Seafood evangelist Andrew Gruel drawing crowds to Calico Fish House
After Andrew Gruel and his wife Lauren sold their interest in Slapfish, the Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A., fast-casual seafood restaurant chain in July 2022, they knew they wanted to focus on a smaller concept in which they could source local, sustainable, and Fair Trade-certified seafood.
Andrew and Lauren Gruel realized that vision with Calico Fish House, which opened in Huntington Beach in January 2023. Calico Fish House serves up at least seven different types seafood daily, focusing on items that are locally available, fresh, and in-season. Current featured menu items include Baja Fish Tacos, Lobster Deviled Eggs, All-American Crab Cake, as well as oysters, tuna poke, fish and chips, and jumbo roasted sea scallops.
Gruel said his seafood sourcing philosophy is “local, farmed, like-minded, and sustainable,” and that it was crafted in the wake of his partnership in 2019 with MH Slapfish Capital LLC, a restaurant division of Mac Haik, on the running of the 22-unit Slapfish chain. Gruel said through that process, he realized he wanted more sway in sourcing decisions.
Gruel said he enjoys telling customers the story of the seafood he serves in his restaurant. He said Californians are more likely to try seafood while eating out than buying it to cook at home, giving him a prime opportunity to “evangelize.”
“We can be engaging with the guests, really educating them on seafood and telling the story,” Gruel told SeafoodSource. “Over time at Slapfish, we had to back into a more static menu. Now, we can really start playing with different species and get people to try those.”
One of Calico Fish House’s primary purveyors is OC Wild in Long Beach, California. Craig Jacobs, the owner of OC Wild, has been a commercial fisherman for over 25 years, and he sells the restaurant spiny lobster, halibut, calico bass, California box crab, and other local specialties.
“Most restaurants have a lot of seafood coming in from China. I’m not saying we get all our fish from the U.S., but 60 to 70 percent of my sales come from local seafood – fishermen dropping off seafood to my door,” Gruel said.
The Fair Trade certification is also important to Gruel. Calico Fish House uses Fair Trade-certified wild blue Mexican shrimp from Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.-based Del Pacifico Seafoods for its grilled shrimp and its shrimp sliders.
“This aligns with our philosophy of doing business as well. The average person says sustainable means ‘no chemicals’ or maybe ‘organic,’ but they don’t think about the trade,” Gruel said. “Their wild-caught blue Mexican shrimp are processed the same day they are caught and have a clean, naturally sweet flavor, with no added chemicals or preservatives.”
Gruel is a “huge fan” of aquaculture and offers Atlantic farmed salmon alongside wild salmon so customers can choose which one they would like. He buys sustainably-certified salmon from Verlasso Salmon and Marine Harvest Canada and is sourcing Aquaculture Stewardship Council-certified trout from Riverence Holdings in Boise, Idaho, U.S.A.
“The world has come so far in terms of sustainable seafood. We have our philosophy on sustainability, which is more about offering people different options, letting them decide, and offering full transparency,” Gruel said.
Gruel he believes in …
Photo courtesy of Del Pacifico Seafood