Tuesday, May 18, 2010
A chat with Johnny
As a follow-up to the steelhead announcement, we bring you a brief conversation with John Yokoyama, the long-time owner of Pike Place Fish. He stopped in the market to grab some vegetables and a fat, Copper River King steak for dinner and answered a few questions.
How long have you been at Pike Place Fish?
My dad owned the stand that was fruit and vegetables beside me and I've owned the fish market since 1965.
Tell us about your experience fishing in the Puget Sound.
This was in the early 50s, but we would fish in Edmunds and Whidbey Island, the Green River. We'd get pissed off if we didn't catch something in the first 10 minutes! Black cod, ling cod, true cod, yellow eyes, sometimes halibut. If we caught steelhead, we'd give it away..too dry for me anyway. I'm not sure you can even go catch those things anymore around here. I fish for kings still on nice days.
What do you hear from buyers and suppliers about certain fish's availability, questions of sustainability?
Well you see certain species declining in availability, prices going up and even the sizes getting smaller. We used to see petrale sole like this and now there just tiny! It's not really "whisper down the lane" with the supply chain but you buy fish for as long as I have, you really do see the whole industry evolving a bit. We're definitely in a new era from when I was first an owner.
What does that "new era" mean for you as an owner?
This steelhead move is a good example, we're basically catering to what people have told us. We as a group decided, it wasn't just me saying "this is how it's going to be." Over time, different guys brought up certain articles, certain emails from people, looked up their own research. We then said hey, in order to really BE our commitment, we may have to stop selling this.
Seems almost backward from a business sense?
Yeah, it was a fish that we sold ya know? It's not like it was something that didn't make us money. But it's not in line with who we are and want to be. It's funny because stopping something that helped make your business money doesn't seem right. But to us as a group and to me, integrity is more important.
Does the response suprise you?
I'm 68 so the instantaneous response is overwhelming, so quickly we heard from people! We're here to serve and take care of people and if they don't want something, what are we to do?
So change is a no-brainer?
Well it's not easy. I'm not the same person or business owner I was 30 years ago. If you had asked me to stop selling something then, I would have told you to take a walk. My mind has changed, I've changed and you wouldn't have even known me then....let alone wanted to work for me! Change can be instantaneous like making a hard decision about an employee going somewhere else and the team integrity is back OR it can be a long process like this sustainability move for us at Pike Place Fish. It's not going to happen overnight, but I'm glad we're doing what we're doing. This could get in the media you know?
Does that scare you?
Not at all, go ahead and bring it. All we have done in the past and something big we can do now is lead by example. We can't tell people how to run their business, all we can do is show that we care about who we are and what we sell. For you guys that work here, you're creating the business the way you want it for your future. I'm not going to be around forever as an owner so it's up to my guys to make this place the way they want it.