The ancient Romans talked about letting your hook be always cast because where you least expect it, will be fish. That saying also rings true for popular fishmonger Nancy Vogel and a school of Durango fish-lovers.
Durangos Flying Fish is tucked away behind a liquor store and gourmet foods shop, on a busy intersection that helps connect the city to the county at County Road 250.
If you think quality fish can only be had within a few hours of either coast, think again. Fish preservation technology, efficient transportation, the Internet and entrepreneurial gumption bring the best of what swims in the sea to the plates of folks dining in the mountains.
Vogel, also a Durango Mountain Resort snowboard instructor and professional landscaper, had her line cast four years ago when she correctly predicted there would be a Durango market for quality fish and seafood. Modeling the specialty food store after a similar venture launched in Northern Idaho by a family member, Vogel now brags of a loyal clientele. A steady stream of fish-lovers get their Friday fix from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., pulling out vacuum-sealed, 1/3- to ¾-pound portions from a dozen or so iced coolers. Think of big-box merchandising concentrated in a dainty, size-5 slipper.
The small shop sells more than two dozen products from waters in all corners of the world, such as fresh Ecuadorian tilapia, farmed, certified-organic Scottish salmon, wild true cod, striped bass and Dover sole. Frozen Canadian walleye, red snapper and halibut can be purchased year-round, but Vogel offers these species fresh when seasonally available. A cooler of frozen sushi fixings, including ungari, hamachi, ahi, seaweed and calamari salads, sits next to frozen crab cakes, Gulf shrimp, clams and soft-shelled Maryland crab.
Its a whale-sized effort Vogel shares with her husband, Chip, a local painting contractor and ski instructor. Fish is ordered each week from a Montrose distributor, who buys directly from a Seattle-area processor. Fish that is flash-frozen at sea remains frozen until it reaches the consumer. Never-frozen fresh fish is vacuum-sealed within hours of being caught. Vogel says she is sensitive to sustainability issues and seldom carries products that dont pass muster with environmental watch-dog groups within the industry.
Ever since I had an e-mail sign-up sheet posted in my little shack on North Main, Ive been able to tell my customers what Ill offer each week, she said.
Vogel refers to a 200-name e-mail list of customers who get a Thursday heads-up at almost the same time shes intercepting her weekly delivery from a courier. She and her husband weigh and price the next days offerings before transporting the coolers to the storefront, which is shared with friends peddling wares from Trader Joes and Ikea, a Scandinavian housewares and home-furnishings retailer.
Albertsons Butcher Block Supervisor and Seafood Manager Scotty Krick agrees that turning orders around quickly is key to customer satisfaction. Krick estimates that merely 12 to 13 hours pass between the time he places a fish order to his California supplier and when he takes delivery of that order. Fish arrives every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Specialty items such as fresh lobster from Maine are overnighted via FedEx. Krick also handles special orders for customers.
Krick says todays consumer is more knowledgeable about the effects of food on common health conditions such as hypertension and high cholesterol.
Consumers are much more health-conscious and ask lots of questions, Krick said. He credits popular, health-based television shows, such as The Dr. Oz Show, with raising consumer awareness.
Most of his wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is fresh when in season, but he also carries quick-frozen quality salmon for consumers to purchase year-round. Fresh cod from Canada or Alaska is another big seller.
The seafood manager, who has been with Albertsons for a year and a half, said recent shoppers have a broad range of expectations when they buy fish.
He points to barramundi as a popular choice that is very high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. He credits Australia as the native country of origin for the tasty fish, but says his farm-raised barramundi comes from Vietnam, where it is fed a sustainable, patented diet of 75-percent seaweed and 24-percent surimi, a blended seafood product, making it a very safe and highly nutritious choice.
Swai, also from Vietnam, is another affordable fish that is popular for its mild taste and great versatility.
Its easily grilled, baked in the oven or pan-fried, Krick said.
Albertsons has seen a 20- to 30-percent growth in fish and seafood sales in the last year, Krick said, growth he attributes to increased consumer interest in fish. His department is especially busy during Lent and summer.