An Island Success

Definition of fishmonger – a person or shop that sells fish for food

 By Bob Stein

Back in the late 90’s, Siesta Key’s only fish market, located on Garden Lane, just north of Roberts Point Road closed its doors due to complaints from its neighbors, according to Ann Johnson, longtime editor of the old Pelican Press, and former island resident.

Johnson explained, “The neighborhood had begun to gentrify, and neighbors objected to the smell of the smoker. They were known for their smoked mullet. The owner put up a huge fight, backed by all old-timers. Ultimately, after several years, he lost. The other complaint was that the fishermen, who pulled in there, were not as clean and well-groomed as some of the neighbors would have liked.”

Fast forward to 2011, Scott Dolan becomes Siesta Key’s newest lone island fishmonger with the opening of Big Water Fish Market. The doors of Dolan’s market opened on 11/11/11 at 11 am. The market/restaurant is located near the south bridge on Siesta Key in the Crescent Beach Shopping Center (6641 Midnight Pass Road).

The shop’s décor has a relaxed and unpretentious Caribbean vibe, where flip-flops are the norm, and the staff is ready to serve with a friendly smile.

This retail fish market and casual restaurant specializes in sea-to-table fresh, wild-caught Florida seafood, offering a delicious casual dining menu, with daily specials Monday through Saturday, from 11 am to 9 pm.

Also offered is a small selection of fresh produce along with a variety of specialty spices, sauces, and products to complement your seafood, providing the convenience of one-stop shopping.

If you love the thrill of the catch, but not keen on its preparation – no worries.  The staff at Big Water Fish Market will gladly clean and prepare the fish to your specifications.

This customized service, along with an increasing menu selection has increased Dolan’s customer base allowing him to expand his Midnight Pass location.

With the success of his flagship business, Dolan recently partnered with his longtime manager, Sebastian Marin, to open up a second location in the Siesta Key Village, located at 217 Avenida Madera. The Village storefront is sandwiched between Solórzano’s Pizzeria and Sub Zero.

The new site opened for business on September 1st, and is slowly ramping up to be fully stocked by season. The hours for this location are Monday through Saturday, noon to 7 pm, and Sunday from 3 – 7 pm.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and do a Q & A with Scott Dolan and Sebastian Marin.

My first round of questions was for Scott Dolan.

Q. When and what inspired you to open up a fish market/restaurant on Siesta Key?

A. Ever since I was a kid, seafood has been in my blood. I loved to eat it as a kid, and since college, I have been in the seafood industry as a manager or owner in some capacity. I opened a fish market/butcher shop/NY style deli in Atlanta in the 90’s, and it was a huge success. Eventually, I sold the business and moved to Siesta Key where I saw the need and wanted to repeat my past successful operation, and I found a location that I loved in the Crescent Plaza Shopping Center. What truly inspired me to choose this route again was the fact that on a daily basis I was sending tourists over the bridge to buy fish and could see the disappointment from the vacationers who had to leave the island.

Q. Are you aware it appears you helped set off the business boom revival on what many call “South Village shops” or the Crescent Beach shops and restaurants when you opened up Big Water Fish Market in the Crescent Beach Shopping Center? Let’s take a look at what happened after you opened up. A Taste of Germany moved from the Village, Daiquiri Deck opened up a second location on the Key, the Toasted Mango opened up a second location and Siesta Key Marina changed hands and opened up Spearfish Grill.

A. Wow, what a compliment…thank you! I was very confident in my concept and location, but I never imagined the south side of Siesta Key would blow up as it has. Frankly, the competition doesn’t scare me. It only makes my staff and myself more competitive, and it also brings more people to the south side of the island. We’re the best in the industry, so we welcome the competition.  The pizza boys turning seafood are monkey see, monkey do.  I am the go-to seafood guy in town, I am very comfortable with our situation because we do seafood better than anyone.

Q. Let’s get some background. Are you a native Floridian? If not, where and what did you do before coming to Siesta Key?

A. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan (Go Blue!) although I feel like a Siesta Key native. I have been here for 18 years…man time sure does fly by.

Q. I see you are expanding your shop in the Crescent Beach location. What changes can patrons expect once you are finished with the expansion?

A. We are in the early stages of planning. Unfortunately, there is always red tape and hoops to jump through, but the end result will be more dining space and a larger renovated kitchen. During season we lose approximately 50 customers a night due to long lines, so the hope is this addition will solve our problem (which some would not consider being a problem).

Q. Can you explain what makes your business so unique?

A. I believe it’s a few different factors. It is the unique concept of being able to pick your fresh, wild-caught local fish from the display case and have it prepared the way you want it (blackened, fried or grilled). I initially picked this location years ago due to the lack of local fresh seafood options that were available on the south end of Siesta Key. One of the most interesting things about our concept is our international customer base; we’re making new friends from around the world every week. The knowledgeable, dedicated friendly staff is just the icing on the cake. My team considers themselves to be an all-star lineup as good as the LA Lakers with LeBron.

Q. Who comes up with all the great recipes?

A. The recipes are a combination of my travels with a lot of inspiration from longtime employee and friend Jack Hodges and current Kitchen Manager Aaron Mobley…we all work together on recipes and specials.

Q. You’re partnering with your longtime manager Sebastian Marin with the new Big Water Fish Market North, in the Village. Why open a second location on Siesta Key?

A. We felt that we would not be in competition with ourselves as during season the traffic can inhibit people on the north end from traveling to the south and vice versa. We also felt the north end was in need of a good fish market as the south end was when we first opened. Besides, Sebastian was ready to begin a business for himself & his family, and he definitely has the seafood knowledge and talent to pull it off.

My next set of questions was for Sebastian Marin.

Q. How did you meet Scott?

A. Scott and I met almost 7 years ago when my wife was doing a stock assessment on his fish, and he was looking for someone to help him open the fish market.  At the time I was taking time off after many years of operating restaurants. So my wife told Scott that she had the perfect guy for him and the rest is history.

Q. Are you from Florida? If not, where are you from and how did you end up on Siesta Key?

A. I was born in Medellin, Colombia in 1979, moved to Florida in 1985, and made my way to Sarasota in 1988. I attended Incarnation and Cardinal Mooney High School and knew since a young age that Sarasota was going to be my home.

Q. What makes Big Water Fish Market so unique?

A. Big Water Fish Market is unique because we strive to have the freshest fish on Siesta Key and to be able to provide customers with a wide selection of local fish which can be prepared in an effortless but delicious way; grilled or blackened.

After wrapping up the interviews, it became apparent why their business model has been so successful over the years affording them an opportunity to open a second location. They found a need and capitalized on it in a unique and fun way to serve the community.