Bearing gifts from the sea, Jesse Demazio drives the truck from Tacoma-based Northern Fish. We join a convoy bound for the backstage pop-up city that serves the culinary needs of the U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay.
We follow a guide on a golf cart and soon back our way into a loading dock plugged with tractor-trailers and other trucks as refrigeration units hum beside rumbling generators as large as shipping containers.
Driving a pallet jack, Demazio unloads the black cod and the shrimp, the full sides and cutlets of salmon, and the crab.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Ross Swanes, vice president of Northern Fish, back at the company’s South Tacoma headquarters.
“We went to Chambers Bay and said we’d like to be a part,” he said. “We really wanted to get our smoked salmon in as part of the event. We’ll be serving the VIP and corporate tents.”
Susan Lacz, CEO of Maryland-based Ridgewells Catering, said her company will serve 40,000 meals to corporate clients and media representatives throughout the run of the championship.
By midweek, the early opinions were in.
“They’re loving it,” Lacz said Thursday.
Earlier in the day, she said, she visited the United States Golf Association hospitality center. “Someone pulled me aside, they’re from Pebble Beach. They said this is the best food they’ve ever eaten in a tent before.”
Approximately 90 percent of the food served will come from local suppliers, she said. “Everything has been remarkable. Everything has been really fresh.”
That includes seafood.
“It’s a point of pride with us,” said Swanes. “It’s just really cool, especially that we’re from the South Sound. This will validate what we’ve been doing for a long time. This is a major undertaking, with tight deadlines and tight specifications. I think it will show people that we can execute something like this.”
The company was founded 103 years ago by Johannes Swanes, and now comprises four related companies, including facilities in South Bend, Mukilteo and Tokeland in Washington, and in Cordova, Alaska. Eighty employees staff the Tacoma plant and offices, part of a total of 250.
“We’re a fresh-fish distributor,” Swanes said. “We sell everything that swims or lives in the ocean.”
The company serves both retail and food-service clients, and along with fresh seafood, products include value-added items including hand-made crab cakes.
Fifty percent of the company’s business derives from salmon, 20 percent from groundfish including halibut, and 25 percent from shellfish. The remaining 5 percent comes from specialty “exotics” such as ahi and mahi-mahi.
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Lacz, from Maryland, said she prefers blue crab. Guests from Miami Beach may tout the thick-pincered stone crab, and TV viewers might have a fondness for the deadly catch of king crab. But for Swanes, crab only means Dungeness.
“Dungeness crab is the best in the world,” he said. “Just try it. If it happens to be from Northern Fish, that’s great.”
Emily Godwin, marketing manager at Northern Fish, said Ridgewells Catering has called more than once to reorder fish, especially smoked salmon and salmon jerky.
“I think the prestige is a big part of it,” Swanes said. “The business is great, we’re happy to get the orders, but for us, it’s a point of pride.”
He estimated the U.S. Open would account for a sales bump of between 5 percent and 8 percent. He has also noted an uptick in orders from local chefs, at both Puget Sound restaurants and at catering firms hosting the legions of guests from around the world.
“Executing something like this, for this many people — people think only a massive company can do that,” Swanes said. “This shows we can handle very specific deadlines and portions. It’s a South Sound company supplying a South Sound event. We can handle the big stuff.”
Meanwhile, at the loading dock, trucks continue to arrive. Demazio loads his jack and negotiates a trail between the bananas, lemons, blueberries and wild arugula, the cases of Snapple and bloody mary drink mix and the orange juice stacked by pallets upon pallets.
A small tractor drives by hauling a trailer filled with cases of scotch, vodka, bourbon and tequila.
A chef at the oven in the nearby kitchen removes mac-and-cheese casseroles by the dozen. A delivery of napkins arrives. Then come raspberries.
Back at headquarters, Swanes grins.
“It’s just ... this is something you can talk about for a long time,” he said.