The clams, lobsters, oysters, and all types of fish are of the highest quality at Woodman’s of Essex. Steve Woodman, owner of Woodman’s of Essex, discusses where they get their seafood, sustainable fishing practices, and ensuring they serve only the best quality seafood to their customers. Listen or read more to find out about Woodman’s seafood quality.
John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Steve Woodman, one of the owners of Woodman’s of Essex, a restaurant and catering company in Essex, Massachusetts and today we’re talking about seafood quality. Welcome, Steve.
Steve Woodman: Thank you for having me.
John: Sure. So, Steve, as a restaurant owner and specifically a seafood restaurant owner, has the quality of the seafood that you use always been a really important consideration?
Steve: Always. I can remember actually growing up when I was a kid talking to my grandfather and back then they would shuck their own clams and he’d go down and dig them himself and he talked about the idea of you don’t add anything to clams. You don’t add water to the clams. That just fills them up with water and makes them less tasty and it actually breaks down your fat in your fryolators.
John: Okay. How would you add water to clams? What do you mean?
Steve: You always have to wash them.
Steve: You’re constantly washing them, getting the grit out and whatever, but you can just actually let them sit in that water for several hours or even days and they suck the water in and they fill up and so it fills up the container with actually less clams and more water.
John: Okay. And then like you said, when you put them in the fryolator, water and frying oil, if I know from cooking things at home, those don’t mix very well.
Steve: That’s right. So, the water comes out. The fat breaks down so the quality of fat is not as good so it’s always been a concern. It’s always been drilled in my head, you know, buy a product that hasn’t been added, you know, put into it.
Serving High-Quality Seafood Year-Round
John: Okay. So how do you ensure that you get that quality in the seafood that you’re purchasing especially throughout the year as obviously there’s different fish and seafood available at different seasons here in New England?
Steve: Well, our menu is pretty consistent. We don’t do a lot of changing and so we have the same type of seafood in all the time and of course, fried clams since my grandfather was the inventor of fried clam and Woodman’s is the first clam shack in history as far as we know . . .
Steve: . . . at least in New England and so forth, deep frying clams. Clams is a big concern, and actually a few years ago we went back to the same thing that my grandfather did. We’re buying clams directly from the diggers and we’re going to a shucking house and they’re shucking them to our specifications.
Steve: And so, we bring in the clams. We know they’re fresh. Many times, that the tide comes in and we buy them and I throw them right on the refrigerator truck and they go to the shucking house. I’m picking them up the next morning because they’re shucked early in the morning and we go and pick them up.
Steve: I know in terms of them washing them and cleaning them in the water that’s not going into them, not being soaked, you know, oversoaked or overcleaned or whatever you want to say because I know how many gallons of clams I’m supposed to get out of a bushel . . .
Steve: . . . and I can just look at them and tell that yeah, these are the quality and the type that I want and so that’s a way that we started again to go back to our roots and supplying our own and shucking our own clams.
Fresh Massachusetts Clams, Lobsters, and Fish
John: So, you’re getting these from local clam diggers right here in Essex, Massachusetts or nearby towns as well?
Steve: Most of them from Essex but yeah. From Ipswich. From Gloucester. We get some of the clams in. Yes.
John: Okay. And then like you said, those people, they’re cleaning them and washing them all to your own specifications so you know exactly how they’re in?
Steve: Exactly. Exactly.
John: What about the other seafood? I know you do a lot of lobsters here at Woodman’s. Where do those come from?
Steve: Most of them are local but sometimes we do get them in from Maine depending on how many we think we’re going to be using because we sell lobsters at the restaurant but we also have a catering business where we go out and cater clam bakes so the amount of lobsters in a certain week or a certain day can vary and if I can’t get the quantity of lobsters and the quality of lobsters that I’m looking for locally, we have contacts in Maine and we’ll bring lobsters down from Maine.
John: Okay. But otherwise, some places right here in Massachusetts? Boston, Manchester, places like that?
Steve: Right here in Essex. Right in Gloucester.
John: Right here.
John: Yeah. That’s great. What about . . . I know you do a lot of fried fish as well. Where does the fish come from?
