Q&A with Carolina Fish Market

Jim and Deb Seidel are local entrepreneurs and the owners of Carolina Fish Market, a market in Ballantyne which sells seafood and local Charlotte provisions; they also own The Chop Shop, which features high-quality steaks.

Here are 9 of the most important things you need to know about this dynamic duo:

  1. They are the parents of two smart and beautiful daughters.
  2. Both Jim and Deb originally hail from Wisconsin.
  3. Jim’s early business career was as a successful turn-around expert for Bridgestone Corporation.
  4. They moved to Charlotte in 2004.
  5. Jim originally worked as an executive director of sales for Continental.
  6. Deb is a vice president of a healthcare organization.
  7. They’ve owned two businesses together.
  8. One of their businesses was recently sold to a NASDAQ listed corporation.
  9. Their most recent business is Carolina Fish Market in Ballantyne (which is featured in the interview below!)

In the following interview, we were able to speak to Jim himself about their venture into Carolina Fish Market. Keep reading, and we promise you’ll be hooked on their story of small business success in Charlotte.

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CharlotteBusinessResources.com (CBR): Some of our readers might remember Carolina Fish Market (CFM) from our interview with Charlotte Fashion Plate (CFP). Tell us more about your partnership with CFP and how you began working together.

Jim Seidel (JS): Melissa, at Charlotte Fashion Plate, was one of our first customers in our first and much smaller location. As you get to know customers better, you start asking them more and more questions about how they are going to prepare our fresh foods. Melissa is a home cook, and her recipes were always unique and sounded so delicious. When we launched our Instagram account, we encouraged our customers to tag us on pictures they posted of their dishes made from ingredients from Carolina Fish Market. Melissa’s photos and recipes on Instagram at Charlotte Fashion Plate have always been a big hit. Other customers have liked her food, and many have asked us to get the recipes from her and others.

CBR: Now, tell us a little bit about your business. What, and who, is Carolina Fish Market?

JS: After visiting Topsail Island many times and indulging in the wonderful and fresh seafood the Island has to offer, we would ask ourselves, How can we live so close to the coast and have little to no ability to get fresh Carolina, wild-caught seafood here in Charlotte? So, after we sold another unrelated business we decided to open Carolina Fish Market. We focus on Carolina seafood brought in daily in small batches for ultimate freshness. We also recently opened The Chop Shop Meat Market. The Chop Shop is located inside Carolina Fish Market. We feature ultra, high-quality steakhouse steaks by Linz from the midwest. We often pair these phenomenal steaks with our seafood to offer our customers one incredible surf and turf experience. We sell to chefs and restaurants, as well as to online and retail customers.

chop-shop-charlotte-logo

CBR: How did you first get involved in the seafood industry, and what inspired you to start your own business?

JS: I started fishing in Wisconsin when I was just a young boy. I’ve fished the mighty Mississippi River, mountain streams, the Great Lakes, local lakes and even frozen lakes, I’ve flown by seaplane onto Alaskan waters, fished the blue waters of Hawaii to the high seas of the Carolinas. I have a strong corporate business background as a turn-around expert and executive and was a former business owner in an unrelated industry that was sold to a NASDAQ listed corporation. I know what it’s like to eat truly fresh fish and seafood. I felt like the good people of Charlotte were missing out on this. I started Carolina Fish Market because I knew it was the right thing to do and that people would appreciate really fresh fish and seafood like I have. I wanted to share my knowledge and experiences with everyone from trained chefs to home cooks.

CBR: You serve many cities and restaurants. What did you find to be the greatest challenge as you were growing your business, and how did you overcome it?

JS: The majority of people in the U.S. are “brand-driven.” The fact that fish and seafood are not brand specific was a challenge for us when explaining the prices for our fresh fish and seafood, compared to that which is offered at grocery store chains. The main difference is where the fish and seafood is caught and how it’s handled. Take tuna for example. Most of the tuna you find at a grocery store chain comes from either Vietnam or India which has been frozen and shipped via cargo vessel around the globe, then off to sit in a warehouse frozen until it thaws in a grocery store display case. Our fresh fish, like Mahi Mahi, Grouper or Yellowfin Tuna, has been caught off the Carolina coast by small day boat fisherman and ends up at Carolina Fish Market within days.

We overcame this challenge by showing and telling our customers where the fish comes from and about the water or beach in which it was caught. The majority of our fresh fish and seafood are caught in places like the Outer Banks, Topsail Island, Murrells Inlet, and Cherry Point near Charleston, SC. We really have it all.

