Fish Tales has been supplying Brooklyn's Cobble Hill community with fresh seafood since opening in 1996. The Court Street fixture has followed the neighborhood's growth over the following 17 years—rotating its offerings and boosting its grocery selection—but two concepts remain firmly rooted in the shop's inception: its dedication to high quality fish and superb customer service.
Owner John Addis sees to it that both are accomplished on a daily basis, and he begins his days early. At 2 a.m. every morning, he travels to the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx to buy seafood for the day. By 6:30 he's back at the shop, preparing and displaying fish for when doors open at 9 a.m. Addis and his team deliberately purchase only the freshest fish at the market, and they only buy enough for that day, which is why you won't see leftovers and the fish options change day to day. "We're not married to any particular fish," Addis said. "People ask me all the time, 'what type of oysters do you carry?' Our answer is always, 'the freshest that come in that morning.' It's really that simple."
On any given day you'll find 30 or more varieties of fish. But if there's one you want and don't see, just ask. "I'm willing to accommodate customers in any way possible," Addis noted. "If there's a fish that you want that I don't particularly carry, give me a day's notice—I'll pick it up fresh from the market for you."
Addis learned the hospitality trade from his many years in retail and restaurants and an upbringing in his family's Carroll Gardens Italian specialty foods store. He's trained his long-running staff to work the same way: greet customers by name and know their order before they get to the front of the (four- or greater-deep) line. "I just tell my guys, treat every customer as if it was your mother. How would you like your mother to be treated when she walks in the door? Just treat them the same way, and everything will be fine."
Addis listens to his customers, too, and on their request he's added a packaged and frozen food section to one wall of the store, with wraps and protein-topped salads to seafood-based soups and stove-finished entrees, all of which are prepared on premises day-of. Fish Tales has made itself a one-stop for entertaining through its hors d'oeuvres offerings, from those at the ready—crab cakes and shrimp cocktails—to those beckoning a grain of finesse—escargot and more than six types of caviar. A thoughtfully selected display of dried goods also arms customers with anything they may have forgotten on their primary grocery run, from teriyaki sauce and Old Bay seasoning to water crackers and panko breadcrumbs—and, of course, lobster bibs.
A series of recipe card printouts (complete with nutritional information) are available for the taking at the front of the store, but for more personalized culinary counsel, Addis encourages customers to consult the crew. "We're very educated about the product—about where it's from, what waters it's out of, what taste it has, what texture it has, what it's similar to," he explained. And such seafood expertise isn't acquired out of personal curiosity, alone.
"The people that live in this neighborhood, they're educated consumers. They want the best and they're willing to pay for the best. You can't cut corners—you have to provide the best. And it's not only quality—it's also service that goes with that."
As Monday's lunch hour ticked by, Addis continued to greet guests by first name as they walked in and out, extending his hand to acknowledge neighborhood frequenters and to open doors for parents with strollers. When asked just how many regulars he encounters on a daily basis, his response was immediate: "They're all regulars. There are no fly-by-nighters here." And as another familiar customer made a routine appearance for the pure sake of a hello, a hug, and an update for Addis, it's easy to understand why.