Wow, 30 years go by quickly! Mike Monahan reflects on 3 decades in the seafood business

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010 | posted by mike

Mike Monahan & Paul Saginaw - 1979

Amazing! Monahan’s Seafood is Thirty-Years-Old! Seems like yesterday that Paul Saginaw and I started talking about buying the market at Kerrytown from the Real Seafood Market (where I was an employee).  We took over in December of 1979 and our journey began. We started selling retail to the public while wholesaling to the restaurants in town. We quickly learned that there was more to this business than scrod and swordfish.

About doing business in Ann Arbor…

They say “the world comes to Ann Arbor” and this has certainly been our experience. Early in our history (and continuing today) the diverse, sophisticated, and international customer kept us jumping. If we could satisfy them, we could sell a lot of fish! For example, back then, the Japanese diet was 80% fish but there was only one Asian store in town, Sing Tong (my biggest live blue crab competitor!) We took pride in tracking down customer requests, no matter how exotic! Live eel, live sea urchin, sea slug guts, giant geoduck clams (in all their glory), you name it. If we couldn’t find it, we’d find the next best solution. We learned to speak fish in many languages; tsipoura, porgy in Greek; sawara, spanish mackerel in Japanese; dorade, porgy in French, and lots more. In this wonderful relationship with our customers, we supplied the ingredients and received invaluable knowledge in exchange.

Aside from fantastic recipes and techniques, we learned that there’s a lot more to the experience than just a good meal. It’s as much about tradition, memories, sights, sounds, smells, and flavors. Just observe how a Frenchman’s eyes go all starry when you mention the word “rouget” (red mullet) and you’ll appreciate how a simple fish can transport an expat back home.

The culinary landscape of Ann Arbor in the 1980s…

Over these past 30 years, we have seen lots of changes and trends. In the early ’80′s, we adopted European habits of shopping and dining. We saw lots of mothers with strollers buying a piece of fish, a bottle of wine, a baguette, and a vegetable for that night’s dinner.

We had more time, and it was still common for our patrons to cook dinner and sit down with the whole family on a weeknight. As people got busier and more moms entered the workforce, we had to offer them more convenient solutions. We added more prepared foods and salads and developed a line of microwave dinners (Monahan’s New Wave Cuisine), and entrées en papillote (fish steamed in a parchment paper pouch) with our homemade sauces or compound butters served over rice and spinach. We also came up with our bouillabaisse base, the complete recipe for the famous fish stew of Marseilles. Customers only need to heat it up and add fish and shellfish. Simple. We had moved into the age of convenience, and we did our part to make cooking quick and easy for our busy customers.

The Market in 2010…

Now it’s 30 years later and we’ve come full circle. People are still busy and buying the convenience items, but there’s a renewed interest in cooking, with an accent on great quality, fresh ingredients and local when possible. We’re seeing customers interested in preparing bold international recipes, and we’re selling a lot more whole fish, octopus, squid, skate, and sardines than ever.

In 2004, our ultra talented manager of 20 years, Bernie Fritzsch, and I decided that with all these amazing seasonal fish and ingredients at our fingertips, it was time to start serving lunch. We created a full menu of all the classics, including fish and chips, calamari, Bernie’s chowders, fish tacos, oyster po’ boys, salmon burgers, and more.

We also offer a “pick a fish” option, where the customer can choose anything on display, and we’ll prepare it with the sauce, rub, or compound butter of their choice. At last we can offer the complete experience: exceptional fish, a fun atmosphere, premium service, a sense of history, and a great lunch, too!

This is an amazing business we’re in. Every day brings new challenges and insights into a marketplace with a constantly changing selection of seasonal, healthy, and delicious bounty. There’s always something at its peak; there’s always something to look forward to.

I feel so lucky and fortunate to have been able to do something that I love for so long. We hope to share our passion for seafood on this blog!

Here’s to the next thirty years.

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The Beauty (& Simplicity) of a One-Pot dish: Bouillabaisse!

Monday, March 1st, 2010 | posted by mike

It’s the perfect time of year to steam up your kitchens and warm up your hearts—invite the gang over and celebrate! With the addition of a fresh baguette and a green salad, bouillabaisse is the perfect dish to share among friends. And it’s fun (and EASY) to prepare, especially with a little help from Monahan’s!

Time Savings & Simplicity…
Traditionally, the only time-consuming part of this recipe is making the actual tomato-based stock. We’ve included the recipe for that in our recipe archive, but you may want to try Chef Bernie’s wonderful Bouillabaisse-base, which we stock in our freezer at the market. He’s already done all the work for you—and the result is a delicate, garlic-y, tomato broth scented with saffron, orange and fennel. Just heat it up and add your fish and shellfish—an elegant dinner will be served in a matter of minutes!

Bernie makes both the bouillabaisse-base as well as our delicious homemade fish stock weekly, fresh from the bones and heads of the fish we fillet at the market every day. (We’re also happy to take orders for fish bones and heads if you want to make your own stock, but best to call ahead to check availability).

Ideas for Cost Savings…
Bouillabaisse is a pretty flexible dish to make, and it can either be brimming with shellfish (scallops, lobsters, shrimp, clams, mussels and fish,) or you can keep it simple with just a few items. If you decide to go for the deluxe version with a lot of ingredients and variety, try asking all your friends to bring an ingredient (we’ve done this with Paella parties too). Not only does it invest everyone into coming together over a great meal, it brings a particular camaraderie to the proceedings, as each guest shows up with their offerings.

Serve with a green salad, toasted slices of baguette and aioli.

Click here for our version of the wonderful catch of the day stew from Marseille.


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