Brian Colegate has built a business on saying yes. As the owner of the Santa Barbara Fish Market, his directives stem from customer requests, resulting in a flourishing business.
Colegate spent a summer working with his father, a local commercial fisherman, helping him understand the daily grind for those who supply him fresh catch. His father was also one of the original founders of The Shellfish Co. on Stearns Wharf, so he saw the restaurant business from an insider’s perspective.
Starting his career by working in the cutting room at the Saturday fish market, Colegate learned about handling the fish, processing volume orders and the daily pace of running a business. He also had some early business training from his mother, who raised and sold exotic birds. During high school, he helped her with the daily operations and gleaned helpful business basics.
Colegate said that much of his buying business is done on a handshake. He is loyal to his fishermen and vice versa.
“I pay a fair price and make it easy for them to do business, so we get the freshest catch,” he said.
The Fish Market, at 117 Harbor Way, Space A, buys seafood both from local fishermen and others throughout the world. In addition to his storefront at the Santa Barbara Harbor, Colegate has a thriving business selling to local restaurants.
“I’m only as good as the fish I sold yesterday,” said Colegate, acknowledging that customers expect him to have a wide variety at all times, so he must buy consistently and in volume.
Knowing he was wired to run his own company, Colegate said he likes doing something he sees as “real.”
“Our market offers a piece of local culture. We bring together the fishermen and the public,” he said. “Having fish caught that day on your dinner the same night is uniquely possible here.”
He also said he considers himself a good businessman and manager, adding, “I create a happy environment, which trickles down to the employees and customers. This ultimately creates a well-functioning team.”
Favorites at the Fish Market include ahi tuna, halibut and salmon. Colegate notes that spot prawn season is opening now. He names the shark jerky as one of the Fish Market’s most exotic items.
And he offered interesting trivia: Black cod is caught between 4,000 and 6,000 feet deep 50 miles off the Santa Barbara shore. While the Fish Market doesn’t make sushi, it does carry sushi-grade fish at the retail front, next to the Santa Barbara Yacht Club.
The Santa Barbara Fish Market is celebrating its 10th year in business. Colegate employs 25 workers and plans to add a new facility this year to process the restaurant orders. On average, the Santa Barbara Fish Market distributes about 10,000 pounds of fish weekly. He estimates that 25 percent of that is done at retail and the remainder through restaurant sales.
Its Seafood Club notifies customers of weekly specials and offers a 10 percent discount. Click here for more information or to sign up.