Shoes of the Fishermen: The Bolger Brothers Celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Huron Fish Company

Posted In: Culture, Restaurants, Community Profiles,   From Issue 782   By: Robert E Martin

19th December, 2013     0

One prediction as we enter 2014 is that it’s going to be a big year for celebrations in the Old Town Business District.   For as the Review embarks upon its 35 year of publishing, our neighbors at Huron Fish Company are marking their 30th Anniversary as one of the premier retailers for fresh fish and seafood spanning the globe - so as we embark upon a New Year, there’s more than one reason to break out the creamed herring, caviar, and champagne.

When brothers Tom & Mike Bolger under the guidance of their father, Bob Bolger, first opened the doors of Huron Fish Company in September, 2013, little did they realize that thirty years later they would be selling thousands fresh shrimps to customers for the holidays, let alone operating one of the tastiest, varied, and affordably priced lunch & dinner seafood Take-Out establishments in the Great Lakes Bay – but then again, they always say that a good fisherman makes his own luck.

Any successful business must possess a core ingredient of passion; and for Tom & Mike their love for seafood started early, when they would regularly fish the Great Lakes of Michigan with their father. The original ‘Huron Fish’ was actually located in Sebawaing 30 years before the Bolgers took it over for one year before making the decision to move the operation to its current location at 505 Gratiot, on the corner of S. Michigan & Mackinaw.

“I was going to Delta back then and we used to live over by the old Jerome school,” recalls Tom, “when My Dad said he wanted to try opening a retail fish & seafood business in Saginaw. This building was once a gas station and we worked our tails off to get it started, putting most of the money back into the business. Dr. Shaheen owned the building and we first rented it and then eventually bought the building from him.”

Both Tom & Mike explain that their key goal from the inception of Huron was to offer the freshest fish available from the wholesale markets. “Fish markets come and go, but it’s hard to find outlets that sell truly fresh seafood,” continues Tom. “Many factors distinguish us, but without doubt the variety of selection we offer is an important factor – everything from fresh perch & walleye to tuna, rainbow trout, and more exotic items like live lobster (flown in from Maine) or clams brought in from the East Coast. 

Plus the brothers have patented their special talents for concocting fresh salmon dips, whitefish pate, and crab salad; in addition to wood smoking all their own fish. And best of all, any fresh seafood item that you find in the counter can be cooked, broiled, baked, or lightly battered fried for only $2.00 additional per pound.

“This wasn’t always the case,” explains Mike. “We went and visited friends in Lansing that had a similar fish market; and they had a sit-down area where they would serve fish cakes and all variety of dinners.  We also wanted to start cooking here because we started doing a lot of wholesale orders, until Gordon’s and Cisco got into it and pretty much took it over.  So we started out cooking here with just a couple deep friars, which was about 12 years later from when we first got into the business.”

Today Huron Fish Company derives as much revenue from their Take-Out business as they do their retail sales. And during the Lenten season the brothers say it’s hard to keep up with orders, which is probably due to the fact their cooking methods serve up such tasty dinners & lunches.  The brothers have their own recipe for battering fish that was developed through trial & error; and is absolutely delectable, largely because it is light and flavorful, as opposed to thickly breaded batters served at many restaurants.

And if you are hungry for those huge tiger shrimp, the Bolger’s can cook them up for you deep-fried, Cajun-style, or like a scampi; plus all of their dinners come with fries or a stuffed baked potato, coleslaw, and a few crispy hush puppies.  Call ahead for lunch, and I guarantee you will have the best fish sandwich with cheese & tarter that you’ve ever witnessed; one hundred times better and at approximately the same cost as a McDonald’s Fish Sandwich.

In terms of challenges, both brothers admit that pricing is the biggest issue with seafood right now.  “The prices for fresh seafood are changing a lot right now,” explains Mike, “and we work with about five different suppliers – some in Michigan and a couple in Canada. It’s pretty expensive to have seafood shipped, and many of these larger suppliers we work with can ship it cheaper, but you have to watch everything closely.”

“Lake Perch have actually went down in pricing,” notes Tom. “When we first opened in Sebewaing back in ’83 we were selling filets for $2.00 per pound. Then a couple years ago it went up to $15 or $15.00 per pound; but now it’s coming down again. Bolger says the reason for this is largely due to the quotas for catching Perch that are set on the Great Lakes.  He also warns that many restaurants are using European Perch, which isn’t as tasteful as Lake Perch, but a route many restaurants are pursuing because of the price.”

“Shrimp has also taken a big jump,” he continues. “A lot of them are going to China because the Orientals are buying up shrimp and paying top dollar for everything that is caught. Even our wild shrimp here are going overseas; but over here in the United States, nobody wants the Chinese seafood; and we don’t sell it.”  A wise move given the pollution that China is experiencing with its waterways, which has also given rise to numerous farm raised shrimp.

Between the fish counter that lines two walls Huron Fish Company also offers everything from seafood breading to rubs and flavored oils and vinegars, along with sumptuous clammed chowder and lobster bisque. Alas, one item that is no longer available is Turtle Soup, which disappeared as large turtles have become so rare and endangered.

With the holidays upon us, activity at Huron Fish is humming. “This is a busy time of the year for us preparing Shrimp Party Trays,” explains Tom. “When we first started we would have eight people peeling shrimp; but now we get them peeled and de-veined, so it’s easier to keep up.” We still cook everything fresh right here.”

When asked if they’ve given thought to opening more locations, both Bolgers say they are content to keep the good thing they have in Old Town going. “Out boys are now coming into it a bit, but we’ve paid the building off, are able to make a decent living from what we do, and are not that eager to add additional debt that is often required to expand with new locations.  Plus we like to keep an eye on everything that we do, as personal attention is what keeps the quality high.”

“Fortunately, when we first moved here and opened things took right off.  I’m glad to say that 30 years later we are still going strong.”

Huron Fish Company is open from 9 am to 7 pm Tuesday through Friday and Monday & Saturday are open from 9 am to 6 pm.  They are also open Christmas Eve & New Year’s Eve from 8 am to 6 pm.  They offer a complete line of fish, smoked fish, seafood, take-out dinners and party trays.


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