Valley Market of Thayne is now offering fresh seafood to customers flown in daily through Seattle Fish Company. The newly remodeled seafood counter at the market features oysters from the East Coast, salmon from Scotland, and specialty sushi fish to name a few.
“This has been in the works for 8 months,” said Kim Hannel, Seafood Manager at Valley Market. “We are so excited to be able to offer something that is truly exceptional to our guests. A lot of work went into this and we are so proud to bring this quality product from a global source into our store.”
Days before Grand Opening of the new store, customers gathered around the newly filled case commenting freely about how great it was to have access to fresh fish without having to drive to Jackson.
Seattle Fish Company, a Denver-based food service organization, recently offered a Specialty Foods Show in Jackson at the Snow King Ski Lodge. Seattle Fish CEO, James Iacino, flew in for a brief visit to the show and spoke with SVI News about the company’s 100-year legacy, about the future of the company, and about how it brings fresh, specialty meats and foods to restaurants and grocery stores local to Star Valley.
“We love coming up every year and putting on a food show and meeting with chefs and people in the community to look at the new products we have and everything we are doing here,” Iacino said.
It’s been 100 years since Iacino’s grandfather, Mose Iacino, began selling oysters on the streets of Denver, Colorado in 1918. The Iacino family had immigrated from Grimaldi, Italy in 1905, and at age 14, Mose began buying oysters off the dining cars of the passenger trains that came through Denver. The young entrepreneur then took the oysters and sold them from his street cart throughout Downtown Denver.
Two years later, Mose formally opened Seattle Fish Company. All the fish came to Denver by train from Seattle, hence the name Seattle Fish. He brought the fish in, sold it to restaurants and hotels, and opened a small retail location.
“It’s a big year for us,” said the 3rd generation Iacino. “We have obviously grown substantially since then, and we are bringing fish from all over the world now. It’s a really neat time for our employees and for our family to celebrate 100 years of doing what we do.”
“When my grandfather started bringing fish in from the trains and reselling it, a lot of the people had never seen these products”, said Iacino. “They had never seen halibut. They had never seen salmon. If you were born in Denver at the turn of the 20th century, you didn’t see any of this. All you saw was trout in the streams and there were some oysters that were making their way from California to the mining towns. If you go to the old mining ghost towns in Colorado, you’ll see old menus on the wall and they will have oysters listed. Oysters are really hardy, and they would hold up during travel, and they were just a great source of protein for the miners. Other fish is where [my grandfather] really developed the seafood market. He brought it to town, to The Brown Palace, The Oxford, and all the hotels that were there, so people were exposed to halibut, salmon, crab legs – things that they had never seen before. So, he really got to build the market. He knew this fish was out there. He was going to find a way to get it to [Denver].”
In true Iacino fashion, James began working for Seattle Fish with his father at age 12. His father went to work at 4:30 each morning to purchase fish off the East Coast, and James accompanied him to staple papers or sort accounting records. At age 13, James began cutting and packing fish, and by 16, he was driving some of the trucks, which he continued to do through college. After college, he went into purchasing and sales with Seattle Fish and found his love in sales. He took over sales management from there and is now the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
“Like any kid, I went through the times when you are thinking, ‘I don’t want to do that, or I am going to rebel, or I am going to look at this other thing,” Iacino recalled. “My first degree in college was actually Political Science. I wanted to get involved in the community, and I am still very much involved in the Colorado community. I decided that the best way to do that could be trough business. It was kind of apparent that my dad’s desire and expectation was for me to work there and take over, and I am glad that I made the decision to do so.”
Strong work ethic was part of Iacino’s youth, and he learned that the love of that work is the ingredient that drives passionate and assertive progress in making anything great happen.
“It’s important to first take action, get involved, and do the kind of work where you are able to learn about everything that goes into a product and everything that goes into a service,” said Iacino. “I think that kids often skip taking the opportunity to learn about every aspect of what goes into a business or whatever you are passionate about. I hire people that follow their passion. You have to be passionate about coming to work for me. It’s not about money for my people. They come for different situations and reasons. They are coming because they want to make an impact and they are willing to learn. When they are willing to learn, and show up, and do the work, and really just go get involved, and drive stuff 8 hours [to Jackson], and set up a show, and meet with different vendors, and learn about the business because they are passionate about what the business is doing, that is the key.”
