Out of the building that previously housed Belgrade Deli at 339 Belgrade St., Fishtown Seafood is bringing high-quality, thoughtfully sourced products to the neighborhood.
Originally founded by Bryan Szeliga as an at-home delivery service in September 2021, the company officially established its brick and mortar location in Fishtown in January. Customers are able to select from a wide array of offerings such as salmon, shrimp, bluefin tuna and numerous varieties of oysters, which go for just a dollar apiece on Fridays. Szeliga wants to not just offer sustainable products to his customers, but break down the misconceptions people may have about seafood in general.
“People have a conception that they need to see the seafood before they buy it,” Szeliga said. “But if they’re actually buying from someone who’s doing a good quality job and wants to sell quality seafood, you don’t actually really need to see it.”
Szeliga, who has lived in Fishtown for the past decade, has worked in the seafood industry for years, first starting out in the kitchens of various seafood restaurants in Colorado and Oregon both during and immediately after graduating from college in the mid-1990s. It was while living and working in Portland that Szeliga started to get connected to the world of conservation and develop a different lens on the environments seafood comes from.
“I saw a big disconnect between what these great chefs were telling me about ‘sustainable seafood’ and what was actually happening on the water and river sheds, and so I started really kind of diving into seafood,” Szeliga said.
After making his way to Philly, Szeliga worked as a seafood importer before joining the buyer engagement team at Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, a nonprofit focused on sustainability initiatives where he worked with large retailers and developed supplier engagement models. Following a three-year stint with the organization, he worked in domestic aquaculture at Blue Ocean Mariculture before eventually establishing his own business in Fishtown Seafood.
Utilizing the knowledge and connections he has acquired over the years, Szeliga looks to suppliers that only offer thoughtfully sourced items. He avoids frozen or chilled seafood products that contain chemicals such as sodium tripolyphosphate. In addition, none of the inventory at Szeliga’s shop has been flown on a plane due to the lack of temperature monitoring during the process and the impact it has on the carbon footprint.
“Through all of my 15 years in kitchens as well as 10 years specifically in the seafood industry, I’ve been able to determine a lot of good suppliers who are really doing good things and top tier on working on sustainability initiatives,” Szeliga said.
By being transparent about his sourcing and relying on suppliers that focus on sustainability, Szeliga hopes to get people to reconsider their preconceived notions about the seafood industry. That includes the term “fresh” being used to describe temperature as opposed to the state of decomposition and the idea that high-quality seafood can only be found by a body of water.
“To think that you need to be by an ocean is crazy,” Szeliga said. “Managing quality and consistency of frozen seafood is oftentimes a much better way to have quality seafood. That’s what we focus on.”
Szeliga said that he’s always looking for ways to grow his customer base. He currently offers classes on oyster shucking on Monday afternoons and nights as well as courses on preparing salmon filets, tinned seafoods and sauces that pair well with seafood dishes. Expanding the brand is a top priority moving forward.
“I have some thoughts of where I want to be in the ninth inning of the game, but right now, I’m just kind of focusing on that pitch that’s coming down the pike,” Szeliga said.