by Gail Callahan
Where does Montpelier’s fish come from? For many local restaurants, the answer is Massachusetts-based wholesaler Wood Mountain Fish helmed by Ethan Wood, who pursues a “bait-to-plate” philosophy that pulls the fish from the water in the morning and gets them in Vermont kitchens by evening.
David Huck, worker-owner of Woodbelly Pizza & Catering in Montpelier, knows Wood’s products well. The Barre Street business has sourced fish exclusively from Wood for more than four years.
“Ethan is very knowledgeable about sustainable fishing, is honest, and provides an incredibly fresh product at a reasonable price,” Huck says. “Ethan helps us use less-threatened whitefish species and sustainable shellfish when we serve large events, while also offering premium fillets and whole oven-baked fish at the request of other customers. The striper is fantastic.”
Dreux Potvin, a kitchen manager at Three Penny Taproom on Main Street, said Wood Mountain Fish, like Woodbelly Pizza, supplies the restaurant with all of its fish needs. “The quality is always there,” says Potvin, noting he’s dealt with Wood for four years. The main staples ordered include hake, pollack, oysters, mussels, and smoked fish.
The “bait-to-plate” approach has a lot to do with it, developed during the years Wood worked for Legal Sea Foods, sharpening his skills and his reputation for acquiring the finest products New England fishermen catch in their nets.
“The day I get it, you get it,” Wood explains. In other words, the fish starts the day in the water, goes to the fisherman’s boat, is packed into refrigerator boxes, passed to delivery vans, and driven north to Vermont restaurants. “I can tell you about who caught the fish and the time it came. Our work is personal, and I think it shows,” Wood stresses.
Wood emphasizes that he doesn’t have a warehouse, and he notes that when potential customers call, they speak with a person without pushing buttons and interacting with automated voicemail prompts. Wood delivers to between 50 and 100 customers in the Green Mountain State, mostly along the I-89 corridor, depending on the season.
That’s a large amount of growth since starting the business nearly 15 years ago with a humble pickup truck brimming with fish. “Our growth has come from word-of-mouth.” Wood points out. “People are still pretty passionate about food in Vermont. For us, we want to make our customers happy. There’s a lot of ways to market fish on a large scale, and you have to make it easy for the clients.”
The state’s foodie culture and demand for high quality, artisanal products is a big help, says Wood. “Vermont is, for the most part, a food-driven economy. I’m not going to take the risk in supplying below-standard fish to customers.”
Wood is also committed to selling sustainable products. The relationships he’s built with Vermont customers over time paves the way for a sustainable market:
“We service like-minded customers. They have the same approach to bringing local, quality, sustainable products to their businesses. We’re educating ourselves and we aim to feel good about everything we’re selling.”