BGBS 043: Laura and Peter Ramsden | Foley Fish | Fresh Off the Boat for 114 Years
Laura and Peter Ramsden are proud fourth-generation owners of Foley Fish, a seafood processing company founded by Laura’s great grandfather in 1906. (That’s 114 years!) Laura and Peter are sure to keep you captivated with Foley Fish’s rich history from its roots at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Massachusetts to the differentiated pivots that are being made today.
We talk about how the effects of COVID-19 became an opportunity for a new, yet familiar form of business, the process of keeping fish 100% natural and sustainable, and the beauty of working with a spouse. Laura and Peter also educate us about the diversity of fish flavors and remind us to keep trying new fish if we feel discouraged. With that in mind we ask, how can we all try something new today?
In this episode, you’ll learn…
- Foley Fish was founded in 1906 by Laura’s great grandfather, an Irish fishmonger selling from his original plant at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston
- Laura’s great grandfather took great pride in his ability to buy a previously-owned Harvard building to occupy his business
- Laura and Peter did not originally have their sights set on seafood processing, with their initial careers being in public relations and money management, respectively
- The first year of transitioning into running the family business, Peter put his all into the learning the ropes of every job and working long-hours, similar to a first-generation owner
- Because of COVID’s influence on grocery shopping, Laura and Peter were able to refocus their business to its roots in direct home delivery of frozen fish
- Foley Fish is 100% natural. Peter and Laura encourage us to be wary of seafood additives that mask aging and add false water weight to fish
- Tuna is not naturally a watermelon pink color. This is a sign of tuna that had been exposed to gas that keeps its color despite being frozen
- Laura and Peter encourage people to eat fish because of its great protein and caloric health benefits
- Even if you’ve tried a fish and didn’t like it, keep trying other fish! There is so much diversity in tastes coming from the ocean
- Laura and Peter attribute their success in 20 years of business together to a distinct division of duties and an unspoken understanding of their stressors and joys
- Although tradition is important, it is also crucial for Foley Fish to stay relevant by responding to customer needs and offering relevant goods and services that are differentiated from others
- Foley Fish makes it a point to locally source their fish through tremendous regulation, which keeps them differentiated throughout the seasons and sustainable throughout the year
[9:34] One of the ways we have of measuring the business was…the initial space was just a floor level space in a flat iron building, as Laura said in the Faneuil Hall area that it was being leased, and eventually the company occupied four floors of that building and then bought the building. So clearly things were going in the right direction in that first 25 to 30 years. – PR
[17:22] The energy and enthusiasm and time that Peter brought to the business and was very much like a first-generation owner, and I really believe the company was better for it. And it’s a lot of the reason why we were sustained for a fourth generation. – LR
[21:58] The things that people say to us about our product, about our fish, about our team, about our drivers, the feedback, it is just—for generations, we have customers that have worked for my grandfather, my father, and me and Peter, and that is so affirming that we have to be doing something right here. – LR
[40:19] [Owning a business] could have been disastrous, and it could have been the end of our marriage potentially. Thankfully, it didn’t go that way. And as we look back upon it, we can say, “See, it really did work out well,” because we have a complementary skill set. – PR
Laura Ramsden 0:02
COVID put a whole new spin on those kinds of fears and, but also provided a little cover, right? So if we crashed and burned in COVID, we wouldn’t be alone. But it was the scariest I’ve been most scared. I’ve been since we were the early days of purchasing the business and we took out, I want to be clear, we purchased the business, we had it appraised and we took out a loan, that we owe the bank for those years that we’re having to pay the bank and make the covenants and all of that. Those were definitely early scarier years. And we definitely gained perspective.
Marc Gutman 0:43
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado. This is the Baby Got Back story Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today’s most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like big backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and on today’s episode of Baby got Backstory, how a little family fish business in Boston, Massachusetts, started in 1906 and is still going strong after 114 years and still run by the family that started it. Today we are talking with Laura and Peter Ramsden, co-owners of Foley Fish. Foley Fish is a fish processor and distributor of sustainable fresh fish that has been going strong for 114 years. But is not a mistake. 114 years in the business selling fish.
You don’t run into too many businesses that make it past three years, let alone 114. And before we get into the episode, I need to do my usual reminder. If you like and enjoy the show, please take a minute or two to rate and review us over at iTunes. iTunes uses these as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on the apple charts. And ratings help us build an audience which then helps us to continue to produce this show. And I just realized that may be called Apple podcasts and I’m stuck in my old iTunes ways. So please go over to Apple podcasts and rate the show.
In 2004, Laura and Peter Ramsden purchased the Foley Fish Company from Laura’s parents, Mike and Linda Foley making them the fourth generation of Foley and first generation Ramsden fishmongers. Laura is even referred to as the Mongress. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t meet or talk with many mattresses, or is it mind dry? I’m not sure. But what I can tell you is I’m really excited for this episode. Over the past 20 years, Laura and Peter have poured themselves into the business so that Foley Fish will continue for another 114 years. During our conversation, we covered what it’s like to work with your spouse, what it’s like to get into business for yourself, and sustainability of ocean protein. And this is their story.
I am here with Laura and Peter Ramsden co owners of Foley fish. And I’m gonna get right into it. Laura, what’s Foley ish?
