We are often asked why we called our steak and seafood restaurant “Ouzos” and what made you buy a boat?. Well, back in the early 1990’s Ouzos was based in Baggot Street, Dublin. It started life as a pizza/pasta restaurant and had a real Mediterranean feel; the name Ouzos seemed to fit very well. When we opened our second restaurant in Ranelagh, Dublin, we found it very tough to attract new customers, we were in competition with numerous other local restaurants and we were all serving the same thing. I needed something to make Ouzos special and set us apart from the competition. I always wanted a fish restaurant and I felt if we were serving lobster, crab, fresh Irish fish and steak in a relaxed restaurant we would have that something very special. I very quickly realized that buying lobster and crab was way too expensive for the sort of restaurant we wanted to operate. If we were going to make this transformation we were going to have to think outside box.
Now what are the chances of that?
A couple of days later I bumped into an old friend of mine on Baggot Street. I hadn’t seen this guy in 15 years and during the course of our conversation I discovered he had small licensed lobster boat down in Greystones and he was selling it. Now what are the chances of that? Two weeks later Ouzos owned a fishing boat, the MFV Phoenix. It was a 21’ lobster boat. It was tiny, but I felt we could certainly land enough crab and lobster for our needs. Another friend of mine who was living in Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry and was fishing mad, offered to skipper the boat. We bought 200 lobster pots, transported the boat to Kerry and went fishing. Our first delivery of crab claws and lobster arrived by Fast Track the following week just in time for the re-launch of Ouzos, the steak and seafood restaurant. The reaction from customers was fantastic and Ouzos Steak & Seafood Restaurant was born.
The scariest moment of my life…
Commercial fishing is a complex business and boats are very expensive to run and maintain. We very quickly learned that operating a fishing boat for Ouzos alone was going to be financially challenging. Within a year we decided to invest close to €250k in a 33’ fishing boat and 2000 lobster pots, turned our fishing operation into a stand-alone business. Ouzos took the crab and lobster we needed and the balance was sold to the local markets.
During our years when the boat was based in Cahersiveen I would talk to the skipper every day. On days when the weather was bad and the boat was tied up, I would jokingly say “come on, this weather wouldn’t stop George Clooney” (in reference to the movie Perfect Storm). I went fishing with the lads many times. While I’m little embarrassed to say it, I got sea sick on lots of occasions and had the pants scared off me on few occasions as well. On one occasion the boat was heading back down into Dingle Bay while trawling. It was a warm summer’s day. There was a big 15’ swell coming behind us off the Atlantic. I was standing on the deck with the skipper, cup of tea in hand while the boat was riding with the waves. Suddenly, the boat seemed to gently slow and sat down in the water. With that, a very big wave came over the back of the boat, knocked both of us off our feet and for a few seconds it was like being in a washing machine. My lifejacket burst open around my neck and I grabbed for anything to stop me going over the side. It was without doubt the scariest moment of my life, I really thought I was going to die. As the water washed overboard the skipper screamed “the net is snagged on the bottom” Then a second wave hit even more violently than the first. As I struggled to catch my breath, Henry (the skipper) had already cut us free of the net and the danger was over.
As we sat wrapped in blankets and huddled around the heater in the wheelhouse with our teeth shattering from the intense cold, I gazed at the boxes of lobster scattered around the deck and I couldn’t help but wonder if people really knew the real dangers fishermen face everyday to bringing fish to our tables. Needless to say, I never used the George Clooney line again.
In 2009 I decided to move our fishing operation to Dun Laoghaire. The following year we sold the boat but kept an interest and to this day all our crab & lobster is landed by our good friend and partner Ivan Toole on board the MFV Golden Venture.
Ten Years on!
Over the last ten years I have gained an enormous admiration for the fishermen of Ireland, I could not do what they do every day. I have learned a lot about fishing and how the market works. We’ve learned that Irish fishermen get paid buttons for their catch when compared to the prices charged by middlemen; I have seen processors paying fishermen 0.60c per kg for haddock on the same day that supermarkets are charging €12 per kg for the same fish. I’ve seen figures on Ireland’s consumption of fish and how 80% of the fish we consume is imported. It’s a sad day for Ireland when boats are tied up in Cork Harbour and The Marine Times (the fishermens’ newspaper) recently referred to Cork Airport as the busiest fishing port in the country. We should all strive to protect our Irish fishermen (I will write a blog on this issue soon). In the meantime please buy Irish fish only.
Ten years on, hundreds of thousands spent and our adventure into the fishing business is still a wonderful experience, we have met wonderful people, made a huge amount of contacts in the fishing community and when we’re not catching our own fish we’re sourcing the freshest Irish fish for our restaurants.