“Often times, I see people with the right skills, but you can tell when you are with them that their heart is not in it,” said Iacino. “If their heart is not in it, it’s only a matter of time before they won’t find the value. I think the work becomes easy when you are passionate about what you are doing. I think it’s got to be aligned. That will drive the work ethic. Once you find that passion, learn everything about it. Go do it. Do the hard work.”
Seattle Fish Co. has a strong culture of excellence and loyalty. Larry Hudson, Seattle Fish Sales Representative for the region around Jackson Hole has been with the company for over 30 years. “I held James in my arms when he was a baby. I have been with this family for decades,” said Hudson, proud to have been such an integral part of the Iacino legacy.
“Culture is big for us. We see everything in our company being 100 years old,” said Iacino. “Like with our own Larry Hudson, there is a lot of loyalty in the company for a lot of our employees. I think it really speaks to the culture that we have built – one built on our core values of quality service, sustainability, philanthropy, and just working at a great company. We have been able to keep people for so long and attract new people to come work for us who are passionate about making a difference in the community and making a difference in the planet. Not just with the products that we offer, which is one aspect of what we do, but also having an opportunity to interface with chefs, influence how people eat and influence how people understand where their food is coming from. It brings a lot of excitement, and we have a really passionate, dedicated group of people that work with us to do that every day. The culture is really what attracts people to come work for us, more than any of the traditional things that people think about when they consider working for a company.”
Seattle Fish Co. has procedures in place designed to ensure that the quality of their seafood, meats and specialty foods remains “pristine from catch to cook,” according to the company website.
“We are a global company, and we bring our sea food from all over the world, so we have fish coming from South America, Norway, Scotland, Europe and Australia, to name a few. And it’s coming 24/7, so what we do is really fresh,” said Iacino. “We do carry a full product line of frozen foods as well, but 85% of our business is fresh seafood. We are bringing in stuff that is caught all over the world. Our people are going to pack it on ice. They are going to keep it cold. The trick with fish is to keep it cold and keep it moving, right? So, you want to get it cold really quick and keep it that way throughout transit as it is getting to us.”
So, with our Scottish Salmon, for example, they harvest that fish on a Tuesday, pack it in ice, and take it down to London, Heathrow, and fly it non-stop London to Denver,” said Iacino. “It’s to us within 48 hours from being out of the water. We keep it on ice. Nothing gets into our facility that’s over 40 degrees – for food safety, but also for quality. The great thing about fish is that it really can’t lie to you. You know when a fish is good. So, we pride ourselves on checking every fish that is coming in – looking at temperature, looking at the quality of the gills, the eyes and the texture of the skin, and we have a great receiving team that’s charged with maintaining that we keep the highest level of quality standards from our vendors on everything that is coming in.”
“We have full traceability on our products, so we can see where it’s coming from and what the temperature is along the route,” explained Iacino. “Because at any point during that route, if it goes over 40 degrees, we have to kick it, so it’s a challenging process. But I think it’s a fun process to be able to have these global networks of vendors that we have worked with for years and, in some cases decades. There’s a lot of trust involved – logistics and transportation. There are things that you don’t think about when you think of global supply chains.” “
“When the volcano erupted in Iceland and disrupted all the air traffic from the United Kingdom to the United states, that was a global shift,” said Iacino. “All the Norwegian and Scottish Salmon couldn’t get to the U.S., which was one of their biggest markets, so it’s a huge pressure. Everyone has to back-fill with Canadian and Chilean Salmon, so there’s this constant dance of what’s going on in the world. Is it weather? Is it some unique event? And how do we make sure the fish keeps moving, and how do we make sure we have relationships in all those countries, so we can ensure that for our customers, we are going to have product as often as we can? It’s difficult, but it’s challenging, and I think we do a pretty good job.”
Many vendors to the company have been in place for decades, and the Iacino family has taken a personal interest in meeting them, knowing their stories, and looking for ways to support their dreams and strengthen their communities, as well as maintain high standards of quality with their product, and nourish the culture of family and loyalty that permeates the organization.