Steve: Fish right now is coming from North Coast Seafoods in Boston. That aspect of getting our seafood or our fish from them took them a long time to break in and actually start selling us something. They were coming probably for two, three years the salesman and actually the owner of the company would come in to visit to try to get in and sell us something, whatever and I listened to him and talked to him for quite awhile until I was actually able to go to an event and had some oysters at a wedding and they were supplying the oysters for that wedding.
Steve: So, I had a lot of oysters that day . . .
Steve: . . . and they were fantastic and what they do is they get oysters from mostly Massachusetts and they’re farmed. They’re sustainable and they get them in and they actually, they have a wet storage license so they actually purge the oysters. They’re still live. They’re in the wet storage and their facility actually can kill bacteria that can grow.
John: Oh. I [crosstalk]
Steve: So, actually the oysters that I get from North Coast are cleaner than you can get fresh right out of the water.
John: Wow. Yeah. Yeah.
Steve: And so I don’t have to worry about that aspect of it and from the oysters we got into buying fish and scallops and shrimp from them and their quality process there, the way they handle getting the seafood in, cutting it, bringing it in, getting it fresh to our door, the way they deliver it, packaged in ice all the time, it’s one of the highest quality seafoods and fish that I’ve seen out there.
John: Right. Do you pay more for that seafood because of that, because of it being that high quality?
Steve: Oh yeah. When you’re buying quality and you know it’s being taken care of and you’re getting the quality that you want, yeah. You always pay a little bit more for it.
John: Right. But that’s worth it to you . . .
Steve: Oh yeah.
John: . . . to make sure that your customers are getting the best quality.
Steve: I want to make sure that we have the best that we can buy.
Sustainable Fishing Practices
John: Right. What about sustainable fishing? Is that a concern of yours and how are you addressing that as the owner of a seafood restaurant because I know that it’s concerning to, you know, a lot of consumers now to make sure that overfishing is not an issue and that we’re being nice to the environment?
Steve: Right. Well sustainable can be either wild caught or farmed . . .
Steve: . . . and there are different aspects to both and I’ll bring that to actually, to the clams. Clams are our main, the main thing that we sell and if we run out of clams, we’re out of business.
Steve: You know? Not out of business but the price goes up. There’s not as many around and the state has some regulations but each town have their own and the town of Essex where I buy most of our clams has always had programs in there so they don’t get overdug. They have limited the amount of commercial diggers that can go out there and dig in a season and they also limit the amount of clams they can dig in a tide.
And so, all of that aspect is sustainability to make sure there’s clams, you know, for the fall. Clams for the winter. They also will take different flats and close them for a different time and open up other flats at different times . . .
Steve: . . . to make sure there’s that rotation.
John: Right. To make sure that you’re not taking so many clams that you end up maybe the next season, there’s no clams available.
Steve: Right. And the state and federal government do that with a lot of type of seafood to make sure that, you know, that’s not being overfished or fish that has been overfished, there are limits so they shut them down so they start coming back and a lot of the fish is coming back. A lot of haddock out there now. A lot of cod. Cod’s coming back and so forth so that is working. That is happening and that’s great for local seafood places because the product’s coming back and we’re going to have fresh seafood.
John: Right. Do you find that, you know, I don’t know if you’re in touch directly with fishermen in the area. Do they feel the same way? Do they understand that these, you know, seasons and these times when maybe they are able to fish and times when they’re not able to fish, do they understand that or is it a difficult give and take between the fishermen and the seafood restaurants et cetera?
Steve: Well I don’t know about the fishermen and the restaurants. It’s hard for them when they get shut down . . .
Steve: . . . and they get limited —
John: Because it’s their livelihood. They want to be out there fishing.
Steve: That’s right . . .
Steve: . . . and, you know, they have to look for something else to do. Either they have to go for a different type of fish where they have to rig their other, their boats out to differently and it costs them money and time.
John: So, they might have to change by the season what they’re going after.
Steve: What they’re going after . . .
Steve: . . . and what they do. Yes.
John: Right. Alright. That’s really great information Steve. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Steve: Glad to be here.
John: Absolutely and for more information about Woodman’s Restaurant, visit the Woodman’s website at woodmans.com or call 978-768-6057.