Less than a year after launching Dock to Dish, a community-supported fishery bringing same-day seafood to its subscribers, Sean Barrett, the company’s co-founder, is diving headfirst into the restaurant industry.
In January, Mr. Barrett and his team of fishermen completed North America’s first restaurant-supported fishery (RSF), after a full, three-month season on the docks. The RSF, like a community supported fishery, gets its legs from the farm-to-table business model, where subscribers pay an advanced membership fee and receive locally grown produce, or in this case fish, on a weekly basis.
“We’re basically taking our CSF to the next level and applying it to restaurants,” said Mr. Barrett, who spent his childhood fishing on the Shinnecock Canal and has spent the past 25 years fishing in Montauk. “We looked at the [farm-to-table] business model and realized that this is the missing piece to the puzzle.”
Mr. Barrett has essentially turned the concept of traditional supply and demand on its head, dictating what fish will be served at participating restaurants based on that day’s catch, which must be rated sustainable or abundant by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s FishWatch program.
“A lot of times I’ll be texting some of these chefs at the last minute, letting them know what kind of 50 pounds of fish will be delivered,” Mr. Barrett said. “Sometimes, even in the midst of divvying up fish for that day’s delivery, more, even fresher fish will come to the dock, so we’ve got to include that too.”
Because the unique business model does not allow for much planning on the restaurants’ end, Mr. Barrett has curtailed his participants to the best of the best, from Montauk to Manhattan.
“We only work specifically with chefs who are that versatile,” Mr. Barrett said.
Among them are Dan Barber, chef and owner at Blue Hill; Eric Ripert, co-owner and chef at Le Bernardin; Bill Telepan, chef and owner at Telepan and Telepan Local; Michael Anthony, chef at Gramercy Tavern; Joe Realmuto, executive chef at Nick & Toni’s, Nick & Toni’s café, Rowdy Hall, La Fondita, Honest Catering, and Townline BBQ; Floyd Cardoz, executive chef at North End Grill; Gabriel Kreuther, executive chef at The Modern of The Museum of Modern Art; and chefs April Bloomfield, Jeff Schwarz and Jean Georges.
Mr. Barber has been one of Dock to Dish’s biggest inspirations thus far, getting many of these chefs on board.
“He’s just so authentic and forward-thinking,” said Mr. Barrett. “Dan really knocked down the doors to make the whole program succeed.”
But despite Dock to Dish’s exceptional product, there is an inevitable risk for restaurants that purchase three months of fish in advance, leaving the program’s success up to trust and a passion shared by Mr. Barrett and the restaurants.
“Dan put his full faith in us,” said Mr. Barrett. “He said, ‘I’ll put my name on the line and financially I’ll support anyone who’s coming to you guys. A lot of these small startups seemed to not have the ability to do this upfront, and Dan really squashed that.”
Dock to Dish will start its second RSF season in mid-April and continue working on the logistical end of the business for the next few months, including taking a trip to D.C. to meet with Senator Charles Schumer, a Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance conference in New Bedford, Massachusetts and connecting with more local commercial fisherman to boost the dock side of the company.
“We’re hoping that eventually this will be a concept that the rest of the country can use,” Mr. Barrett said. “As they say, think globally, act locally.”