273. Mermaid’s Garden NYC | Seafood CSA and Fish Market | Mark Usewicz | Brooklyn, NY

mark-usewicz Mermaid's Garden NYC

For Valentine’s Day I asked Mark Usewicz from Mermaid’s Garden NYC to talk to us about their Fish Market and CSA since it seems like the news is all about the Mediterranean diet. I love fish, and caring for sustainable Oceans and water is important to me, and I think it probably is for you too. I’ve got some great videos of my mom making her delicious fish I’ll try to add at the end. Sorry it took so long to get this out there, but I always say the perfect interview happens when just the right listener is in the audience!

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Check out Mark’s pieces in Martha Stewart

Tell us a little about yourself, Mark Usewicz.

I was trained as a chef

restaurant business

lived in NYC

last thing I wanted to do was open my own restaurant and the next worse thing is open my own business but 

my wife was in the restaurant business

trained as a fish biologist

We saw this need for a great fish market in our neighborhood, there really wasn’t anywhere great to buy fish

We knew a few fishermen and we built this network

started a fish share

kind of like a CSA or CSF but we’re not the fisherman

Started by connecting our customers with a weekly fish sourced in the Northeast

we work with fishermen on

  • Long Island
  • Massachusetts
  • Rhode Island

Developed this whole network of

  • aqua-culturists
  • small boat fisherman

retail space

fish share going

retail market

  • all domestic
  • small boat
  • fisherman sourced seafood

I grew up in Buffalo, NY so other side of the state

a lot of people don’t know where that is in NYC, 

  • different vibe
  • different pace

I grew up on Long Island and I have sooooo many fond memories of buying fish on the docks from the fisherman in Freeport on Long Island. My mom would cook all the fish from scratch, cut the heads off scale it etc… and then there’s been so much on the news this year about the Mediterranean diet being the best and that’s my mom’s favorite so I thought it would be interesting.

So tell us about sustainable fishing

So sustainable fishing

The methods they are using to catch the fish are sustainable like

habitat preservation

different kinds of nets they drag along the ocean floor like a steam roller running along the ocean floor so it preserves the ocean floor

limit the size of the nets

so if they are targeting porgies

juveniles

It made sense from a preservation to preserve their livelihoods

That’s why we focus on these

not a lot of young people going into the industry

quota

getting big

How do you think that’s gonna affect you guys?

We’re such a small niche

the fisherman we work with are able to supply us with a steady supply

Hopefully we’re able to keep the oceans nice and healthy

Keep a steady supply of sustainable seafood, the US has the best regulated fisheries in the world right now

come backs on certain species of fish over the years

That’s good to hear, you don’t hear that very often. I know we don’t eat shrimp much because they say farmed fisheries are destructive to people’s livelihoods.

destruction of the mangroves

source our shrimp from either 

  • gulf of Mexico
  • south east off the carolinas

Got to work a little bit if you want to find the good stuff but it’s out there

Do you want to tell listeners where is your place?

we’re in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn

not quite downtown Brooklyn

10 minute train ride into Manhattan

pretty area

Brownstone Brooklyn

My very first college I went to was a Pratt Institute. You have all these pickup locations how does that work?

Those are our Fish Share locations the way we started our business

satellite locations around Brooklyn

recently just started a pickup at our shop the past few months

How does a Fish Share work? That’s a lot of places to deliver to it looks like.

The locations are run by volunteers in return for administrating the share they get a free share

great for people who have more time then money but wanting seafood

mother of 4 who really relishes the 2 hours without her kids and helps feed the family

  • a share
  • 1/2 share
  • 1 pound of filleted fish for a week that’s the default

2 pounds

  • most weeks we offer an alternative item which is usually shellfish

determined by what’s in season

Migratory more in the warmer in the summertime

bass and blue fish

Running on the east coast

shell fish

seasonal

fish in Florida

stone crabs coming to us tonight

In the summer time when Salmon is in season in Alaska

We have some friends here who go and fish in Alaska that have been doing it for generations

Their whole family gathers and they are able to fed ex us fish that we get 12 hours after they caught it

So how long have you been doing this? Is there something you would do differently if you were going to start over?

Our retail store a little over 5 years old and the share is 7 years

So long enough 5 years is usually the make it break it part right?

Our fortune has yet to come pouring

making a living

I wouldn’t sell anything perishable if I had to do it again, haha…

Running a small business anywhere is difficult. Especially here in NYC.

