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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Marketplace

If customers don't see a fish in the case, Empire Fish has most anything in their wholesale room.

In Marketplace

The retail store was recently remodeled and continues to serve only the highest quality seafood.

Empire Fish reels in quality and sustainability


When Empire Fish Company opened in 1913, they were a small local purveyor of fish from Lake Michigan and the surrounding waters. Now nearly 100 years later, after a partnership with Nesvig's Inc., Empire Fish Company is a large-scale wholesaler and retailer of both local seafood and fish from distant waters.

Boasting a newly redesigned retail store and a full service wholesale market, Empire Fish Company is one of few local dealers for fresh fish, never frozen and sustainably caught from coastal waters.

"We choose to buy from small, specialty artisan guys who are specialized in what they do. I have an oyster guy and a mussel guy, everything is caught rod and reel," Dan Ryan, general manager and fresh seafood buyer says.

In 1994, Empire teamed with Nesvig's Inc., a meat purveyor located in Madison, Wis., to act as sister companies and share trucks and shipping methods.

Providing seafood to dozens of fine dining restaurants throughout Wisconsin, Empire Fish successfully maintains a high standard for both wholesale and retail products.

"Fish really is the last wild caught food source. Where it's caught, the technique used, how it's shipped, it's all critical to how it tastes," Ryan says.

Empire Fish doesn't mess around when it comes to getting fish fresh. Sending purchasers to the Honolulu auction floor, they purchase live seafood right off the boat, fly it in the next day and line the retail window with never frozen product.

"We're very hands on, picky and particular about the body of water, people we buy from and the way it's caught," Ryan says.

While there are government agencies that overseeing fisheries in the United States, there is no international overseeing body or standard for seafood in the world.

Therefore, to ensure they are getting the best product possible, Empire Fish places significant importance on the country of origin and method of harvest.

Buying both whitefish and smelt locally in Wisconsin, Empire uses Rushing Waters Fishery in Palmyra, Wis. for fresh and smoked trout.

"We purchase most fish domestically because of the sustainability. Fishermen in the United States consider the long term affects of fishing where in other parts of the world, they think in the short term," Ryan says.

In addition to a cold case full of fresh fish and shrimp, Empire Fish Company also carries a good selection of frozen fish for costumers looking to lower the price point. Stocking shelves with all the necessary seasonings, preparations and side dishes, Empire Fish Company literally is a one stop shop for those looking to prepare a seafood dinner.

"If it's seafood, we either have it, can get it or it's extinct," Ryan says.


Talkbacks

Tearsofwine | Aug. 27, 2009 at 5:17 p.m. (report)

This summer I wanted to cook a nice dinner, so I went to Empire and purchased a few pounds of wild salmon -- which tastes much nuttier and fresher than the farm raised stuff. I grilled it and paired it with a smokey but fruity Pinot Noir also from Empire. Each bite was fantastic, and I truly thought it was some of the best salmon I've had. I hope to return soon and I may try something a little more adventurous next time.

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Gonzo123 | Aug. 27, 2009 at 10:37 a.m. (report)

I am thrilled that this local gem is finally getting the exposure they deserve. I decided to pop into the store randomly one day and have been addicted to the quality and service ever since. I really don't believe that you can find this variety of seafood with the freshness and quality that they carry anywhere in the midwest. I have been out to Seattle to Pike Place Market. While they obviously have fresh fish, they certainly don't have the variety from all bodies of water that Empire does. I signed up for their email list on their website and receive updates a couple times a month with their specials and seasonal seafood - I really look forward to those. I have walked into the store without a clue for what I was looking to have for dinner and got great suggestions - not only on what was looking good that day, but also tips on how to cook the fish and a great valued wine to pair with the meal. Really can't say enough about this place and am glad they are getting some well earned exposure. Keep up the good work.

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rguardiola | Aug. 24, 2009 at 10:18 a.m. (report)

All the fresh salmon there is fantastic, especially when they have the Norwegian Salmon. Best I have ever had!

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brunocarlson | Aug. 24, 2009 at 9:30 a.m. (report)

i remember the lobster and crab tanks as a kid. I would watch them as my mother would wait in line. Sometimes being asked not to agitate the live seafood.

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BrewCityAllstar | Aug. 24, 2009 at 8:57 a.m. (report)

The Oysters and Tilapia I got there the first time I went last week turned out so well on the grill, I went back at the end of the week for Shrimp. They, too, were awesome. I'll be getting all of my fish there from here on out.

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