Two decades of Superior Fish in Ladner
The arrangement and colourful presentation of seafood delights as one enters Superior Fish in Ladner is practically artistic.
There are gray oysters, mussels, prawns, and clams, pink shrimp, pickled and salted herring, followed by reddish-brown smoked and jerky salmon, white crab cakes, red snapper in Thai sauce, and wild frozen sockeye.
After 20 years in their Ladner business, owners and first cousins Debbie Wilson and Kari Dobrilla have got a winning formula.
"My mother told me I could be anything I wanted. I chose fish," says Dobrilla, laughing as she talks to a customer.
Her friendly banter and straight talk isn't just put on for customer service. Dobrilla belongs to five generations of fishers in Ladner, beginning with her great grandfather, who moved to Canada from then-Yugoslavia.
Her grandfather and father also fished, as did her siblings.
"The only fisherman left is my brother now," says Dobrilla, adding it's a tough go to make it as a commercial fisherman on the Fraser River these days.
But that doesn't mean business is slow. Ladner and Tsawwassen residents love their seafood.
"Consumer demand for fish is big," she says. "Salmon and halibut are our two best sellers."
Wilson started the business in its original location on River Road in front of Bella Coola Fisheries in 1980, before moving to Surrey, Richmond, and finally Ladner in 1992. That's when Kari Dobrilla came on board to become partners with her cousin.
Superior Fish was originally named after another family company named Superior Seafoods.
"But I think Debbie would tell you it's because our fish are superior," laughs Dobrilla.
Their largest supplier is from Lionsgate Fisheries in Ladner and they're always looking to be as fresh and local as possible.
When they started out it was pretty simple, just carrying fish, but then they brought in casual clothing. After some tinkering, they've settled on a mix of seafood, casual wear and gourmet products.
It's these hard-to-find products that makes Superior Fish an ongoing success in Ladner, bringing in specialty products like canned tuna from Vancouver Island, or gluten-free and organic food.
Dobrilla says that although it's fashionable today, their business was opposed to farmed salmon from the very beginning. In fact, they don't carry any farmed fish at all. Even the prawns are wild.
"We've always been anti-farm. The environmental damage it does on our oceans is enough reason. It was a hard sell at first because people didn't want to eat frozen fish during the winter."
But people have slowly come around, and there's plenty of fresh seafood even as the calendar turns to December.
The business also tries to carry as many local products of vendors from the Ladner Market as possible to carry them through the winter season.
For many vendors, it's a chance to have their products start out in a local supermarket.
"We know how hard it is for the little guy to start up a business," says Dobrilla, reflecting on the past 20 years.
"Yeah, we're a little guy, too."
Dobrilla doesn't fish anymore, focusing solely on running the business. But she remembers her summers as a kid fondly, fishing with her dad. Although she inherited the fish industry, it's a choice she's never regretted.
"I love my job. I love the physical aspect of it. It's the only thing I know. I've been doing this since I was 14."