It was a coincidence that Scott Dolan happened to open Big Water Fish Market exactly at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, 2011. The date was planned, but the entrepreneur had to open an hour late because of a tardy fish delivery.
Now, six months into his tenure as the owner of the Siesta Key store, the fish monger prepares for the dog days of summer during which Siesta sees fewer tourists. But after running out of food last week at a delayed ribbon-cutting ceremony sponsored by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, Dolan thinks he has made his mark with the local community and hopes for its support through the next months.
Dolan has been vacationing on Siesta Key since his youth, which he spent in Ann Arbor, Mich. Having worked at an oyster bar while in college at Valdosta State University and having owned three fish markets in Georgia, his background was steeped in fish. He nearly merged his restaurant know-how and preference for the island in 2010 when he was negotiating with a land owner for the south Siesta property previously occupied by Juice ’N’ More. But after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, he abandoned the idea.
“I knew it just didn’t feel right,” he says.
Time seems to have healed the Gulf Coast waters and put downward pressure on the same unoccupied space, making last year the ideal time for Dolan to dive into the local fish-market business. But Dolan has found that the fresh-fish business has changed since his time with New Yorker Deli in the early 1990s, which he took over while attending Valdosta State University.
“People used to think that seafood was healthy and wanted to eat as much of it as they could,” he says, sitting on one of the couches along the wall of his store. “Now, people are worried about mercury in the waters and want to know where a fish was caught or if it was farm-raised.”
That’s the niche Big Water occupies. When Dolan buys his products, a majority of which come from local fisherman, he asks where and when each type of fish was caught. He can then relay that information to his customers.
“When somebody buys fish from Publix, it’s out of convenience,” he says.
Dolan is reticent about facing his first off-season on Siesta Key. “I’m stoked for the next tourist season; it can’t come soon enough,” he says.
But, he’s putting in nearly 12 hours a day of work at the market to ensure success. “I did a lot more fishing before I opened this place,” he says. “I did a lot more of a lot of things.”
With that hard work has come strong signs of success. He estimates more than 150 people — many of whom are locals — showed up for samples of his fish at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“I don’t want this to be my market,” Dolan says, “I want this to be our market.” And he is banking on local support to avoid going belly up when things get slow.
“If you don’t buy local,” he says, “then it’s bye-bye local.”
The demand for seafood varies widely according to region, Scott Dolan explains. And the season and the types of fish that are biting can also determine which fish he stocks. Dolan’s favorite fish to eat is wahoo, which has a consistency similar to bluefin tuna. “It’s the only other fish besides tuna you can cook to any temperature,” he says. This makes it ideal for tartar, sushi or, his favorite, ceviche. Here are the fish that have the Siesta Key folks mouth’s watering: