Fla. retailer finds success in restaurant space
A Dunedin, Fla., café that opened in a decades-old fish market is actually out-performing the retail space.
Walt Wickman opened 1,500-square-feet Olde Bay Café in the Dunedin Fish Market a year-and-a-half ago, and it has gained quite a following. “The main challenge we have is being so small,” said Walt about the 50-seat café. “People have a tough time getting in here on the weekends.” Wickman attributes part of the café’s success to its location in a marina.
Plus, the fish market and eatery are located in popular downtown Dunedin, a Scottish-style town on the West Coast of Florida, known for its art galleries and shops. Locals and tourists flock to Olde Bay Café for fish tacos, sandwiches and dinner specials made with local grouper, snapper, hogfish and other seafood items. Florida oysters are featured daily when they are in season.
Wickman was thrilled to get the Dunedin Fish Market back into the family — the business was started by his father in 1971 — when he bought it from an employee who owned the retail space for 12 years. Wickman, a chef, was also looking for another spot to spread his culinary wings after selling his restaurant, Walt’s Seasonal Cuisine.
Dunedin Fish Market specializes in local seafood, including grouper, snapper, hogfish, cobia, Apalachicola oysters and stone crabs. Farm-raised salmon, along with sockeye salmon and king salmon from Alaska, are also some of the market’s top sellers. The market owns a grouper boat and buys from other local fishermen and distributors.
Operating a joint fish market and restaurant is symbiotic for both businesses. “People come into the café and try something out. Then, on the way out, they will buy the fish,” said Wickman. Still, Olde Bay Café accounts for about 75 percent of the company’s business because of the competitive seafood environment, according to Wickman.
“Competition is so stiff with Publix, Sam’s Club and other stores nearby,” said Wickman. “People come to us for high-end, local fish.”