"Seafood is a huge part of the culture here,” says Victoria Andrade. She and husband Davy, a second-generation fishmonger and quahogger, and her father-in-law David, who founded the company, run Andrade’s Catch, a Bristol mainstay. “Quality is so important to Rhode Islanders.”
Raised on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Andrade moved to Rhode Island to attend Johnson and Wales. “It’s the ‘I fell in love with Rhode Island’ story,” she says with a laugh. She got a job at Stock Culinary Goods in Providence, and credits the owner Jan Dane as one of the reasons why she stuck around. She met Davy through a friend “four, maybe five years ago,” she says. Last year, after some COVID delays, she married into a family that’s a Bristol institution.
Their wedding wasn’t the only thing the pandemic forced them to transform. Andrade’s Catch went from an 80 percent wholesale base to a model that embraced multiple income streams, like retail sales as well as a new shucking operation. “It’s organically evolving all the time,” she says, noting that it’s good to have different parts of the business to draw from during sluggish times. “When retail slows down [after the summer season], we still have our steady restaurants.”
Fishing is as unpredictable as the weather, unsurprisingly since it’s so dependent on it. The day we spoke, Andrade shared that high winds kept all of the fishing boats out of the water. “On a good day, we’ll have 20 or 30 local fishermen in here selling their catch,” she says. But they make daily trips to the New Bedford fish houses to supplement the day boats, always ensuring that they have the freshest fish available for sale.
“Sustainability is important to us,” she says, noting that their new shucking operation is part of their sustainability practices. After shucking the quahogs in-house, they cut them up and flash-freeze the catch, preserving it at peak freshness. Then they sell it for use in clam chowder and other New England delicacies. “These are quahogs right off the local boats,” she says, explaining that they clean the shells and either sell them in the store for stuffies, or send them to the oyster estuaries so they go straight back into the water.
While the shucking operation was in the works a solid year before COVID hit, Andrade explains that it took some time to get it up and running. “We had to build a shucking room,” she says, which needed FDA approval. “That’s hard to achieve because they are so stringent.”
One of the happy accidents of the pandemic was that it increased their retail business, but their shop wasn’t set up for the increased foot traffic. “The original store was basically divided in half,” she explains. One half was taken up by the fridge displaying the fish; this was for retail. The other half was dedicated to the commercial fishermen bringing in their catch. That side also included the giant clam sorter. “So we had a loud machine in the retail area,” she says, chuckling. “We had to make it work for everyone.”
The solution was to build a new hub for the commercial fishermen behind their existing location. “The fisherman can unload their catch, grab a cup of coffee, and wait for their count,” she says. That doubled the retail space. Calling on her Stock experience, Andrade filled it with hard-to-find pantry items, like Fish Wife, the tinned fish company with a cult following, as well as local faves including Beth Bakes, Pickily, Z Pita Chipz, and Rhed’s Hot Sauce. “We also carry a lot of unique condiments and ingredients specific to seafood dishes like cioppino and paella.”
The shift in the types of local seafood the fleets catch has not gone unnoticed by Andrade, who says that they are spending extra time educating their customers about what to do with an exotic fish. “One thing we love about our retail customers is they trust us.” Andrade was heartened by the increase in people buying whole fish after she began offering cooking instructions for it last year.
She and Davy even go on the road, hosting shucking events at local restaurants to demystify the process so you can enjoy your favorite mollusks at home. “Those are fun,” she says. “You’re slurping oysters and littlenecks. It’s more cocktail party than class.
“It’s really important to Davy and myself to keep the traditional aspect alive, and pay tribute to what Gigi did,” says Andrade, referring to husband Davy’s mom, who founded the business with her husband and worked side by side with the elder Andrade until she passed away in 2006. “But it’s important that we stay flexible and on the cutting edge.”
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