Mer­rick’s Seafood of­fers whole­sale and re­tail mar­kets, al­lur­ing choices

RSWLiving - - Department­s - BY GINA BIRCH

When Richard and Joan San­torico moved to Cape Co­ral to start a small whole­sale fish com­pany, they never imag­ined a fam­ily busi­ness that would grow to be­come one of the lead­ing providers of fish in South­west Florida. Mer­rick’s Seafood is now cel­e­brat­ing its quar­ter-cen­tury mark, sup­ply­ing more than 250 restau­rants, man­ag­ing a suc­cess­ful re­tail mar­ket and de­light­ing din­ers in its ad­ja­cent res­tau­rant—Fish Tale Grill.

One of the San­tori­cos’ three daugh­ters, Kerry Kreig, and her hus­band, Dave Kreig, pur­chased the busi­ness six years ago with the in­ten­tion of tak­ing it to “the next level,” and by all ac­counts have done just that. Other play­ers in the fam­ily af­fair in­clude sis­ters De­bra San­torico and Amy Keen, along with Amy’s hus­band, Dave Keen.

Kerry Kreig says the story be­gan in Mer­rick, on Long Is­land in New York, where her fa­ther plot­ted each night with his neigh­bor—owner of Mer­rick’s Seafood in New York—on how to open a sim­i­lar busi­ness in Cape Co­ral.

As the busi­ness grew, De­bra San­torico moved south to help. Look­ing at what Mer­rick’s is to­day, she says, “It’s crazy, def­i­nitely noth­ing like it was when it was just me, my mom and dad. It has ex­ploded.”

And when Kerry Kreig ar­rived she ex­panded pre­pared items in the re­tail mar­ket—from a hand­ful to more than 70. You’ll al­ways find one case full of fresh seafood, the other freshly pre­pared “We Make You Bake” se­lec­tions. Best-sell­ers in­clude crab­meat-stuffed grouper, var­i­ous nut-en­crusted groupers and gen­er­ous seafood­stuffed por­to­bello mush­rooms. Each comes in cook­ing tins with in­struc­tions to pre­pare a “foolproof” gourmet seafood din­ner.

Kerry Kreig also as­pired to of­fer health­ful lunch op­tions in an area of down­town Cape Co­ral that at the time was pop­u­lated mostly by fast food and bar food. She ad­mits, with a grin, “My goal was al­ways to open a res­tau­rant.”

It may have been her goal, but the process hap­pened quite or­gan­i­cally. There were a few ta­bles in the mar­ket where cus­tomers could wait for orders. As pre­pared se­lec­tions in­creased, peo­ple wanted to dine there, too. Kerry Kreig re­mem­bers: “We didn’t have sil­ver­ware or any­thing. My sis­ter works in the fish mar­ket, she’s not a wait­ress. So we put food on fish trays and that’s kinda how it started.”

Hav­ing the fish mar­ket at­tached to the res­tau­rant is a dream for Kerry Krieg, who says, “I had ac­cess to every­thing, so when I wanted some­thing I just went in the back and took it. Most places have to or­der it but we have the crème de la crème of

Mer­rick’s Seafood is now cel­e­brat­ing its quar­ter-cen­tury mark, sup­ply­ing more than 250 restau­rants, man­ag­ing a suc­cess­ful re­tail mar­ket and de­light­ing din­ers in its ad­ja­cent res­tau­rant—Fish Tale Grill.

stuff so it’s pretty awe­some!”

The whole­sale busi­ness al­lows the mar­ket and the res­tau­rant to hold the line on pric­ing, ac­cord­ing to Dave Keen, who says, “They com­ple­ment each other.” He over­sees the whole­sale end, se­cur­ing the high­est-qual­ity lo­cal seafood as well as im­ports from around the world. He even has a rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the com­pet­i­tive auc­tion block in Hawaii. If a res­tau­rant is look­ing for some­thing spe­cific, Keen can find it. He’s also con­scious about pur­chas­ing from sus­tain­able and en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious fish­eries.

Spend­ing so much time with fam­ily is “sur­pris­ingly nice,” ac­cord­ing to Dave Kreig, who adds, “We have our times when we butt heads but we have such a com­mit­ted core, we are all fight­ing for the same goals.” Dave Keen agrees: “It’s more that we are try­ing to make the busi­ness the best pos­si­ble. We just may have dif­fer­ent ways of get­ting to the same goal, but we do very well as a fam­ily, that’s for sure.”

And the fam­ily at­mos­phere doesn’t stop with blood, says Amy Keen: “Ev­ery­one is part of the fam­ily here, whether you work for us or are ac­tual fam­ily, and I think that’s one of the tips for suc­cess.”

Co­ral Pratillo con­curs. A server at Fish Tale since it opened, she has be­come a fa­vorite among pa­trons. She says about her job, “It’s fab­u­lous, they are a fam­ily and they treat you like fam­ily.” Cov­er­ing her mouth and low­er­ing her voice, she notes, “They keep an eye out for me.”

Fish Tale is now open seven days a week for both lunch and din­ner. This sum­mer, look for prime rib spe­cials on Sun­day, and “Twi­light Din­ing”—din­ner for two and a bot­tle of wine for a set price.

The food is al­ways art­fully plated, fresh and fla­vor­ful. The mar­ket se­lec­tions are col­or­ful and plen­ti­ful—mak­ing de­ci­sions dif­fi­cult at best.

This small fam­ily spot hous­ing three har­mo­nious busi­nesses not only adds value to the now-flour­ish­ing din­ing op­tions in the so-called “South Cape,” but also to restau­rants across South­west Florida.

Fresh seafood se­lec­tions (left), plat­ters and stone-crab claws high­light yummy dishes at Fish Tale Grill.

While nosh­ing in or out­side, try the tasty Stuffed Dover Sole (bot­tom right). Fish Tale Grill has led the resur­gence in “South Cape” din­ing.

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