Chefs rave about Shane's Seafood, and for good reason.
The Carey Bay shop prides itself on its quality seafood and supplies more than a hundred restaurants across Port Stephens, the Central Coast, the Hunter Valley and Newcastle.
Shane's Seafood manager Tony Wearne, who runs the business with Gary 'Basil' Brush, gives the credit to founder and former employer Shane Snedden.
"Shane was an extraordinary fishmonger who knew the industry inside and out, from the grassroots up," Wearne told Food & Wine.
"He built a reputation over 35 years through his focus on quality and gained a following of chefs who were similarly passionate about seafood.
"Gary and myself were lucky enough to have Shane's tutorage over the years of our employment there, and we very much try to continue his legacy.
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"Shane retired in 2010 and sold the business to a company that owns other seafood stores in the Sydney Fish Markets. The new owners were happy to let us run the business."
Last month, with demand for their product at an all-time low due to COVID restrictions and restaurants closing, Wearne and Brush introduced an online ordering system. Customers can collect their orders in-store at Carey Bay Shopping Village, at the corner of Scott and Zaara streets in Newcastle, at Fratelli Roma in Maitland, and at the Roche Estate carpark in Pokolbin.
The response so far has been "amazing" says Wearne.
"Going online was something that we had thought about but had never really had the time to seriously pursue, so COVID became the catalyst for it.
"When lockdown happened, we lost 90 per cent of our business overnight, and being located in a small town on Lake Macquarie, we didn't really have a great deal of walk-by traffic. We had a great local following of loyal customers, but we desperately needed to expand to a wider audience. It was a no-brainer - we now had the staff and time to do it, and do it properly."
The biggest sellers have been prawns and oysters as well as sashimi fish.
"It's been great to see people trying different market fish," Wearne said.
"I still buy the species from the market that I would have been buying for the restaurants if they were open, so a lot of people are buying portions of fish they might normally see on a restaurant menu and cooking them at home. Things like Hapuka, Mulloway, Wild Kingfish, even Glacier 51 Toothfish."
COVID has also changed the way Shane's Seafood sources its fresh fish. Most of it is still bought at Sydney Fish Markets each morning, however ordering can now be done remotely.
"I have been a buyer at the auction for different companies for 10 years now," Wearne explained.
"Prior to COVID, I was driving down each weekday to check the auction floor and buy the seafood. When COVID forced us to go online and do the auction remotely, it suited me just fine. I already knew most of the fishermen, boats or companies who were putting fish on the floor, so didn't necessarily need to see the fish firsthand to know its quality.
"I now buy the fish from my laptop in my living room each morning and have a driver bring it up.
"More recently we have started working directly with local fishermen, building good working relationships so that our customers can be assured that they know exactly who caught their fish and how.
"We try to work with farms and fishermen that have good sustainability and ethical credentials, which is getting easier these days as the whole industry is moving in this direction."
Asked if Shane's Seafood will continue to sell online direct to the public when lockdown ends, Wearne replies: "This is the big question".
"When our restaurants are operating, we struggle just to keep up then, so it won't be easy to continue this when lockdown is finished.
"It is a lot of work and very time consuming - but the response that we are getting from our online customers is just too strong to ignore. We already feel that we don't want to let these customers down. So, although I can't promise anything yet, we really hope we can continue online."
What Shane's Seafood can promise, though, is a continued commitment to quality and service.
"We have a great mix of staff from different backgrounds, many of them are ex-chefs, and all of them super experienced. Everybody brings dynamic ideas to the table which means that the business becomes flexible and adaptable and has a really positive and energetic culture.
"Shane still calls in to check on us - he will wander through the cool room under the guise of grabbing some bait or ice, but I know he's casting a scrutinising eye over the fish I have bought.
"He always said 'You can't go wrong if you have good quality' but as well as this, I think it's our relationship with our customers that has cemented our reputation.
"We speak to a lot of our chefs on a daily basis - even to this day despite lockdown. Communication, trust and honesty are all things we're really big on."
Shane's Seafood, 17 Laycock Street, Carey Bay
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