Supply Chain: An Afternoon with Sunny’s Seafood’s Big Kahuna, Steve Dulock
For the first post of our new series, we spent some quality time with the man behind the seafood at your favorite restaurants.
Welcome to Supply Chain, where Cassandra Landry goes behind the plates of local restaurants to get a feel for the day-to-day of Bostonâ€™s most relied-upon restaurant purveyors.
Itâ€™s a little after noon on Fish Pier Street off Seaport Boulevard, and the stock room at Sunnyâ€™s Seafood is empty but for a few guys clearing the concrete floors of wayward clumps of ice, and a few tubs stacked with fish bones and guts. The main hustle of the morning is done, most of the fleet of trucksâ€”emblazoned with the red Sunnyâ€™s logoâ€”have left on their errands, and co-owner Steven Dulock, Jr. is fiddling with Google to bring up one of his restaurant clientâ€™s menus. The desktop photo is a fish with a cigarette perched in its mouth, a Budweiser can in the background. On the window looking out into the warehouse, a fortune cookie slip proclaiming, â€śYou have sound business sense,â€ť is secured in place with a small piece of Scotch tape.
After 25 years, it seems that Dulockâ€™s business sense is more than sound. Back in 1989, Dulock (yes, brother to Somerville butcher Michael) and his father set out delivering ten pound orders around town in a used Post Office Jeep found at an auction. These days, Sunny’s schleps a little over one hundred thousand pounds of product a week to restaurants and resorts all over the world. They are both a wholesaler and a specialty house, selling to not only your favorite joint down the street, but other (often competing) suppliers. Dulock takes hard-to-find and first-of-the-season items (think softshell crab), and buys them regardless of price. If Boston canâ€™t handle the price tag so early in the season, somewhere in the Turks and Caicos probably can.
â€śIn the city, we compete with other purveyors, but we sell to them as well. We have a good relationship, in the sense that we donâ€™t go after their accounts and vice versa, you know?â€ť he says. â€śYou get an idea of whoâ€™s selling to who, and you donâ€™t play that game.â€ť
On average, Sunnyâ€™s deals with around 70 fishermen, 60 independent vendors (who in turn often buy from 40 to 50 fishermen themselves), and 40 oyster farmers up and down the Eastern Seaboard. 90% of their product is wild-caught and locally fished, and the family also owns and distributes Jo Jo Caviar, the only caviar house in Boston Basically, odds are, youâ€™ve chowed down on some variant of Dulock seafood recently.
â€śWorking with chefs is definitely challenging because every chef has their own idea of what product is supposed to look like,â€ť he says, adding that Sunnyâ€™s no-minimum policy attracts most of their regulars. (Coppa and Toro chef-owner Jamie Bissonnette mentions that if he screws up, Sunnyâ€™s is always willing to come lateâ€”a major plus.)
Josh Lewin, executive chef at the Beacon Hill Bistro, is one such regular, noting that the Sunnyâ€™s crew is always on deck with answers about where the product came from and who hauled it from the sea. To boot, he adds, â€śTheyâ€™re always happy to show us around behind the scenes so we can see how our fish is being handled once it is in Bostonâ€¦we appreciate the transparency.â€ť
When considering his role in the kitchens of Boston and beyond, Dulock pauses for a moment before explaining that while Sunnyâ€™s may not be the biggest supplier in the neighborhood, but it often feels like the best kept secret of the industry.
â€śA lot of chefs will never mention who their suppliers are because they want to keep that quiet,â€ť he says, before mentioning a few names: Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, Ken Oringer, Tony Maws, and Barbara Lynch, for starters. â€śOut of the top hundred chefs in the country, Iâ€™d say 35 of them are on our customer list.â€ť
Not surprisingly, over two decades in the business has lent Dulock and his team some insight on the ups and downs of the preferences of Boston chefs. The hot topic these days? If you guessed, â€śtrash fishâ€ťâ€”the notion that using the fish usually tossed back by fishermen is one of the strongest ways to rebuild sustainability in the seafood industryâ€” youâ€™d be correct. What you might not guess is that Dulock isnâ€™t the movementâ€™s biggest fan. But itâ€™s not the concept he seems to take issue with; itâ€™s the branding. He sees the tongue-in-cheek label as disrespectful, and in many cases, doesnâ€™t believe the underdogs of the sea kingdom are worth all the fuss.
â€śWhat Iâ€™ve noticed is that certain chefs are opening up their creative process to species that they could be using instead of the typical ones. Now itâ€™s grouper, cobia, black sea bass, not cod, haddock, or Pollock,â€ť he explains. â€śIâ€™m not saying that the less expensive proteins arenâ€™t valuable and canâ€™t taste great, but normally we donâ€™t sell things that adhere to that model, simply because I believe in selling fish that makes it easier for these fishermen to make a solid living.â€ť
But if you really want dogfish, Dulock can get you dogfish. That is, after all, precisely what he does best.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/restaurants/blog/2013/05/08/supply-chain-an-afternoon-with-sunnys-seafoods-big-kahuna-steve-dulock/