“My Dad and my grandfather would really take pride in traveling around the world and visiting our vendors, visiting our sources,” said Iacino. “We have built relationships with both the fishermen who are fishing on the wild side, and a lot of the farmers who are craft-raising the product around the world. I have also personally gone and visited farms around the world, and most of our purchasing team has as well. Any time we are looking at a new product, we want to go out there. We want to see it. What’s the condition of the fish? How is it being raised? How is it being caught? We learn as much as we can about it, so we can bring that information back to our team, so we can sell it.”
“Those relationships, again, are built on that quality ad service,” added Iacino. “It’s key for our values as a company, both in what we express to our customers and how we deal with incoming product and vendors. We expect our vendors to relate to those. As long as they have the highest quality and meet the standards that we are looking for, and we know that they are going to send us the best fish and give us the service we need, we are going to maintain those relationships for a long time. We are just going to grow from there, but we have also built such a market and such a reputation for what we do in our brand, that a lot of the new fish farmers want to work with us, and so they will often contact us and say, ‘Hey, we would love to have our product on the market. We understand that you are the top-quality distributor in the market. How can we get our product in front of you? How can we get you samples? How can we tell you about what we do?’ Like any farmers, our fish farmers take pride in what they do. They want to raise the best quality product. They really want to show-case what they have, and our job is to make sure we are doing them justice by telling their story, giving that information to the chefs that are ultimately going to use the product. Where did it come from? How is it raised? Who raised it? The people behind it. There’s a story behind all our products, and our job is to help communicate that as much as possible. It helps build and strengthen our relationships that we already have.”
Iacino is heavily involved with philanthropic work and non-profit organizations that promote a variety of causes important to him, to the company, and to the family legacy. Cooking Matters of Colorado is a non-profit organization that helps families to shop for and cook healthy meals on a budget. Their goal is that no child will go hungry. Chefs Up Front is Cooking Matters biggest fund-raising event, in which thirty of Colorado’s top chefs prepare four-course meals, raising funds to end childhood hunger in Colorado. Iacino is highly invested in the Chefs Up Front events.
“Philanthropy is one of our core values. It was important to my grandfather. It’s important to me as well, particularly in the Colorado Community,” said Iacino. “We try to give back to a lot of the communities that we serve, those communities that are supporting us every day. I currently serve on 7 non-profit boards, and that’s actually where a lot of my time goes. And I think that this being our 100th year as a business, particularly in Colorado, we want to support those people who have supported us for all this time. We love to give back to the community. We have a great community action team to get our employees involved.”
“We love to support the causes that are important to our customers,” said Iacino. “So, we work with our chefs, and we look at the causes that they are behind, and how we can support them, donate product or get involved. I think a lot of our true success is in building stronger communities, and it’s about building a community that lasts, that is going to be sustainable for generations. We are investing in that. To know that we have got a business that lasts for generations, a place that our people want to live and that our people want to work, that’s really why it’s important to us.”
Creating and supporting sustainable systems to feed the population of the world for another century or two is a core value for Seattle Fish Company. They believe that fish is the future in terms of healthy dietary proteins for mankind. The sustainability discussion was new to the food supply industry when Iacino was a teen, and his family has chosen over the last two decades to become global leaders in food supply sustainability.
“Sustainability is something that is important to me,” said Iacino. “We wanted to show that even a seafood company in the middle of the United States can take a leadership position on sustainability and really make a difference. We believe that fish is the future. When we look at 7 billion people, and growing, on the planet, the United Nations says we’ll need twice as much protein to feed people by 2050 as we currently produce today. So, if you think about that – producing twice as much protein as we currently do on the planet – it’s very difficult and it’s going to take a lot of resources. Fish is going to be more and more important. It’s not going to be the land-based proteins feeding people, because there is simply not enough land, and there’s not enough feed and energy in fresh water to make that happen. It’s not that I like to get up here and bash other proteins, but we try to educate people and say, ‘Look, if you are looking at pure resources and population growth on the planet, you are going to need to use less energy and less fresh water.’ We are not going to have these things around, and so we know that fish is an efficient way to feed people. It’s the leanest, healthiest protein on the planet, and so we are very excited about preserving it for the long-run.”