Laura Ramsden 3:26
Marc, thanks for having us today. Foley Fish is a fourth generation seafood processor. It was founded by my great grandfather in 1906. And we specialize in sourcing, cutting, packing and shipping all natural, fresh seafood and
Marc Gutman 3:46
I’m not really good at math, and I’m literally doing math on my iPad right here. You would laugh even though I did go to college. But uh, so that’s 114 years of being in business don’t have that, right.
Laura Ramsden 3:56
That is correct.
Marc Gutman 3:58
Well, I could end this interview right here. Like right now like, I mean, there’s not very many businesses that have been around for 114 years. Usually they say the third generation screws it up by then. And so so first of all, I just want to say congratulations, that’s an amazing accomplishment. I can’t wait to hear about that, and a little bit more and how you got there. But 1906 and so what was your grandfather’s name?
Laura Ramsden 4:23
He was the original M.F. Foley. And then we had Francis Michael Foley, my grandfather Frank. And then my dad is Michael Foley. And then me Laura Foley. And yes, I do have a brother Michael Foley, but he is a successful writer in producer in Los Angeles. So people often ask me, didn’t you have a brother? I do.
Marc Gutman 4:50
And he and he carried on the MF was about to say you got the LF but, yes. So M.F. Foley in 1906 would just give This little sense of what the business looked like that and I mean, what, what was going on? And what did the world look like in 1906 from a fishmonger perspective.
Laura Ramsden 5:08
So interestingly enough that my dad is 79. And he is just submitting to the publisher, a book called swimming upstream. that details the whole history of Foley Fish. And my dad does not type. And he had my daughter, our daughters and me typing his chapters. So we learned a lot more about what life was like in 1906. And we would have ever known otherwise. And it was horse and buggies in the streets of Boston, our original plant was in the fanueil Hall market place. It was originally designed to be seafood, that fish that was purchased in the morning and then delivered to the cooks in the Back Bay.
It was back in the day when the Irish were primarily servants in Boston. So he was the trusted Irish fishmonger down in Faneuil Hall that the cooks in the Back Bay Area would use as a resource. And the business grew from there, too, when we started having railway traffic trains, that my grandfather was the one that when the fish could get sent by train, we would send them in these wood barrels filled with ice. But yeah, it was definitely a much different industry in some regards. And in some ways, it was very similar to what we do today.
Marc Gutman 6:37
Like how much fish was coming through at that time? Do you have any sense of that like it like, especially as you compare it to what you’re processing today.
Laura Ramsden 6:45
So the mix of species is very different today, there was no farmed salmon back then. So the preponderance of the species are local. And having been involved in fishery management, I can tell you that the quantities of seafood, local seafood being landed were vast, excuse me vastly different. We actually would send out monthly bulletins to all of our customers. And so we have some of those original bulletins.
And it’s super interesting to see species that were being sold then and the pricing that they were being sold at, versus what is available today. So things like actual wild Atlantic salmon was something that was available back in 1906. That is not a commercial, commercially viable species. Now the wild salmon is coming out of places like Alaska and Washington and Oregon now. So definitely the product mix was different, though we weren’t in that time selling important species. It was all things they landed right here, your Cod, your Haddock, your soul, your scallops, shellfish.
Marc Gutman 7:56
I’m just so fascinated by the history of it. And again, just knowing that 114 years has gone by and still still selling fish how to Foley Fish. So let me it was called Foley Fish back then.
Laura Ramsden 8:07
Yep, it was. So it’s technically the mF Foley company, that people refer to it as totally fish. And I’ll have people come up to me if I’m doing a demo cooking demo in a store one of our accounts, people will say, Oh, I know Foley fish or people will call and say I’ve got the original book that they put together about the species Do you want a copy from 1929? There’s just some really fun artifacts that are floating around New England and beyond. I mean, I’ve had people call me from cleaning out their grandmother’s house in Pittsburgh. And you know, the grandfather was a chef and menus with the Foley name on it. It’s kind of fun to have had people reach out and send us different things that we the company had put out over the years. And
Marc Gutman 8:57
Peter, it sounded like you might have had something to add to that.
Peter Ramsden 9:00
Oh, I just was gonna offer up that. So us are asked about volumes. And so you’re initially from as the Lord tells us, as the history goes, is literally he was saying fish after sign fish out of a push cart. And then you know, horse and buggy up into the Back Bay to the brownstone kitchens and whatnot. But things did clearly grow rapidly with the ability to put product on trains and then later in the 50s on as the highway system got built out on trucks. So, you know, one of the way we have a measuring business was, you know, in the initial space was just a floor level space, in a flat iron building, as Laura said in the fin Hall area, on that it was being leased, and eventually the company occupied four floors of that building and bought the building. So clearly things were going in the right direction, in that first 25 to 30 years.
Laura Ramsden 9:59
I think the building was originally owned by Harvard, actually. So my great grandfather felt a lot of pride at being able to buy the building.
Marc Gutman 10:09
I bet Well, you know, one of my favorite questions to kick off an episode, which is gonna be funny now to ask this or maybe not, is always like, something to the effect of Did you always think you would be dot dot dot? And so my question for you is growing up, did you always think that you were gonna be the fishmongers? Or did or fishmonger? Or, like, what were you thinking? Especially like when you’re like a, your your folks are running this, this, this fish business? Did you want to be in the fish business? Or do you want nothing to do with it?
