“Before I started this business, the closest I ever got to seafood was a fish stick,” said John Gebarowski, owner of Oceanside Seafood.
Suffice to say, after 18 years in the business, he knows a bit more about seafood these days. But if you are looking for a storefront, you can stop looking — Oceanside Seafood is a mobile shop and you can find their refrigerator trucks at a parking lot near you.
Gebarowksi ran a hardware store for 23 years and was looking for a change of pace when a friend mentioned he planned to retire from his seafood business. Gebarowski bought the business and enlisted the friend to work with him for 18 months as he ventured beyond fish sticks, adding salmon, Chilean Sea Bass, and sashimi-grade tuna to his repertoire.
“I had the business knowledge, but I had to learn about fish,” he said, and with his friend’s imminent retirement, it was a steep and condensed learning curve.
In addition to the product, the mobile nature of the business was a unique feature that attracted Gebarowksi.
“No one else was doing business like this,” he said. “It really filled an empty hole in the retail business.”
And while the mobility is a unique and convenient aspect, he admits that many people are apprehensive of buying seafood out of the back of a truck parked in a gas station parking lot.
“It’s just a different concept. All seafood gets delivered to grocery stores n a truck; we’re just eliminating a step,” he explained.
Oceanside Seafood rents space at each location, and has a calendar on its website. With two trucks, and a son and son-in-law in the business as well, Oceanside’s business reach covers some major ground in Michigan, from Mt. Pleasant to the Detroit suburbs, and locally from Howell and Brighton to Dexter and Ann Arbor.
“We’ll also have a bigger selection of fish and shellfish, and we carry cooking-grade and sashimi grade products,” he said.
There are 46 selections on this particular day, although that goes down to 45 as the last of the crabcakes are snapped up. He sources his seafood from some of the largest suppliers globally and domestically from coast to coast, and typically moves through his inventory within 45 days — meaning it hasn’t been sitting around too long in the freezer.
The short time frame also means he can offer chemical-free product whenever possible.
“Scallops in particular are usually soaked in a phosphate to retain moisture and extend the shelf-life. All that white liquid that cooks out of them, that’s the phosphates, and it’s difficult to get the scallops to sear well,” he explains. (Note: Numerous studies have indicated sodium tripolyphosphate and other similar treatments are a problem for those with renal diseases, and now additional studies are showing that these unnaturally-occurring phosphates could be an problem for everyone.)
Today, Gebarowski chats comfortably and knowledgeably with customers about their seafood choices and how to cook them.
“If you like the sockeye, you should try the Arctic Char next time,” he suggests to a customer.
Another customer is reminded that while the Gulf shrimp may appear pink, they are raw and will require cooking.
His No. 1 recommendation in cooking seafood? Don’t overcook it: “It’s not a steak. Cook it until it almost done, just getting opaque, then take it off the heat. The heat in the fish will finish the cooking.”
His best-seller? It’s not fish sticks — it’s not even the potato-encrusted cod fillets: “Sushi-grade tuna,” he said without hesitation. “And any of the salmon.”
His personal favorite is Chilean Sea Bass, grilled. “It was originally the Patagonian Toothfish, but of course no one is going to eat a fish with a name like that. So they renamed it. But it’s excellent for the grill, just fantastic,” he explained. “It’s a mild flavor and just melts in your mouth.”