We had a blast taking over the Pike Place Fish social media a few weeks ago. We got to spend a lot of time with the guys in preparation, and we learned a thing or two about what makes the shop tick, which skills are needed to be successful, and the stories behind two of the oldest employees. In case you missed it on Instagram and Facebook, here is a recap!
When does the day start?
A day in the life of a fishmonger officially starts at 6:30AM (not counting the early alarm followed by a drive into work and a strong coffee)! The first couple hours at the market are quiet as the guys shovel ice and arrange the product in the lovely layouts you see when you shop! All of the fish is set-up and taken down each day. The guys make it a goal to be entirely set up by 8am.
Why do they throw fish?
When you hear the name Pike Place Fish, odds are you also picture a fish soaring through the air. These guys have been chucking fish behind the counter for over 30+ years and many think it’s just to draw a crowd, but it started back in the 80s as a more efficient way to sell product. The faster you get it to the guy behind the counter, the faster the guy in the front can move onto the next customer!
Insider fact: the fish you see flying over and over is actually not for sale. It’s a “stunt” salmon and is donated to the zoo to feed the bears.
Which employees have the best stories?
Sam is kind of a big deal. He is the oldest employee at Pike Place Fish with 31 years of experience under his belt. He is now the “big boss” though he had to work his way up from the bottom. When he first arrived in Seattle looking for work he asked about a job and the then boss, Derek, threw him a fish, asked him to fillet it on the spot and then, seeing he had the right chops, gave him a job. Sam’s favorite fish to cook at home is the Mackerel, which he keeps simple by salting and broiling.
People joke Jaison was born in the market because his mom worked and raised him at Pike Place. He slept in a banana box under the ice as a baby and they put him to work making boxes when he was just 8 years old (this was before strict child labor laws), but he claims he was just goofing around. He has been doing “real work” at the fish market for 25 years now and loves his job. His favorite fish to cook at home is salmon. He adds a little bit of the shop’s essential seasoning and a little bit of NW seasoning and bakes it for 20 minutes.
What skills do you need to work there?
First and foremost you have to have a sparkling personality. These guys spend a lot of time together and are more like brothers than friends so positivity, love of the job, and a good sense of humor are essential to the job. As for technical skills, all eighteen guys know how to crack a crab, perfectly fillet a fish, and build out a beautiful display of salmon.
Insider fact: the worst fish to fillet is a Rough Eye, which apparently has thorns all over its head!
Is the fish they sell sustainable?
Yes! They made the switch in January 2011 after deciding as a group they needed to think long term and take a stand to protect the environment and species that gives them so much: a place to work and a nutritious food source.
How do you cook an octopus?
We’ve always been intimidated by the octopus at the market, but apparently it isn’t too hard to cook into a delicious meal! Ryan Rector recommends “low and slow” when preparing octopus. Braise for 2 hours, chuck it on the grill to get some char on the tentacles, and then chop it up and throw it on top of some greens with cherry tomatoes and fennel sausage. YUM.
When does the shop close?
6:30pm means quittin' time for the boys. The guys huddle up at the end of every 12 hour shift to discuss how the day went and end with an all hands in chant of “heeeeeeeeeey-ya.” Which sounds way better in person than trying to imagine it here, but you get the point, these guys are a close knit group and support each other.
If you are ever at Pike Place Market for a visit, be sure to look for the fish guys under the main clock! They are worth the visit, and you can pick up dinner as well!