Laura Ramsden 10:38
So interestingly enough, my dad went to college, graduated, worked at Foley Fish for a year, and saw no room for advancement. He had graduated from Harvard, and my grandfather promptly put him as the freezer man. And he said, I think I can do more with my education. So he moved in with my mother and I was a baby to Chicago. So for the first 10 years of my life, my dad was a commercial lender for Continental Bank If my mom went back to law school and was an attorney, and I didn’t know there was a fish company. So we moved when I was in fifth grade. And it was so that my dad could open the Foley Fish New Bedford plant, because my grandfather saw that there was a great opportunity to sell restaurant quality fish and retail and do a branded Foley program. And I was so angry because my mother’s whole family lived in Chicago, I would walk to my grandma and grandpa’s every morning for breakfast, my parents would go to the train. And I thought, you know, he was up-ending my whole world.
So I definitely at eight, nine and 10 did not think I was going to be a fishmonger, I was and then I came back to the Midwest to go to college, and then worked in public relations in Chicago, and then public relations in Austin, and I had done work in the summers in high school for Foley’s, but no, I didn’t think that that’s where the my path would take me. If this was to give out in preparation for the interview. I literally, I started working for a fish when I was 14. And now I’m 51. And that is higher math for me as an English major. But that’s a lot of years. And I don’t, I didn’t anticipate this being sort of such a bulk of my career. But I definitely felt very, very lucky to be in a career and working on a team of people. So committed to a mission and something that I was so passionate about, I think that that is can be rare, especially for a woman trying to juggle family and career.
Marc Gutman 12:50
Yeah. And so what about you, Peter? Would Did you have a future laid out for you and fish? Were you like, hey, someday, I’m gonna be the fish guy.
Peter Ramsden 12:59
Well, clearly, when Laura and I started dating, I didn’t know about the fish business, even though she was currently then in public relations. I was a money manager and investment professional at the time Business School graduate, and had no intention of getting involved in the seafood processing world. And indeed, there are a lot of jokes at our rehearsal dinner, if I ever lose my financial acumen, that I could, you know, fall back and come to work and put on the rubber boots and come to work in the fish plant. But no, it was not an expectation. And it wasn’t until the late 90s you know, some 20 plus years ago that my in laws, Mike Linda for the third generation owners approached us to say, you know, they needed an exit strategy and their primary and best alternative for making that happen would be to sell it to us, and they thought that we’d be a good pair to run it for another generation.
Marc Gutman 14:05
That sounds like a lot of pressure. You know, like like, you know that they come to you and they say you are only hope we need you already know this thing has been going for three generations I’m sure there’s a ton of pride a ton of not only like internal family pride, but also just the people you take care of at the plant. I know how it goes. And at the business people that work for you and you take a real sense of ownership and a sense of family a lot of times with with with people on a sense of responsibility like when they came to you and said that was that like a really great moment or was it like a oh no moment?
Peter Ramsden 14:41
Well, they’re fairly straightforward but also fair about it in the sense that they said yeah, you know, we’ll we can treat this like a business school case study and we’ll spend the next three or four months talking about it and you know, and I’ll we’ll decide whether this business is attractive enough that someday we’d want to own the whole thing. And so no, I, I do think we always had an option to say no. But the more that Lauren I thought about it, the more excited we got about it. And the idea of working together and being owners, clearly to us was at the time was greener grass. And I’m, I don’t I don’t ever regret doing what we did. But, you know, clearly Our lives are different.
Laura Ramsden 15:28
At the time, we were living in Connecticut, and I was telecommuting for folly fish, helping out on marketing projects and doing sales calls. But Peter was working in New York City, and be a little kids. And we thought, oh, wow, running a small family business, we’ll have more, it’ll be better quality of life than commuting, living in Fairfield County, it’ll just be a better pace, a better environment for raising our children. And that was definitely attractive. But what I didn’t fully appreciate was that, well, I was going to be fourth generation, this was Peters first generation, ownership, and he attacked it, as if this was day one of this company, and he has put in blood, sweat, tears time beyond. And he literally the first year that we were transitioning, I took the year off to have our third child and get us all settled in Rhode Island, and get the kids acclimated and you know, in all their activities and everything, but also to give him space to join the company.
And he literally did every single job in both plants, whether it was being the freezer guy for a month, the cooler person for a month or receiver for a month. And he brought his business school. I mean, my dad has his MBA too, but just he just brought this fresh eye to every area of operations in both plants. He went on the road to all over the country with our salespeople. He upgraded our sales materials, because my dad was doing everything on flip charts and Pete is calm Bobby bullet point with computers.
So yes, while it was a lot of certainly, you know, we we took it very seriously that we were going to it was on our shoulders to carry the business forward. The energy and enthusiasts and time that Peter brought to the business and was very much like a first generation owner, and I really believe the company was better for it. And it’s a lot of the reason why we were sustained for fourth generation because he really, he gave us he gave us all and he has given his on some to both plants,
Peter Ramsden 17:47
Laura is of course being way over-generous with that, but that’s a loving wife speaking and, and thankfully, it did work out now 27 years into marriage and 20 years of ownership. So, but it was a big investment upfront, to convert myself from being a money manager to a fish processor.