“There are multiple sides to sustainability,” said Iacino. “There’s preserving what we have. We are proud to have a wild fishery, right? So, 50% of the world’s global fishery is wild and 50% is farm-raised at this point. People like to have their own opinions about farm-raised fish, which I think are often mislead or misguided, but we are proud that we have wild fish. How many wild chickens and wild cows do you see running around out there? You don’t, right? We manage that fishery well. Our goal is to work with third-party providers that are ensuring that the fish is being caught in an appropriate way, that there’s plenty of it out there, that we are not catching other species, and that we are not harming the environment. So, they are certifying that it is sustainably managed on the wild side, and then all the growth is really coming from the farmer’s side. That’s where we are able to grow fish, often with less than 1 to 1 feed ratios. We can feed a fish less than a pound of fish meal to get it to grow a pound of protein, so it’s a net producer of protein.”
“That’s how you are going to feed people in the future – by doing things like that, and so, that’s why we are really excited about it,” Iacino said. “It’s important to us. We try to match those practices with our internal practices, whether it’s use of solar [energy], reduction in waste or reduction in water [usage]. All of that is important when we think of how to move stuff around the country, like trucking product rather than flying it to have less of a carbon impact. We have a great team of very passionate people who come together and look at this all the time. They have a great green team that is always looking at how we can better our practices and I am proud to say that today, we are, in this Denver, Colorado based company, a global leader in sustainability.”
We are co-founders of an organization called Sea Pact,” explained Iacino. “Sea Pact is helping to invest money in fishery improvement projects, to bring back certain fisheries around the world, to give people support to grow fish sustainably in different countries, and so, we’re proud to be leaders. We are out there, and we’re pushing people to do better and better, because it’s what’s going to allow us to be around for another 100 years.”
Iacino’s dream for the future of the company and the industry is really an extension of the dream his grandfather and his father had before him. His energy, passion and knowledge will drive him there.
“I would love to see Seattle Fish Company lead into the future of sustainability and ensure that people have access to lean, healthy proteins going forward,” shared Iacino. “I think we envision a world where everybody has access to sustainable seafood and we are working every day to make that happen. A dream for me would be to see people eating more fish sustainably raised and more vegetable proteins in an environment where Seattle Fish is around a hundred years from now.”
“We’re having positive impacts on the communities that we serve and the communities we source from,” added Iacino. “So, where are we getting our fish? Are we actively improving those environments so that they are around for generations to come? That’s what I would really like to see us do when we think of the work we are doing in the middle of the United States as having a global impact. So, if we can source from better vendors, if we can source from areas that are having a positive impact on the environment, on the social communities, the people that work there, the fishermen, the farmers who are raising the product, all of that – It’s a global impact that we can have with our little business in the middle of the country and I think that’s the dream, that we continue to have that impact.”
“It’s what I talk about when I talk about my son and a potential 4th generation,” Iacino said. “I think beyond that – I think 4th and 5th generation, and regardless of what the company looks like, is [my son] going to have the same environment that I grew up in? Is he going to have the same access to healthy proteins? And that’s the work that we are doing today, working to ensure that that’s the case for the future.”
Seattle Fish Company carries a line of proprietary meats and foods that is diverse and delectable. The food show in Jackson featured tender and flavorful meats from Hawaii, Colorado, and Jackson Hole, a wide array of succulent cheeses, including goat cheese from California, gourmet pickles produced in Denver, specialty honey, bubbling beverages, divine hors d’oeuvres and appetizers from Kansas, rich breads and pastries, and so much more.