CBR: What inspired you to sell some of your products online, and how have you seen it impact your business?

JS: After analyzing our Google Analytics, we have found that we have fans literally from all over the world. Customers like Melissa from Charlotte Fashion Plate, whose recipes and photos we posted online, generated emails from people wanting our fresh ingredients to use in their own kitchens. Our online business is starting to flourish. We ship often to inland places like Montana, Indiana and Ohio. It’s changing so rapidly that we are already redesigning our website to be more buyer friendly. We are also working closely with shipping agents to make the cost of shipping more cost-effective.

owner-carolina-fish-market

CBR: How do you source your seafood and meat, and what advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs in similar industries on food sourcing?

JS: There is nothing wrong with big business. It serves the masses and many people are employed by big business. However, when it comes to true craftsmanship, quality and growing up by the sea and fishing like your Dad did, or raising cattle or pigs on your family farm in the 2nd and 3rd generations–that’s hard to beat. When you have the daughter of Beeler’s Pure Pork out of Iowa come to Carolina Fish Market and talk directly to our customers about her family’s farm that was started by her great-great grandfather, Fred Beeler, well let’s just say, that’s what we look for. My advice is to not go the route of the one-stop shop for big marketplace vendors. We deal with many small, and even local, vendors like Ashe County Cheese Company and Pasta & Provisions or Queen Charlotte Pimento Cheese, and at times it can be hard to manage all of them, but it’s worth it in the end. We refuse to offer just any product. We want the person or family eating our products to know that it is truly some of the best food raised, caught or made in America.

CBR: Who or what has inspired you on the road to entrepreneurship?

JS: I read a book by Ron Wolf, the former General Manager of the Green Bay Packers. He took a team from the relative shallows of the NFL and turned it around and back to being America’s Team. It’s a spirit that lives in Ron that also lives in me. It is a drive to be the best, excel, take risks, and do things the right way. His principles are solid and haven’t failed me. It’s also taking us into new directions like becoming a Federally Licensed Dealer, expanding our online sales, and creating franchising ideas for Carolina Fish Market.

CBR: In 2015, you were voted the Reader’s Choice for the Best of Charlotte. What an exciting way to be recognized! How did it feel?

JS: It was remarkable, and we felt so honored and humbled by it all. It’s also validating that what we are doing here at Carolina Fish Market is working. We beat out some amazing competitors, including seafood restaurants.

CBR: What has been your proudest moment to date? And how do you see your business growing in the next 5 years?

JS: Sometimes I think I have a proudest moment, and then another appears, and it’s always with our customers. You will, of course, see the locals who are national stars in our market, from Carolina Panthers to former pro-players. Just over a week ago, I was talking to an older gentleman who came into the market. He asked if I was the owner and went on to tell me that he grew up in Charleston and lived there most of his life. He went on to say that he had never seen a better fish market until he came into Carolina Fish Market. Or when we were published in the Mariner’s Menu, a club started in 1973 at the North Carolina State Seafood Laboratory. We have also made a number of appearances on WBTV, showcasing our fresh fish and seafood and the various ways to prepare it. Carolina Fish Market is also involved in various charity events, including Charlotte’s Best Oyster Roast held each year at the Ballantyne Festival. We also support a number of animal rescue organizations.

Five years from now we plan on another 2-3 stores or a food truck-like mobile market, as well as a booming online store and franchisees.

fresh-fish-charlotte

CBR: What would be the best advice you’d give to an entrepreneur starting/growing their own business?

JS: I’m a big fan of the late Steve Jobs. He has an infamous quote that refers to your question: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I live and work by this mantra. Also, after the passing of my oldest brother, Gary, it made me realize that we are all here for a very limited amount of time, and as Steve Jobs, put it, “I don’t want to waste it.”

Put your passion in what you are about to do. It’s that passion that’s going to keep you driving forward during the down times and those times when you question yourself. Be remarkable, be yourself and stay true to why you started your business in the first place.

CBR: What else would you like to add?

JS: In closing, I would like to say a huge thank you to our fans, friends, family, chefs and anyone who has helped us along the way. You are why we do this, the reason we get up in the morning, and you are what keeps our pole in the water.

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Thank you to Jim and the rest of the team at Carolina Fish Market for taking the time to speak with us and share your story. If you’d like to learn more about Carolina Fish Market or The Chop Shop, visit them online, Like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.

Have a question for us? Tweet it to us at @CBRBiz!

 

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