Marc Gutman 18:14
So, I’m gonna say there’s not much of a difference, right?
Laura Ramsden 18:17
Literally, I mean, the dry cleaning bills went to nothing. He literally was shopping, you know, Walmart for like the Carhartt pants and the boots and the whole thing, you know, all the Brooks Brothers suit sat in the closet. I mean, it was a complete transformation as
Marc Gutman 18:35
Well as you’re mucking up fish guts, and you’re doing the dirty work. And because we all know, when you have a business, you know, people think that’s all glamour, and you’re just sitting there, you know, on the receiving end of wealth and benefit and all this stuff. But no, I mean, the real, you know, the reality is, is you’re in the trenches, you’re doing the work, you’re, you’re sweating, whether or not you can make payroll sometimes and, you know, work did you have those moments where you were like, what did we get ourselves into?
Peter Ramsden 19:04
From my standpoint? I absolutely did. You know, I don’t mind physical work, but there’s a lot of it in this business. And, you know, thankfully, I’m now at 56 that company doesn’t rely on my back for that. But, you know, when I was in my mid 30s, just to learn the business, I was doing a lot and you know, I would stop and think, gee, it was just, you know, six months ago that I was in an office overlooking Central Park. And I wasn’t smelling like fish. So yes, absolutely. You stop and say this, this really did I make the right decision. Is this really worth it?
It’s a big transition.
Marc Gutman 19:48
I’m sure and you know, putting myself in your shoes like both of you like, on one hand that’d be like really excited. I’d be like this is a great opportunities you mentioned to change you know, early lifestyle, I have a different, a different way of life for our family and all that kind of stuff. But like, I would also be really scared of like screwing this thing up. Did you ever have any of those feelings? Were you ever thinking yourself like, like, what if we mess this up? Like we’re the generation that that screws up Foley Fish?
Laura Ramsden 20:20
I wasn’t sure how I was going to answer that. Of course, of course I am. I’m super competitive. And so anytime we were going to lose a customer or lose, I’m also a worrier on top of that, so definitely sleepless nights definitely concern, definitely fear. But also faith that it Peter is much better, let me just say this, Peter is much better than I am and looking at the big picture and looking down the road, and it’s only literally 20 years and that I can say, Oh, it’s okay, these things happen, a shipment gets missed. somebody forgot something on an order, whatever it is that I used to be completely distraught over something happening in the business on a day to day basis, you definitely get some perspective really, all right, the whole world is not going to end it’s not going to crash. Now that being said, COVID put a whole new spin on those kinds of fears, and but also provided a little cover, right?
So if we crashed and burned in COVID, we wouldn’t be alone. But it was the scariest I’ve been most scared. I’ve been since we were the early days of purchasing the business. And we took out, I want to be clear, we purchased the business, we had it appraised and we took out a loan. So when you owe the bank for those years that we’re having to pay the bank and make the covenants and all of that those were definitely early, scarier years. And we definitely gained perspective and confidence as well. I mean, the things that people say to us about our product, about our fish, about our team about our drivers, the feedback, it is just for generations, and we have customers that have worked for my grandfather, my father, and me, and Peter, and it is that is so affirming that we have to be doing something right here. So that that’s been helpful. But yes, there have been dark days and sleepless nights, for sure.
Marc Gutman 22:27
Then and talk a little bit about how COVID affected the business like what did you see I could I you know, I have no idea what you’re going to say. But I can imagine it going either way, like what have you seen on your side of the business?
Peter Ramsden 22:38
Yeah, our business is has transitioned, really from the 80s to current much more focused on restaurants, hotels, country clubs and resorts. We had a lot of exposure to the businesses that were closing down, or being forced to shut down by governors around the country,
Laura Ramsden 22:58
While maintaining some really strong important specialty retail relationships, which kept us going Thank God.
Peter Ramsden 23:09
Correct. So, so we definitely saw a huge fall off the toy gender, March, and day to day business. And, and that was as an operating company, you know, two facilities and total staff of about 85. We were very concerned about how we might find a path forward without the revenues coming in.
Marc Gutman 23:35
Yeah, I can imagine it’s very scary. And everyone is going through it now. And it’s one of these things that we still don’t have the answers to, but we’re, we’re all doing our best. And so I see that, you know, one of the things that you you’ve gone ahead and done is offering more of a direct consumer product. Is that in response to COVID? Or is that in the works prior?
Laura Ramsden 23:54
Yes. So I had a friend, people often say I’ve got people coming to town. Can I get those crab claws? Can I get some oysters, we sort of had this sort of side hustle with our friends that will do put a cash sale and bring them home, whatever you’re looking for. But I had a friend say to me, I’ve got all these kids home 20 year olds from, you know, 20 somethings from New York and Boston and the college kids are home and can you get me some fish. And I thought you know, that’s probably happening everywhere. And also people don’t want to go to the grocery store because at that time, we still really thought you could get COVID from services and people were very nervous about leaving their homes.
