I found that embracing change really extends success.
Usually for articles, they want me to start at the beginning of 51 years ago at Pearson’s Port, which is really my in-laws’ story. Pearson’s Port started in 1971. The backstory is that my father-in-law was a machinist for McDonald-Douglas and all the big layoffs were going on because the Vietnam war was ending and they lost their contracts so they were letting people go. He came home and said, “I’m going to go back to fishing.” It took him about two weeks to get everything back together again. At that time he was a gillnetter; he pulled his nets and he came home with one lobster. My mother-in-law, upset, met him down there, right where Pearson’s Port is now – it used to be a launch ramp. She met him down there and sold that first lobster to someone in the parking lot. It was more out of being upset at her husband for quitting his job before he was laid off… and Pearson’s Port was born. He said, “I’m going to build you a market” and she said, “I don’t know who’s going to be in there because it’s not going to be me.” It was 28 years later that her son – my husband – and I bought the market from them.
It was something I didn’t see myself doing, but my husband is a commercial fisherman. He has only ever been a fisherman and is a really good one. I knew that for him to continue what he was doing, to stay successful at that, it was going to take the two of us. So I just took it on and before I knew it, we were buying the market and that became my life. For myself, with all respect to my mother-in-law and father-in-law, I needed to change things. When we bought the business, it was in the red. It wasn’t deep in the red, but it was in the red more weeks than it was in the black. That was 100% due to lack of change and lack of accepting that change is ok. To the point that she wouldn’t allow a credit card machine. She would take bad checks from people before the credit card machine, which was a guaranteed payment! I found that embracing change really extends success.
I had quite a few different jobs before Pearson’s Port. I started working very early, when I was 12, because a neighbor of ours had a catering business and I was so interested in what she was doing that she started taking me along. By the time I was 14 years old, she was dropping me off and leaving me there and I was running jobs and I loved it. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Except snakes. When Pearson’s Port rolled along and I was going to San Pedro where I was the only female in the area, which my mother-in-law did before me, so it was her and then it was me. But she wasn’t with me. I would get in these big containers of cuttings, just picking stuff and throwing it in barrels for my husband as I was waiting for other boats to come in with fish for me to purchase off those boats to sell at Pearson’s Port. The men at these other businesses were like, “Whoa. Look at her. She’s not afraid of anything,” They’d say, “Oh my gosh, honey, what are you doing?” And I’d say, “Well, I need six barrels of bait, so let’s go.” They’d say, “Let me get some guys to help you,” I don’t need help, let the guys do their work. I’ll take care of it. But it became a place where, because I did work hard, I got so much respect. It ended up, I get the red carpet rolled out for me. The guys that work down there, when they see my truck pulling up – things are pretty dangerous down there again, we went through a really nice period where things cleaned up but it’s really bad again – they protect me. It’s a whole different ball game. My intent on those days was to be able to gather up as much bait as I could for my husband to fish and to be able to leave there with something I could sell to start bringing a profit in. That just became my life.
It is very interesting what a typical day used to be, and what a typical day is now. What it used to be is me getting up at 2:30 in the morning and driving to Santa Barbara and picking up 500 pounds of crab and turning right around and driving back, taking the kids to school – with 500 pounds of live crab – and dropping them off and then coming home and taking a shower and then going to the fish market and working alone. Unloading the truck myself, loading all of that crab into the tanks and opening the doors to the market. Then closing the doors to the market at 2:15 with a sign that said “Be back at 3:00” and I would hop back in the truck, go pick the girls up from school. People would see me every day and everybody at that time, all the mommies of Huntington Beach, were driving big Excursions and big giant Suburbans. I’ve always driven a big pickup truck because I need the power to carry the weight, not because I want to. Many times, I’d be pulling a trailer and it would be full of lobster traps on top of it and I’m picking up the kids from school. To my girls, that is normal life. I’d have my fishing boots on when I’d pick them up from school and when they’re young, you have to actually go in and get them from the teacher, they can’t just come out to the car. Which is a drag for someone like me because now I’ve got to find a parking space for a 20-footer and I’m wearing fishing boots and sweatpants. One of the moms asked me one day, “What are you, like a roofer?” Just looking down on me. I say to her, “Sorry, I don’t have time to talk, my tar’s getting cold. Come on girls let’s go.” And the girls are like, “What tar?” And I was like, “Oh, she thinks I’m a roofer.”
Now, things have calmed down quite a bit. I have most stuff delivered now. And that happened out of the kindness of people’s hearts because I got diagnosed with cancer that news got out and all these guys started delivering for me and now it’s just a thing. That’s been something that has changed their businesses a little bit and now I’m just part of the rounds and I don’t have to go sit at LAX and wait for things to clear customs to pick it up. Now all that is delivered to me. My girls are older and my daughter who is an RN now, she worked at the market probably since she was 10, they were always there as kids, but really started working at about 10 and worked for us until she got her RN and then off to the hospital she went. My other daughter has her college degree and has been running the market for a while, so I go in one to two days a week and either work all day or partial days and I’m trying to learn what to do with myself now.
All those crab – there are six tanks, and the same with lobster – they’re completely empty. Gone. Every single week there are times in the week where the market still surprises me. And that’s the fun part. I know we’re doing something right. I know it’s not because I’m bringing in less quantity, that we’re selling out. I’m bringing in as much as I possibly can. There were times in earlier years when I was selling off three quarters of the catch and selling a quarter of it in the market. And then it went to about 50% and then it went to about three quarters. Then I was like, “Ok, we’re going to just take it all.” And Tommy was like, “Whoa, you’re taking it all?” Yeah. And I’ll let you know if it was the wrong decision!