“From a company perspective, our gourmet provisions line is really where we look to source from local farmers,” explained Iacino. “When I say local, I mean the regions that we serve, so that would be Wyoming and Montana right here. It’s domestic, local farming and products that meet our sustainability guidelines, which can be different [from our fish guidelines], because it’s different in every single protein category. When I look at other animal proteins, we are looking for answers to questions like ‘Is it humanely raised? Is it small production?’ We are a big fan of small producers getting their product to market. We like to work with farmers who have a great product and they are struggling to get distribution – struggling to get that product to market. That’s where we can fill a unique niche, because we are not the big broad-liner that is going to have a lot of red tape to get their product in, or certain minimums or insurance requirements that are just too much for a farmer to handle. I can literally take one box of something and sell it somewhere. If there is a restaurant that wants it, we can do that – or we can take 50 boxes. So, we can help people get their product to market, build a brand, build a story that hopefully can help launch them to where they are going. If it’s local product, if it’s meeting our humane and sustainability guidelines and its high quality, it comes back to ‘what’s the story?’ Who is growing it? Why are they growing it? What’s special about their product? If it’s a cheese, if it’s a honey, if it’s whatever it is they are growing – each of these people has a story. We want to know why or what they are raising and why they started a business. Our job is to help get that product to market.”
“We have great chefs who are interested, and that’s really where it starts is with them. They are driving the demand,” said Iacino. “They have said, ‘Hey we want this product. I heard about this great mushroom. Is there any way I can get access to it?’ We say, ‘Sure we can fly that in,’ and we will put it on with their fish orders because the mushroom people can’t FedEx it – it’s too expensive for the restaurant. We want to help consolidate some of those supply chain lines that we are already using to help get the product to market. That’s kind of the idea behind it. When those small producers don’t have access, it’s a niche that we can fill and help get them access to the restaurants that we serve.”
Iacino and his team help provide a vehicle for the small farmer to prosper. When a farmer or producer wants to become affiliated with Seattle Fish, he can count on a simple, fair and reasonable process for screening and contracting with the company.
“Potential vendors call us, and they talk to our chief chef, Pat _____ who is our internal lens,” said Iacino. “Pat will take a look at it and see if there is a fit in our product line for it, and then we will get samples and get the sales team excited about it. If we decide to carry it, we go from there, but I will say we are pretty flexible. We are very open to looking at every kind of product.”
“Sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense to carry something, you know,” Iacino admitted. “We had a cold coffee producer we looked at and we didn’t have a market for it or have customers really asking for it. It didn’t make sense for us to do it, but we can put people in touch with somebody else. We start small with producers and see if we can build sales for them. We look at both retail and food service. Half our business is restaurants and half our business is grocers, so we do everything from whole foods for Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, Idaho, Wyoming, to small markets, to your Valley Market in Thayne, and everything in between. We can do the retail facing, if that’s more the direction that the farmer is looking to go if they have packaging and a brand around it. Or if they don’t and it’s just ‘I want to get this grass-fed beef into high-end restaurants,’ and they just don’t have the opportunity for distribution. Or they do, but maybe they have distribution here in Jackson Hole and they want distribution down in Telluride, Aspen, or all the way out to St. Louis, we can do that. And so that’s pretty cool, I think.”
Seattle Fish stands out among the crowd of food suppliers as a company that offers unique and interesting products, with a community and family-centered culture that comes as a package deal when a vendor comes on board.
“We don’t want to carry what everybody else is carrying,” Iacino said. “We are looking for those producers who also don’t want that, and if there is something special about their product and they want to be able to get it to market in a way that it’s not just another commodity, we welcome them.”
As with any great effort, it takes a huge team to pull off the miracle of fresh foods delivered to your door within 48 hours of harvest. Seattle Fish wouldn’t be what it is today without the team of passionate and loyal professionals who feel the same way about serving and feeding the world as the Iacino family feels.