So I said well, what if we took our fish and created protein packs, so that they Oh and I know the other thing was on the radio stations. Every time I turned to a different station, people were joking about sending their husbands to the store and all they were coming back with was processed food, you know, all sorts of chips and cookies and anything that was shelf stable, but there was nothing healthy in the mix, so forth just really are constantly complaining that they didn’t have, they couldn’t subsist on pasta for six months. So we needed to have something that was a healthy protein to introduce to balance all the sort of middle of the store things that the husbands were throwing in the cards. And so I thought, oh, wow, if we could create some frozen protein packs that people could keep in the freezer and just pull fish out as they need it. And that would limit the time going to the store. And it would be something that would be helpful during COVID. And I literally put a we have this idea in our little town of COVID response Facebook page, and I got immediate response, please, please, please do it, do it, do it.
And so we had just done a new website that had just launched a few months earlier that it sold some gear on it. And so we said to our website, people, hey, if we create these protein packs, can we can you help us get it loaded onto the site. And we ended up partnering with with Shopify, and creating these four lb units of salmon, a variety pack a sword, fish pack, a scallop and lobster pack. And I can’t even tell you the response was crazy. And we kept getting all these local, we would deliver locally and we would ship and first we started with the post office. And because the post office had no mail at the time, but what we didn’t know is that they were slammed the packages and they couldn’t track and they couldn’t locate. And Pete and I are dropping all these little boxes to the first to the New Bedford post office and then to Providence in the pouring rain and they’re losing half the things and we’re writing all these credits, and it was terrible.
So then we went to UPS, and they weren’t much better, but they were a little better. And we figured out that we should only ship Monday through Wednesday because they lost things in trailers over the weekend. But it was a steep learning curve. But we really learned and what was incredible was the response was almost religious. I mean, people were so appreciative and so thankful, frozen fish. And what we realized is that the majority of what people had been eating frozen, had been chemically treated or was leftover fish. In here. We were taking fresh fish right off the line. You know, it was portioned and then we were hand packing it Pete and me and people in the sales office, were all out there doing it together and getting it in the freezer.
So people were getting fish that was fresh, literally 24 hours prior. And the response was tremendous. And we had all of these local people in Barrington in our town that were ordering twice a week. And so our girls would help us because they were home from college. And they would ride the van and we would make deliveries together. And we talk about routes and neighborhoods. And it just became this whole family sort of little mini business. And it actually reminded me back to my great grandfather’s day, because so we said four generations later, we’re delivering door to door again. Because I thought that it was it has been a neat pivot and the month where business dropped 85% it was the number two gross profit contributor. So I thought well, I’ll keep a few lights on. So that was good.
Marc Gutman 28:47
Well, that’s it. That’s excellent. This episode brought to you by Wildstory. Wait, isn’t that your company? It is. And without the generous support of Wildstory, this show would not be possible. A brand isn’t a logo or a tagline, or even your product. A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product service or company. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Wildstory helps progressive founders and savvy marketers build purpose driven brands that connect their business goals with the customers they want to serve. So that both the business and the customer needs are met. This results in crazy, happy, loyal customers that purchase again and again. And this is great for business. If that sounds like something you and your team might want to learn more about, reach out @ www.wildstory.com and we’d be happy to tell you more. Now back to our show.
As he was talking like the thing that jumped out at me, was when you mentioned that most people are Experiencing chemically treated fish fish? That’s maybe not what they think it is. And I don’t think, you know, I don’t I’m not really well educated on this topic. And I don’t think a lot of people are like, like, What don’t we know about fish? Like what what’s going on that that just we’re not aware of.
Laura Ramsden 30:16
So fish is your most perishable protein. And as a result of that people industry practice is to add preservatives, and we don’t do that. Let me just start by saying that Foley Fish has always been 100% natural, and we are 100% natural, but sadly, there aren’t a lot of regulations in seafood for labeling of additives. So a lot of fish will go into a brine tank that will mat bleach out the yellowing, that would be a telltale sign of aging. So instead of the flag and a yellow, they put it into the brine tank and it bleaches it nice and wait and it picks up a little water weight. So now, the six ounces is an eight ounce, so they’ll get more money for fish that is fish plus water. It’s very prevalent in scalloped, they add things like sodium tripolyphosphate, or they have natural oxides, a sector God side called l pesa. Or something called tough to kisa. They’re all these sort of additives that are designed to mask aging and preserve the product and also add false water weight. And so all of those
Peter Ramsden 31:34
Many of those chemicals are fall under a general description known as a moisture enhancers or moisture retainers. So they’re, they’re okayed by the FDA as just as retaining attributes of seafood as opposed to being fraudulent or being a chemical that needs to be explicitly identified. So it’s just part of the process. And is that something that,
Marc Gutman 32:06
You know, is in most of the fish that we’re consuming? Like how do we identify that or know that or at least be educated to know that that’s what we’re consuming?
Laura Ramsden 32:16
So I think if you’re buying fish at the big box retailers, you are probably having that. If you are if you take a scholarship and you put it in the pan and you try to brown it and it won’t brown or it has that marshmallowy texture then that’s got the STP or the Altai PSA l pesa. in it and if you are at a sushi bar and your tuna is watermelon pink, that pink color, that is tuna that’s been exposed to gas and with the gas burst all the blood vessels to keep it always red, even though it’s all been frozen. So that would be a telltale sign tuna is not that naturally that watermelon II pinky color that you see at the sushi bars. So I hate to introduce fear of eating seafood because I want everyone to love fish and eat fish.
