Wholesale supplier Fish Guys Inc. is moving beyond the sea, offering area restaurants and retailers land-based meats raised in an ethical manner.
Fish Guys, known in the Twin Cities food scene for quality seafood, is expanding its network to include cattle, chicken and pork.
Though small compared to some of the national distributors, the 25-year-old company is Minnesota’s largest wholesale supplier of seafood and has earned a reputation of supplying Minnesota restaurants and retailers with sourcing details about its fish, including where it came from, how it was shipped or even the fisherman who caught it.
Mike Higgins, Fish Guys’ owner and chief executive, saw an opportunity to build a similar pipeline for land-based meats. Over the past year, he hired four chefs, including James Beard-award winner Tim McKee, to help guide the company’s foray into meat.
McKee spearheaded the new Market House Collaborative, a restaurant and retail destination in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood. He sees a huge demand among chefs for meat sourced from family farms, raised in a humane way or in a way that uses good land management practices.
“Chefs spend a lot of time trying to hunt down these products because generally they are less available, or the farmer doesn’t have the time to transport it,” McKee said. “We want to provide information and a better relationship to the farms and farmers themselves. That is something consumers are increasingly interested in.”
Though not formally launching until Thursday, this new division of Fish Guys — called Market House Meats and led by John Gibson — already has sold about $1 million in products. Over the next three years, the expansion is expected to double the St. Louis Park company’s sales revenue of more than $50 million.
A key difference from its seafood business, which uses distribution channels to get fish from the ocean to Minnesota, is that 90 percent of this new supply line will come from ranchers and farmers in the Upper Midwest, Higgins said.
Fish Guys approached Eric Kreidermacher, owner of Pork & Plants Heritage Farm about 20 miles west of Winona, with the proposal of joining its distribution network.
Kreidermacher does direct sales with customers, but sees this as a chance to sell more with little extra work.
“There’s only a certain amount of production I can produce to maintain the quality,” said Kreidermacher, who sells high-end, pasture-raised beef and pork. “There is a cap to all this, but there is room for them to market my additional animals without me having to actually expand.”
Andy Peterson, rancher and co-owner of Peterson Craftsman Meats in Osceola, Wis., does all his own distribution and also recently opened a retail counter at the Market House Collaborative. He signed up to be a supplier of lamb, beef and pork to Fish Guys because the company would allow him to maintain those direct deliveries while also giving him access to new markets — such as Duluth and Rochester — that he doesn’t have time to reach by truck.
Peterson Craftsman Meats breaks down the entire animal carcass.
“And sometimes it’s hard to move some of those parts,” he said. “That was the third advantage to working with [Fish Guys]. Hopefully this means we will be able to freeze less product.”
Every farm offers its own specialty, so “there aren’t necessarily any boxes we are checking” in terms of sustainability standards, Higgins said.
“But part of our job is to educate chefs on what is out there,” he said. “Most of the chefs we work with are artists and they want to know what they are working with.
Higgins said he also loves the idea of selling meat from family-owned farms.
“That idea really resonates with consumers,” he said.