We sell everything that he catches and we are selling more fish than he can catch because he’s doing so much trapping now, more shellfish. So I am bringing in and using other boats, which we’ve been doing for years and years. Purchasing-wise, I’m purchasing things that come from other places, like salmon because we don’t have salmon here. The clams, we bring in from Long Island. I have a really good connection with some fishermen in New Zealand so they’re shipping direct. A fabulous company that I’ve worked with forever in San Pedro – they’re still there doing their thing so I’m selling to them and they’re selling to me. We’re all in business together doing our thing. I am this little teeny dot and they are these big huge corporations, so again, putting in all that work and laying all that groundwork for all those years.
I love to make things, so I make Christmas ornaments every year for all of our clients. I started doing it 20 years ago and people have 20 ornaments from every single year. I started doing that because I didn’t have the money to buy all these guys presents in Pedro and down in Oceanside, Santa Barbara, all these harbors that I was going to all the time collecting local seafood. I started making these Christmas ornaments and giving them to them: “I made this for you.” That was so heartwarming that it brought everyone closer and closer so I’ve been doing that for 21 years.
How can we make it personal? Because everything has become so impersonal. Everybody is in everybody’s business and none of it is real. It’s very important in a business that you don’t lose touch. A couple of things happened: right before I got diagnosed with cancer I was kind of shaking in my shoes business-wise, thinking, “We’re starting to age out.” We’re looking at 70% aging out of regulars. Starting to see more care givers… still buying, sending someone to get it, but aging out. What am I going to do? Instagram. Opportunity is there – we need to reach for it and this is where not being afraid of change comes in. Because yes, you’re putting yourself out there in such a different way and I still have an amount of protection that I put up, from Instagram, because I don’t want people ordering on Instagram, I want them to call the market. This is not how we do things, and it’s not because it’s this staunch way, but I know my business. I could post on a daily menu that I have yellowtail but by the time you get there at 4:00, I’m sold out. Someone will say, “Well, I ordered on Instagram.” We’ll answer the telephone but I’m not tied to my cell phone, I’m tied to you physically standing here. So I need to learn how to work that.
My family was always egging me on, always proud. Both my parents are 80, they both come to the fish market and they sit in chairs and they watch the happenings and people know that they’re my parents. Every fourth of July we do a fish taco barbecue at the top of the ramp and we literally do between 200 and 500 fish tacos just that day, and it’s 11:00 to 3:00. My parents come and help and now they’re older so I try to have them not help as much. My dad gets so excited, “I’ve been talking to these same people and their kids are grown now, did you know their son got married?” It’s fun. They’ve been able to get little bits of what I’ve seen: families growing. We have generations of people who come by.
I can’t tell you how many people I met through their spouses getting treatment at Hoag. Because while they’re getting treatment, they’re kind of wandering around thinking, “What am I going to do with my time?” Let’s take this chair at the back of the market, it’s so peaceful back there, sit and relax, enjoy the view, stay as long as you want any time she has treatment. And they do! And all of a sudden, they’re like, “It’s her last treatment” and we get all this celebrating and all these people who I would have never known. I’m part of this crazy thing that’s going on in their life that’s horrific and sometimes super joyous. Another woman, she was coming for treatment all the time and she got a kidney transplant. But she’s still doing great and I see her occasionally because they live in Moreno Valley, which is far, but they come in for crab about once a month. Those are all the great parts.
I had somebody yesterday I called for lobsters, and I said, “Are you guys going to come and get these because I’m super low on lobsters,” and she said, “You know what, Terese, we took our boat from Huntington Harbor and brought it into Newport but we couldn’t get under the bridge, so we turned around and we’re going back home. So if you can sell those lobsters go ahead because I don’t feel like driving back to Newport.” Ok, no problem. But that’s a reality for people. That, and then somebody who has been doing work in one of the homes as a housekeeper who comes in and I know that the bus is coming by at 3:00 so I say to the people in front of her, “You know, I’m going to help her first because her ride is coming right at 3:00, do you mind?” “Oh no, go right ahead.” She deserves just as much respect as the person whose boat doesn’t fit under the bridge.
Intention is where everything is set with me. If you start with great intention then things do grow from there. From the moment we start fishing, the intention of the bait we’re cutting is that it’s going to bring us a good harvest. That intent goes through to catching the seafood and then when it comes to us at the market itself, now I’m cutting the seafood, making a good cut, sharpening the knife correctly… it’s not about being a stickler, it’s about the intent of greatness.
It has been unbelievable to me to be able to be the face of this business. We get people who walk in every day and say, “What’s this place?” and people will stand right next to them and say, “You’ve never been here?” It’s amazing to have a big golf tournament that went on and now I have pro golfers walking into my little postage stamp saying, “Everybody was talking about this place at the ninth hole!” I’m looking at these people – I don’t have time to watch golf and I don’t know who’s who, but then I hear from another customer, “Do you know who that was?” How crazy is that? It really is such a special place and it’s such an unassuming little place. We’re the last floating fish market in the whole state.
I would say, especially being a woman in a man’s world, that just grabbing the bull by the horns and keeping your idea of what you have for the business right on your forehead and just keep going forward. No matter what happens, keep moving forward. And if you keep moving forward with that good intention, obstacles that were in front of you tend to lie down and then you can walk right over them. My mother-in-law, she definitely showed me the ropes and then walked away and it was a sink or swim situation. Those are obstacles that you have to walk through. You can’t let them define you. Twenty years later, here we sit.