But it is a discerning factor and soaked fish are chemically treated fish because they can take older fish that’s of lower value and add weight to it and mask aging is a moneymaker and it for the processor. But also the people who are buying are paying a lower price than they would for an all natural fish. So I would just say that if your listeners are out seeing some great deal that it would be buyer beware to me, because typically fish that isn’t priced appropriately is fish that has had some soaking at some point during the process.
Marc Gutman 33:55
Yeah, and thanks for that. And they will change we’ll shift a little bit instead of talking about what to be worried about, like you mentioned that you want everyone to love and enjoy fish and beyond it being good for the business. Like why is that? What’s so great about fish and why do you want people why do you think people should have it as part of their diet and why do you think it’s important?
Laura Ramsden 34:17
So I would always encourage people to select fish as your protein. It is the most lean healthful protein that you can consume. In terms of calorie for calorie that health benefits are incredible. Piece of cod, 90 calories for three ounces. About 12 grams of protein, low in fat. It is it’s extremely digestible, all seafood. It is so delicious. When people say they don’t eat any seafood, I think how can you not eat anything out of the sea?
That’s like saying you don’t need land food. So if you eat it, it’s so diverse that What a clam or a muscle or, you know, a piece of lobster or a piece of tuba or sword or soul, or halibut, or salmon, and it all tastes so different. So even if you’ve tried one fish that isn’t your favorite thing, try something else. Because it there’s such diversity of flavors and textures. But out of the ocean, you’re depriving yourself if you if you don’t get to experience, find something that you love, because it really there’s there’s just such a vast amount of delicious options coming out of the ocean. And it’s all so healthy. I think that America would be in such a better place in terms of our fight against obesity and our rising health care costs if more people eat seafood.
Marc Gutman 35:48
Well imagine it’s your birthday, and you’re having fish. What are you having?
Laura Ramsden 35:53
It’s so funny that you asked that it was my dad’s birthday last night and we cut it lemon soul for him, which is a giant black back founder. And it’s so delicious and sweet and great. So that I think I would have I would go with the lemon soul, I might start with a little tuna tartare because I do like that. But I think I would have the lemon. So Pete, what about you?
Peter Ramsden 36:20
Well, being in this business, yeah, definitely has its perks. And I’ve always loved shellfish, and particularly oysters. So anytime it’s time to celebrate as a time to shuck oysters for me. That’s a, you know, week, I can walk out into our cooler on any given day and have a choice of 15 to 20 different oysters to take home. So, but uh, yeah, I grew up fishing on Cape Cod my whole life as a kid. And so striped bass and blue fish and flounder are amongst my favorites.
Marc Gutman 36:56
Well, I’m trying to think what my favorite would be, but, you know, probably I love a great salmon. So thank you for that room. So, Laura, when you were like listing off all the previous family members that had owned and worked in the business, something that really struck me was that they were all men. And, you know, being a woman who is now the CO owner of the business face of the business, one of the main leaders of the business, I have to imagine that there’s some challenges. Being a woman in what I perceive, I’ve never worked in a fish processing plant or fish business, but predominantly male business is a challenging.
Laura Ramsden 37:40
So I’m in big trouble, because my mom is was actually co owner with my dad. So I should have mentioned her it was Linda and Mike Foley were the third generation owners. And when they went to do all of the branding with the retail line of fish, that was all her so I do need to step back and give proper credit. We have a wall in the plant that has my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and me. And my mother and Peter are not on the walls. So it’s called the blood ball. They tease a little about how they should be up there with us. But So to answer your question, I, I actually haven’t had issues with being a woman in the fish business. And sometimes To be honest, I think it works to my advantage. Because sometimes when you get a vendor coming in, and there’s a chef in the kitchen and dominantly the chefs are male, though there are some amazing women chefs, but generally in industry are males.
Sometimes you get the male vendor with the male chef and you’ve got a lot of ego. And sometimes it’s easier for me to go into a kitchen that I think it is because it’s not as guarded and they don’t get their backup that someone’s going to try to sell it be all salesy with them. So if anything, I think it’s it’s worked to my advantage. And I also think I don’t take it for granted that walking in as a Foley a Foley Fish gives me advantages that another woman might not have. So I do recognize that I’m lucky in that regard. But the people on my team, and I work side by side with them out on the floor and they’ll say Okay, can I carry that for you? Or can I door for you or whatever and no, no, no, I’ve got it. I’ve got it. So they don’t see me as a sort of this princess who walks around in high heels. I mean, I put the boots on and go out there so I think that’s helpful.
