is much more to what they do than selling fish. Namely, their commitment to community - on the water, in the market and around the region.
On a recent February day (in between storms), I visited CEO & Founder, Jared Auerbach, Retail Operations Manager, Ryan Rasys, and Marketing Director, Valerie Rosenberg at their location on Boston Fish Pier.
Red's Best has a special relationship with local New England fishermen. Why is this relationship unique and how do you both benefit?
There is tremendous value in sharing the story of the small boat fishermen. They are at the heart of New England’s rich seafood history and are the glue that keep our coastal communities intact. Think of Cape Cod, Gloucester, New Bedford, Martha’s Vineyard, Wood’s Hole and all of those beautiful harbors that make up our picturesque region. Red’s Best’s mission is to sustain the livelihoods of these very fishermen by purchasing solely from small vessels and buying whatever they land no matter the variety of species. Every fish has value equaling real money for local fishermen. Red’s Best’s job is to find a home for their catch so independent fishermen can trust that they can earn a living fishing without having to satisfy a single market or fit into a narrow menu request. Unlike large distributors who purchase large amounts of fish from a single boat that might be out to sea for weeks, we buy a little from a lot of small boats. In turn, this means Red’s Best has access to the best quality and freshest seafood in the world every singe day just hours after it is pulled from the cold, pristine Northwest Atlantic waters.
You talk about the idea of "community" being very important to what Red's Best does each day. Can you explain this more?
Throughout the local seafood supply chain, it takes a network of hundreds of people - skilled captains, deck hands, dock workers, gear and bait suppliers, drivers, processors, fishmongers, packers etc - to put nourishing food on our plates. These hardworking people create a community that works all hours amidst all sorts of severe weather conditions. When we choose to invest in local fish, we keep our local fishermen fishing and keep nutritious, renewable foods available for harvest. It’s really about respecting where our food comes from.
Your location on Boston's Fish Pier is very busy! There seems to be constant activity with seafood arriving and being sent out during the day. Can you explain your operations a little and your objective to "find a home for the fish as quickly as possible"?
There are definitely a lot of moving parts to properly handle and sell a perishable product like fresh seafood. Our headquarters on the Pier is the aggregation and processing hub for over 1,000 vessels each year with fish arriving in from docks throughout New England and our other three facilities on Martha’s Vineyard, Chatham and New Bedford. Fish is being dropped off and picked up all day long.
To move fish quickly and streamline efficiency, Red’s Best developed custom software where our truck driver uploads catch data (species, fishermen, vessel, port, gear) into a live database while they are offloading a boat. This creates an efficient government reporting system and provides a live inventory for our sales team. With minute-to-minute access to landings, catch is able to be sold before it even lands at our facility. This means fish may be caught, cleaned, packed and in transit to its final destination within hours.
What can people expect to find at your location in the Boston Public Market?
When designing our stall at the Boston Public Market, we saw an opportunity to create the ultimate sea-to-plate experience where locals and visitors could feel the breadth of what our New England waters offers. It was important to us that guests and regulars could make seafood part of their everyday diets. As a year round indoor farmer’s market, we also recognized the Market location as a perfect platform for increased awareness for underutilized species.
The centerpiece, an 8 foot fish case featuring a variety of freshly filleted species, includes year round favorites like dry packed sea scallops and haddock alongside seasonal offers like tuna, bay scallops and swordfish. Every day we offer underutilized fish and parts such as whole fish, dogfish, hake, skate, cheeks, heads, collars and bellies. Prices begin as low as $3/lb and we offer a special every month introducing consumers to something they might not know how to prepare and want to try and just need a little guidance.
Along with fresh fish, we have a full kitchen with a variety of prepared and made-to-order options for those on the go. Our menu is diverse with house made salads, crab cakes, sandwiches and clam shack favorites like lobster rolls and fried clams. Our Fish of the Day for our fish sandwich, fish cakes, fish tacos, roasted fish salad and fish n’ chips changes based on what’s most abundant and what’s just been landed that day. Weekly kitchen specials, such as a Monkfish Cheek Po’ Boy or Steamed Chatham Mussels, are determined by how what’s available and how it can best support the fleet.
Finally, we also offer a raw bar, a poke bar and a sushi menu featuring sashimi quality fish and our access to the best shellfish from the crisp, cold Massachusetts waters.
How does Boston and the New England region influence your products and business?
It’s everything. As New Englanders we have over 60 different species of fish and shellfish available to us every single day. The variety, abundance and quality is unlike anything in the world. It’s remarkable what our ocean provides. However, we have found that even many Bostonians only know a small amount of what is swimming just miles offshore and have trouble differentiating local from non-local species. From a wholesale perspective, this means we are forced to export a number of species unnecessarily overseas. For example, we currently export over 90% of the dogfish landed in Chatham, MA to the UK for fish and chips. Why aren’t we choosing dogfish here in the US? Why are exporting this while our country continues to import so much lesser quality foods like farmed tilapia? There is still a misalignment of supply and demand. We have a tremendous amount of work to bring increased awareness to the benefits of underutilized American caught fish.
What is something Red's Best would like people to know more about when it comes to seafood and the local industry?
Most importantly, our New England waters are full of a wide variety of amazing, delicious renewable fish and shellfish. Try something new and ask questions. Where is your fish coming from? Who caught your fish? Are you investing in something that supports your local commerce, your neighbors and your community? If you aren’t sure what’s local there are a number of resources such as NOAA’s Fish Watch, Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Red’s Best Seasonality Chart .
What are some of the favorite types of seafood among Red's Best Employees?
Seasonality is everything. We focus on what fishermen are landing or harvesting during specific times of the year. It’s powerful and exciting when we consider migratory patterns, lunar pulls, spawning seasons and the amount of skill needed for fishermen have to bring in catch. The entire Red’s Best team celebrates season openers for this reason. There’s nothing better than fresh squid in May, tuna in June, striped bass in July and urchin in November etc. The first bay scallop delivery is basically magical. The first landing of each season are better than holidays around here.