Why is that, it seems like there would be a better place there’s so many people?

in a way people still shop where they’ll go

  • just opposed to the super market
  • rare that this is a place like that
  • where I grew up in Buffalo, there was sort of a local supermarket

I’m in Montana, and health food stores in Montana what’s different here, I feel health food stores in NY were more like vitamin stores and supplements whereas here you walk in and there’s a giant produce section with organic vegetables, and they will have lots of things I like to eat like tempeh and tofu and there will be a whole foods section where you bring your own bags and get bulk nuts.

The one I’m thinking in Missoula, the Good Food Store has a great salad and now they have a full size deli and bakery. They are like a regular grocery store. Even the little town I live in has a pretty big Health Food Store, but she sells a lot of wine that I know helps them succeed. It’s kind of more like a Whole Foods.

Sadly the internet is taking a toll on a lot of the businesses here. We had a local store but on a smaller scale but a lot like you described it that just went out of business after 25 years. Great produce and bulk section.

Do you think it’s because like Whole Foods got bought out by Amazon?

I think it’s a mix. I personally don’t like to buy anything site unseen.

Maybe it’s the chef in me, I rarely go into the store with a recipe in mind, I just buy what looks good to me. I know a lot of people still go out and shop.

There’s such a mix of things here! We have really amazing green markets here, in the city.

GreenMarket NYC Union Square

 

The Union Square Market in the summertime is pretty amazing what you can get here. 

Farms from within 100 miles can come in and sell their stuff and that’s pretty awesome!

What about your chef background? What’s your favorite recipe you like to cook? or fish to cook or for someone who has never tried anything but trout or tuna? Got any cool cooking tips.

Try to get out of your rut, if you’ve only cooed:

  • trout
  • tuna
  • arctic char

wouldn’t say I have any one favorite

whatever looks good to me

I tend to eat small bits of things with different flavors so I really like shellfish

stone crabs coming tomorrow, looking forward

My mom used to cook crabs in tomato sauce, IDK what a stone crab is, is it a soft shell? I suppose stone it would be a hard shell?

Stone crabs have a great story

They have them down in the

  • south atlantic
  • gulf

really sustainable fish, they’ve been doing it forever! 

region

catch

  • hard shell
  • break your crab cracker
  • Need to smack them with the back of a spoon or a hammer

take the crabs out

take one claw off and put the crab back and will grow back in the water which will regenerate the claw so they are not actually killing any of the crabs. Pre cooked

  • steam the claws
  • cooked already when

All you are getting is the claw, and they can put it back in the ocean and it will grow it again to harvest again? Wow that’s crazy!!

We just crack em with a mustard sauce and serve them with a crem fresh delicious!

mustard lemon juice

Crabs used to be one of my favorite birthday dinners!

look forward to the varieties of crabs

softshell crabs in Maryland

What do you do about media and marketing? 

word of mouth

definitely is the thing

  • got some press when we started our fish share
  • pretty popular blog wrote about us

That was a good jump start for us

a lot of people in the immediate neighborhood

NYTimes we’ve gotten some pretty good press for us

IDK if that has a huge

I’ve always thought about that with the advent of amazon, here where you drive for a long distance and fill up your trunk once or twice a month at the most in NY it’s like the opposite you shop a lot because you have to carry everything home. I thought having things shipped to their door must be changing things.

You can get anything delivered these days

I can’t remember the last time I had something delivered to my house but I think we are the rarety.

The density of stuff here too, you don’t have to go very far. I think people shop more frequently.

My mom shops almost every day, she likes here fish really fresh. 

for fish, I just keep it pretty simple. 

  • I put a little salt and pepper on my fish before I cook it
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil

I don’t like to mask the flavor of it with sauces and stuff.

You’re getting it so fresh 

freshness is a key

Fish actually lasts a lot longer then people think, if you store it properly it will last a few days. 

poised the question a lot “when did that come in?”

direct from our fisherman

traditional supply lines people can be pretty old by the time it reaches the store.

I’ve heard of cases of fish being caught in North Carolina, in a big ship market in the bronx and then go back to N Carolina.

Can it go anytime or do you ave seasons too?

it goes year round

join anytime

  • people pay for a 4 week cycle
  • your 4 weeks

if you are going on vacation you can pause

We take a few holidays off, but I would say it goes 48 weeks

Well that’s good to know and I’m so glad we did this! Tell everyone your website again! 

MermaidsGardenNYC.com

Are you on Instagram etc?

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