Marc Gutman 39:47
And what about running a business and owning a business with your spouse and this is for both of you like you know, I was their concern there when you took on the business. You know, I when I think of opportunities like this My spouse, I’m always like, I don’t know, we’re like, you know, it’s, it’s a it’s a moment to think about because it’s a really big deal. So what’s it like owning a business with your spouse? I’d say
Peter Ramsden 40:11
It’s a risk that we probably didn’t really give proper attention to or truly think through. I mean, it could have been disastrous, and it could have been the end of our marriage potentially. Thankfully, it didn’t go that way. And as we look back upon it, we can say, See, it really did work out well, because we have a complimentary skill set. And there was plenty of turf for each to get involved with the business and compliment my one another. And so as I said, I get involved much more in management and operations and financial side of the business and Laura moreso on the marketing and sales, although as a Foley, you know, you’re always involved in selling and customer service. But I think that’s helped a lot. And Laura can also chime in, but I think, you know, we do a pretty good job of trying to turn it off, you know, at the dinner table, or over the weekend,
Laura Ramsden 41:11
The kids would disagree.
Peter Ramsden 41:14
So, you know, trying to compartmentalize. And so make sure that we have time as as a couple, and not just as business partners.
Laura Ramsden 41:23
But and I would say a couple things, just to add, to echo what Peter said, distinct division of duties is the key for sure. When I’m looking over his shoulder and his turf, about something or he in mind, we can each bristle. But having our own sort of areas, is has certainly been helpful. Having two plants that are 60 miles apart is also helpful, you go to your corner, I go to mine, but in a really positive thing is that the highs are so much higher when you share them with your spouse.
The account when the even the extra item, I made a customer the other day and Pete said, Oh, really two items. And then the read because it was a long drive. And then the rest of the order came in later. And I said Pete, look, they’ve got six more things on their order. And it was the littlest thing, but he could absolutely understand that when. And so in some regards, I think, gosh, our marriage is that much better. Because we truly understand I’m never thinking where is the wiser at home from work? They’re taking advantage of him? Why is he working such long hours? Because I know exactly where he is and why he’s there. And I’m thankful that he’s putting that time in. And so it I think it’s great. It’s created a strong partnership. And really, he understands if I’m stressed why I’m stressed. And he could really help in laying things out if there’s a problem because he knows exactly what’s going on, and vice versa. But he tends to be more the calmer downer that that I am.
But certainly, you know, we’ve traveled together, we’ve given presentations together. We got to have the Hershey Lodge, right before COVID head and do all these waitstaff trainings, and we have a really good time being out there visiting customers and seeing what people are doing with our seafood. And again, it. It, I think it really enhances our partnership.
Marc Gutman 43:32
So I’ve been thinking a lot, you know, about businesses that stand the test of time. And one of the things that really keeps coming back that I noticed is this idea of relevancy and reinventing the business and staying relevant that it’s not a set it and forget it kind of methodology. It’s it’s a constant balance between returning to the the core values of the core mission of the business, as well as is evolving as the world around the business evolves. And so how do you approach relevancy and keeping Foley Fish relevant? How do you keep it modern yet traditional? Like how do you approach that?
Laura Ramsden 44:15
Well, definitely doing the new website, which was, you know, an investment that we had to make the decision to people really even look at websites, do they is it really important? We’re, we’re fish cutters. Why do we need to have a beautiful website and it was a super smart decision, especially when COVID and we could pivot and have that right in place. That was terrific. But adding products, you know, when we think about should we carry this or shouldn’t we carry this and is there a market for it? And those are all we’re constantly saying, well, we need to do this to stay relevant. So we can’t just have my dad say we had one oyster. Now we have 15 oysters and Telling the different stories of oysters, if we had stayed strict and said, We don’t need to have all these oysters from Maine and Canada and Cape Cod and Connecticut, people would have gone elsewhere. So really responding and staying relevant to what your customers are looking for, is super important in this business where shops and retailers and purchasing agents have choices. So we have to make sure that our company stays relevant by offering goods and services that differentiate us.
Marc Gutman 45:37
Back in my day, we only had one oyster. Imagine that the the family table that that conversation, why do you need so many oysters?
Laura Ramsden 45:48
And salmon, salmon didn’t count. Like, why would you have farmed salmon, that’s not a real fish.
Now it’s like our number one seller,
Peter Ramsden 45:58
We’ve become much more service oriented to as a company. And that’s not that we’ve always had, you know, people who are the customer interface side. But for the longest time, we sold whole fish and filets and in very basic processing, but as we became more and more involved with high end hotels, and larger group restaurants that were very specific about how they wanted the fish to present on the plate, and you know, it forces into portioning programs. In effect with the expertise we have in our facilities, we became a custom butchers and fabricating the precise cuts, you know, a seven and a half ounce on the bias square cut salmon portion, or a T bone 12 to 14 ounce halibut cut. So, these are the kinds of things that, you know, maybe you expect when you go to your local butcher. But it’s something that as a you know, we’re not a mechanized operation, we’re very much a cut to order, especially fish house. And that has been a pivot for sure to keep us relevant.
Marc Gutman 47:12
And kind of in that vein, like what’s the role of sustainability? What role does that play it Foley Fish.
Laura Ramsden 47:19
So when the sustainable fisheries Act went in, in the early 90s, and vast fishing areas were closed, and availability became tight, and prices rose, and it was pretty impactful for Foley Fish. My dad said, we’ve got to get involved so that we understand better what what’s going on with management and sustaining the fisheries. And so we’ve actually been involved in fishery management in one way or another since the early 90s. And really trying to understand what how we define sustainable and what species we should be promoting and why. And so we’ve had people working on the ground fish advisory panel that advises the Fishery Management Council on basically the targets and the science around the ground fish stocks here in New England.