“We have got great people, I mean great people,” Iacino emphasized. “From our executive team on down. There is a gentleman here named Mac. He’s our sustainability manager. He tracked me down when he was in college through a family friend and was bugging me saying ‘I really would love to have coffee with you, just to sit down and pick your brain.’ He was a fisheries student at Colorado State University, studying fisheries in the college natural resources department. And he just wanted to talk to me about sustainability – what we were doing. He sat down with me and was just like, ‘I want to learn everything I can. I’m all about sustainability in fish. Can we set up an internship? Is there something we can do?’ We worked out a deal where he got class credit for coming to work for us. He came down and we gave him the most data intensive assignment – basically tracking every single fish. What’s the rating? How is it rated? How is it caught? He was building this giant database that was going to help us with our traceability. Probably, to most people, very boring work. He did it for a year for us, then ultimately, when he was graduating, he wanted a job. He was bugging us. ‘Can I get a job? I would love to be able to do this for you full-time.’ He had offers from Lockheed Martin that he turned down, and he came to work for us because he’s that passionate. He’s been with us less than a year now, but it’s that kind of thing. Not many kids are doing that kind of thing these days, but that’s what he is passionate about. He said, ‘I think I can provide value and I’m going to show you that I can do it.”
Seattle Fish relies on its vendors, customers and community members to spread the good word about their quality, service, and commitment to taking care of people today and in the future.
“We don’t do a lot of traditional marketing at all,” said Iacino. “If you say, ‘I work for Seattle Fish Company,’ people say, ‘I see your trucks.’ We are on the roads 7 days a week like clockwork. We have pics [on the trucks] of our oyster farmers out of Duxbury, Massachusetts. They’re our oyster guys. Our trucks feature real pictures of real vendors, and real customers. That keeps it in people’s minds as to what we are doing. We do social media. I think a lot of it is our brand presence – the strength of our brand over 100 years. It’s in the market. People know our name within the food industry and the community. So, we don’t have to do a lot of outward marketing to restaurants. Most of the time, when they come to a market like Denver, that we are in, a chef from outside the market will call their friends and say, ‘Who do you buy fish from?’ And 9 times out of 10, they are going to say, ‘Seattle Fish.’ That’s the best way to market. So, we can focus on continuing to build the brand value and what it means.”
“We have a great website that we love to have serve as a resource for our customers or consumers,” said Iacino. “So, you can look at a fish fact sheet on our product – Where’s it coming from? What’s the texture like? How’s it caught? What’s the sustainability information? We have videos on the site. We focus on providing more of a resource to our customers rather than marketing to them. It’s word of mouth, and a lot of our non-profit work too. I would rather invest in non-profit events, non-profit boards, things that we do in the community to get our name out rather than in a direct, traditional advertising platform. It wouldn’t work with chefs. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s not often that we get retailers that talk about where their food comes from,” added Iacino. “It’s always nice when one of the retailers or one of our customers says, ‘Seattle Fish Company provides our fish and they bring it in every day.’ So, I appreciate those commercials, because that provides a level of transparency that we hope for.”
For a man who was raised with strong role models of work-ethic, industry leadership, philanthropy and family loyalty, the drive and dream are simple. Iacino’s drive and dreams are about people.
“I look forward to interacting with people in the office and coming in to see what people are working on,” Iacino confessed. “What’s happening? What’s the hot thing? What’s the next item we are talking about? What sustainability issue are we taking on? Are we continuously improving our practices to ultimately have a better impact in our community? And I think that’s what gets me excited every day. It’s going to work and looking at everything that we are doing, and how it’s translating to impact our communities that we serve. The better we do our job, the more impact we can have, and I think that’s really what makes me excited to go to work every day.”
“It’s been fun to look back at a hundred years – to wake up with purpose. That really is what drives me,” Iacino said. “We are having an impact on the health of people we serve. ‘Eat fish twice a week. It will lower your risk of heart disease by 38%.’ I mean, look how the American Heart Association has put that message out there. We are also having an impact on the health of the planet. We are using less resource to raise product, and we have all sorts of good people who are improving the environment. If we weren’t doing those things on the scale we are, it wouldn’t be intriguing for me. I would feel like I could have more impact in politics, and I would go that way, but that’s not the case. We are able to do this, and between that and the non-profit service, I feel pretty good.”
Curious individuals who search out the Seattle Fish Company website, www.seattlefish.com, will find that the Iacino Family Legacy goes far beyond fish and feeding people. It reaches into protecting the planet, educating the population, encouraging the hearts and improving the health of people. The small farmer, the dreaming producer, the rural grocer, the home-town diner, the budding chef and the hungry child all have a great friend in Seattle Fish Company, and history suggests that the friendship will last for a very, very long time.