According to Sylvia Puckett, joint owner of JS Fresh Fish located in the university city of Southampton, 60% of her footfall customers are from a diverse selection of nationalities. They include Portuguese, Spanish, Italians, Polish, Japanese, Lebanese, and Chinese – all of whom, according to Sylvia, love fish. The students among them need some help with recipes for what they’re buying. It’s this lack of knowledge which informs some of Sylvia’s businesses’ future.
“We serve an extravaganza of fish,” she says. “As well as our fish counter, existing deli, and our pop-up restaurant, we plan to open a fish and chip shop, to sell sauces made on site, and fish cakes and fingers, and to open a fish cookery school.”
Sylvia is no stranger to seeing her plans come to fruition. Her current premises is in our beautiful marina on the River Itchen. Sylvia and her husband invested just shy of a quarter million into the property after a progressive career in the fish trade which started with telesales, veered into brokerage and has come out the other end with a top of the line premises and a fish counter to die for.
The fish trade wasn’t Sylvia’s first choice of career. She started out as a printer, and also enjoyed stints as a waitress picking up people and sales skills along the way which were easily transferred.
“After a couple of years working for someone else, I thought why not work for myself?” Sylvia explains. “I set up own brokerage from home in 1999 buying fish from ports and selling to customers like fishmongers and large catering establishments. I moved a tonne of fish a day with an annual turnover of £1m. And while it was really good fun and I loved it, I never saw a fish. By the time I had a sales team of four in my garage, I decided it was time for a premises.”
Sylvia moved the business to a temporary office in Chandlers Ford, Hampshire employed more people and started to diversify. She employed a sales team to sell directly to top end restaurants in London but it soon became apparent that this wasn’t the best fit at the time, given that restaurants wanted their fish to arrive processed – skinned, fileted and portioned – and the company didn’t have the capability for processing.
At the same time, Sylvia was being contacted by fishermen who were looking for someone to land their fish.
“There’s lots of legislation involved to land fish,” Sylvia explains. “You need a licence and to register every fish that’s landed, and pay direct levies. it all needs inputting into a website that monitors quotas. You need to be complaint with sustainability and traceability with handling fish, and it’s a lot of work.”
Not one to be deterred, Sylvia began working with a fisherman from Lymington, collecting his bass and taking it back to the garage to prepare and box.
“It was then,” Sylvia laughs, “that it became really evident we needed different premises if we were taking this step and I fell in love with Shamrock Quay. I wanted a premises which was special and excellent, not rough and ready. Somewhere where fishermen could land their catch. And somewhere that we could build our business.”
The premises was previously a machine shop, which Sylvia says was perfect for her needs. She signed the lease in April 2015, and six months later, after her team and ours had finished upgrading the property, opened the doors to our circa 200 berth holders, other tenants and wider community.
As well as the brilliant fish counter that’s open for business five days a week, the company picked up a processing contract from a Trout farm in Romsey, fileting and pin-boning a 1,000 fish a week to go onto Carnival cruise ships, and took on landing catch for four fishermen.
“Their Solent and Channel haul includes dover sole, plaice, bass, dogfish, bream, red mullet, skate and cod,” Sylvia says. “Part of the design of the building was to enable them to fish and land their catch. We want to be as supportive as we can be. For lots of fishermen it’s a part time job or hobby as they can’t establish a livelihood.
“We also buy from every port in the UK and import from Europe on a daily basis, – brokerage of tuna, sardine, mackerel, squid, from Cornwall, Scotland and Shetland – you’ve got to have diversity to give people proper service. We pride ourselves in sourcing all customer requirements.
“Over the years we’ve built an amazing team. As well as my husband who is totally supportive I’ve got a loyal staff who are very skilled and knowledgeable. Kelly has been with us for 14 years, Maureen eight, Derek five and most of the guys in the shop have been with us since it opened.
“It’s a magnificent blend, people and food,” finishes Sylvia, “and being in such a stunning location, with brilliant support from MDL staff, means we can continue to grow our plans into reality – with more people appreciating the benefits of buying local.”
MDL members can stay at Shamrock Quay for free as part of their membership (Freedom Berthing) and make the most of JS Fish’s counter, cooking advice and occasional pop-op restaurant (check JS’s website for details of opening times). Other visitors will pay a small mooring fee but have access to the fish shop and other tenants on site.