Also, some I’m working on the highly migratory species panel, understanding the rules and regs on sword and tuna. So that way back, you know, when there was a swordfish boycott, we could really speak to that to our customers and explain to them that it was the US that were actually the most sustainable fishery in the world, and that we shouldn’t be boycotting them. We should be promoting is we’re gonna lose the quota. And our guys are the ones with the right gear. But so we really use our involvement I was on I was appointed by Governor Patrick, as a national fisheries manager.
For three years I’ve been doing the district Management Council, one of eight fishery councils advantage that the federal waters of the United States. And so when you sit in all of these meetings, I was on the ground fish committee, the skate committee and the scholarship committee, you’re privy to all the science coming out of Woods Hole. And so I could say, Wow, they’re fishing in these areas. The open areas for scholarships this year are going to be these areas. And you’re literally on these in these committees with fishermen and developers and you’re learning about Okay, well, that area is going to be yielding more of the 10 jumbo scallops are this areas are going to be yielding more of the 3040 or 2030s. And so what we try to do is use the information that we were gleaning from our involvement to direct menus and retail emotions towards species that were abundant.
So when people would come we do it Foley School of Fish, pre COVID. We would do it, you know, four times a year, and we would do all sorts of menu planning. Literally breakfast on to dinner, people are eating fish that would come visit us and showing them monkfish, and Pollock and skeet, and Katie and red fish and haik. And all of these species that we knew to be abundantly harvested with strong biomass. And we really tried to use our knowledge our to educate our customers, and direct them towards the most sustainable feet species coming out of our waters, so that they could really differentiate their menus because some crazy percentage, I don’t know what the exact number is now, but 92% of seafood in America is imported.
So every other menu in the US is featuring all this pasteurized crab meat from Indonesia and tilapia and, you know, to lay and salmon, that if they started putting these species on their menus that were sustainable, harvested right here in New England, they were going to have differentiable menus, so different, you know, competitive, competitive advantage. But also, because these species were abundant price points, were going to be lower so that they could actually make money while differentiating their menu while offering a sustainable species. So that was sort of trifecta of recommendations to trying to, you know, get New England fish on menus across the country, and really support the small fishermen who were operating under tremendous regulation to ensure that the fisheries of New England stays sustainable.
Marc Gutman 51:32
And so, what does the future look like for Foley Fish?
Laura Ramsden 51:37
One day at a time Marc.
Marc Gutman 51:40
Do you know if the next generation will be targeted to are you planning that talk where you’re gonna sit your kids down and say, hey, it’s up to you, your only hope.
Laura Ramsden 51:51
So our son is a teacher and a Spanish teacher and a coach and he loves the world of education, and our other daughter is, is headed to is in banking, and hopefully New York City one of these days, and then our other daughter is still in college. So I don’t think we’re tapping them quite yet. So we’re, we’re still young, I’m only 51. And he’s 56. So we’ve got some time to figure that out. And
Marc Gutman 52:19
Most certainly, I mean, if that’s any indication, I notice a notice it’s a pattern for those who have pursued a career in banking to abandon that to come work at the come work at Foley Fish. It looks like that’s not known that only Peters story, but I think one of your either your father your grandfather’s I read on the website as well.
Laura Ramsden 52:38
Yes, yes. Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. I’m gonna I am gonna remind her that.
Marc Gutman 52:44
I have one last question for the both of you. If you ran in to your 20 year old self today, what do you think that they’d say? seeing where you are now?
Peter Ramsden 52:54
Okay, I’ll start.
I think my 20-year-old self would say, gee it all worked out. And, boy, that’s not anything like what I was anticipating. But I’m glad it worked out. And it’s a search certainly seems like a nice life.
Laura Ramsden 53:14
What would my 20-year-old self say to 51 year old me?
Marc Gutman 53:19
Exactly. What would she say?
Laura Ramsden 53:22
What the heck are you doing back in Barrington, Rhode Island with three kids in the fish business? And she would definitely say that. I told my parents I was never coming back to this all town in Rhode Island and all these people in Rhode Island that worked for their family businesses, and they never left and here I am. My 20 year old thought she was so smart. And yet, as Pete said, it’s a great life and a great community and being at this family business that I thought was so somewhere I would never come back to is been just a really wonderful life experience that I feel really now. My 51 year old self realizes I’m so fortunate to have had this opportunity.
Marc Gutman 54:20
And that is Laura and Peter Ramsden. Before we finish. I love the idea of a business existing for 114 years. The only way a business can stay relevant that long is to reinvent itself and evolve with the times the ramsdens have done exactly that. I’m looking forward to what the future brings for Foley Fish. I for 1am going to their website and ordering a couple of protein packs right after I’m done recording this. A big thank you to Laura and Peter and the team at Foley Fish. keep bringing in the fresh fish and we’ll keep eating it and if you know of a guest To should appear on our show, please drop me a line at podcast at wildstory.com.
Our best guests like Laura and Peter come from referrals from past guests and our listeners. Well that’s the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS, so you’ll never miss an episode. I like big stories and I cannot lie, you other storytellers can’t deny.