By Brittany Tiplady
Jenice Yu is a force. You may have seen her live on a CTV or CBC segment, or maybe you’ve followed one of her delightful seasonal recipes on BC Living, MONTECRISTO Magazine, or Western Living. Or, maybe, you’ve stopped into one of her fish shops, Fresh Ideas Start Here (f.i.s.h.), for some fresh seafood and a poke bowl to-go.
Yu is a savvy business woman, an Ocean Wise advocate, seafood expert, a recipe developer and one of the most beloved entrepreneurs in Metro Vancouver. Her accolades are many. She’s been lauded as ‘Supplier of the Year’ by Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards, just a few years after opening her first f.i.s.h. location, and is recognized province-wide for her knowledge and passion for sustainable seafood.
At a young age, Yu and her family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong. The fish processing business became a family business, paving the career path for Yu at an early age. Before the conversation of sustainability became a part of our cultural norm, Yu was invested in local waters–going to school with lunches filled with local seafood: BC spot prawns (not Tiger prawns) local salmon, and lingcod.
Yu’s mission is to elevate and promote the abundance of healthy fish that we have in BC oceans. Her passion came to life when she opened her first f.i.s.h. store in South Burnaby on Market Crossing. She now has a second location in Kitsilano, a thriving wholesale business, and nearly every influential chef in Vancouver on speed dial: everybody wants in on Yu’s fresh, OceanWise, beautiful seafood.
In 2010, Yu launched Sakura Seafood in Richmond, BC: an additional supplier business that would allow her to smoke local, sustainable seafood without additives or preservatives, generating another signature product at f.i.s.h. (called Schmoked Salmon) that has customers returning again, and again.
I sat down with Yu at her Burnaby store to chat about her businesses, sustainable seafood, her involvement with OceanWise, and balancing it all as a new mother.
Can you explain the concept of both of your stores?
Jenice Yu: We have two retail stores and also do wholesale. We sell to about 70 high-end restaurants in the city; award winning restaurants. We do healthy seafood bowls ready to go at our fish bar–the fish bar is new, we just started doing this at both stores last year.
We’re finding now that with everyone’s busy schedules, people just love to have things on-the-go. There are two types of customers that come in here: one that comes in to buy a raw piece of fish and start from scratch; the home cooks, the foodies, it’s a new kind of demographic that’s coming through really wanting to cook. These people want to make a salmon wellington on the weekend. The other type of customer we commonly get is someone who wants their products pre-marinated, or they want to grab a bowl from our fish bar that are ready to go. And we can accommodate both!
Where does your fish come from?
Yu: For the most part, all of the ingredients we have in our stores are purveyed by us, whether through the direct licenses of the boats that we use, or from fishermen that I’ve known my whole life; we know exactly how they are fishing, how the fish enter our facility and how they are prepped. Nothing is overly processed, and almost everything is done by hand. There’s a lot of care and attention put into the products that we make.
Items carried in the store are OceanWise and that means that they are sustainable, mindfully caught fish that aren’t affecting the environment.
What made you start your wholesale businesses?
Yu: When I first opened this store ten years ago, I was doing everything: I was on the floor, I was cutting all the fish, every single thing was me. The first year was really tough because we weren’t getting enough customers coming through; [Market Crossing] was not developed like it is now. I grew up in the fishing community and industry, and a lot of the fisherman I grew up knowing were coming down to the store and showering me with beautiful products and this fish had nowhere to go. I worked in restaurants for years, and began to call up the chefs I had made relationships with, and offer them this beautiful fish I had coming in.
One of my first wholesale customers was Robert Clark: the godfather of sustainable seafood. He was one of my first supporters in buying my beautiful fish and since then we actually have not cold called any customers. They are all by referral and they are all amazing top award-winning restaurants. We have a great repertoire, and it all started with the early supporters.
Can you tell us about some of the unique products on the shelves (and in the fridge) at f.i.s.h?
Yu: The smoked salmon (known at Fresh Ideas Start Here as “Shmoked Salmon”) that we have is very unique because it is both sourced and smoked by us. We source the fish directly from the boat, we season it on our own, temper it, and smoke it. The whole process is very transparent and we are quite proud of it. And of course, we carry some beautiful uni during its season.
The cakes that we have (crab, halibut, shrimp, and lingcod) are a hit; on Wednesdays we do a “cake Wednesday” special and it’s buy two get one free. It gets crazy– everything is made by hand so you can really taste the love and attention that goes behind these products.
The salmon sausages are one of our best secret sellers. We don’t advertise them too much, but they silently fly off the shelves. You can cook them like a regular sausage or put them in a hot dog bun. I like to break them open in the casing and turn it into a stir fry because then you have amazing grounded, seasoned, salmon meat. It’s also amazing on some tofu-or sprinkle it on noodles. It’s a really versatile item.
Can you tell us about your involvement with Ocean Wise?
Yu: Ocean Wise and I have the same message that we try to get out there: sustainability. Here at f.i.s.h. we focus on sustainability from a local standpoint, but we have worked very closely with Ocean Wise and we communicate a lot. When something drops off the charts, and it’s no longer Ocean Wise we are very active to make sure we get the product out of our store, or when something is announced that it is now Ocean Wise we work to try and promote that product.
What made you decide to expand with a second store in Kitsilano?
Yu: Our expansion was basically a demand from people’s request. We also have a lot of restaurant customers that are from Vancouver, so just from our existing core of clients and clientele, we knew that was our next step. And we love Kits!
Do you find yourself dining around Vancouver a lot, seeing as your product is very prominent all over the city?
Yu: I’m quite privileged to sell to a lot of great restaurants, so I get invited to try out their new menus and sometimes I am asked to contribute ideas to their new menus. You really have to build a relationship with a restaurant to know what they want. Often I’ll know what’s in season, or things like lingcod collar that aren’t so abundant or popular will come up and I can present them to a chef and a restaurant. [Chefs and the restaurants I work with] have been an integral part of my business. We work with Maenam, Burdock&Co., Farmer’s Apprentice, Ask for Luigi, Hawksworth–amazing places.
How is Fresh Ideas Start Here different from other fish stores or markets?
Yu: As a child I remember going to so many fish markets and wanting to plug my nose. That doesn’t usually happen here. Other than when we sell herring, that’s a really strong-smelling fish! I always wanted to achieve having a clean, sleek, friendly, informative store. Our customers know that what we are selling is sustainable, local, and fresh.
Anything else you want to add about your stores and your career, Jenice?
Yu: I just gave birth five months ago. My husband is in the family business as well, so that of course really helps. But people keep saying to me ‘I love that you haven’t stopped working,’ but I want to tell them ‘No! I don’t want to be working as much as I am, but when you own a business and people’s livelihoods depend on you, you got to come to work.’ If you give birth to a child, stay home! I do this because this is my business. Let’s not shame any other moms that get to stay home and rest with their baby. Although, I grew up in a fish plant, and I want my son to come with me to work and see that it’s normal to watch mom hustle. It is so nice that we get to do this all as a family, even if we are all working at the office, we’re together.
As our interview ends, Yu sends me off with a box of candied salmon and cod with various flavours to enjoy on the way home. The perfect way to end an exquisite interview? I think so.
Fresh Ideas Start Here
2959 W Broadway, Vancouver
Open 7 days a week
Fresh Ideas Start Here
#180 -7515 Market Crossing, Burnaby
Open 7 days a week
Follow @freshideasstarthere on Instagram for product updates and recipes.