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TUCK READER: Eric’s Fresh Fish Market expands to Franklin

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


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Eric’s Fresh Fish Market expands to Franklin

by Giles Morris on March 29, 2011

SYLVA/FRANKLIN–– Eric Hendrix is a musician, writer, teacher, and community organizer. He’s a businessman too, the owner of Eric’s Fresh Fish Market, which will open up at a second location on the Highlands Rd. in Franklin, Thursday April 7.

Hendrix is not your typical businessman. He uses Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to guide his operations; he started his enterprise as the economy crashed; and he sees selling fish in the mountains as a kind of mission.

“Norma and I wanted to eat healthier. Less red meat. I used to catch fish as a child living in Central America where my dad was stationed and it was always a staple at our dinner table,” Hendrix said.

Eric Hendrix (right) inspects his delivery from Inland Seafood. Giles Morris photo. 

Hendrix opened Eric’s Fresh Fish Market in the summer of 2008 as a way to supplement his income as an English instructor at Western Carolina University. That job went away with the downturn and a round of layoffs.

The fish market, though, has taken off, in part because like any successful business venture it has met a demand and in part because Hendrix has created a lean model that’s suited to weathering the storm.

“The collapse happened in the fall after I started. The lean business model has met a need. It’s high quality fish at good prices,” Hendrix said. “I’m not getting rich but I’m making a decent living. It’s more than just fish for me. It’s community.”

Hendrix’ shoe-string success story is a lesson in how a business can be an expression of self. He uses all second-hand appliances purchased from area suppliers, because he wants to be green. He rents a space on Mill Street in Sylva, because it’s close to the Jackson County Farmer’s Market, where people can buy healthy, local produce. He’s used his writing and his sense of community to build a newsletter subscriber list of over 1,400 people, because he wants to stay involved in what’s going on around him.

The newsletter, more than any other single factor, has driven the fish market’s growth.

“The first week I opened, people wanted to know what was available next week and I couldn’t tell them,” Hendrix said. “It just evolved from there.”

Eric’s newsletter has become a weekly email full of links to events happening in the community–– from farmer’s markets to other businesses opening up shop to community news issues. Oh yeah, and a list of fish coming in fresh that week with recipe ideas.

“It seemed self-serving just to talk about myself,” Hendrix said.

So without a marketing budget, Hendrix has built a market for fresh fish in Sylva. A long-time restaurant owner in Franklin, he had a relationship with Inland Seafood of Atlanta, one of the country’s largest wholesale suppliers of fresh fish.

He convinced Inland Seafood’s regional marketing and sales director Mike Hulsey to make a weekly delivery of fish to his little shop on Mill St. And the people started coming.

While salmon and shrimp are, predictably, the market’s best sellers, I watch voraciously for his Dover sole, his North Carolina flounder, and his sashimi grade Ahi tuna. Inland Seafood offers a wide range of fresh fish and fresh frozen seafood and is the main supplier for some of Asheville’s best restaurants.

In addition to the fish, I buy the Virginia select oysters for oyster stew and the Maryland soft shell crabs when they’re available, which I dredge and pan fry.

Gone are the days of buying dyed, farmed salmon or frozen Chinese tilapia at a supermarket fish counter.

“People know when they buy fish from me on Saturday that it was delivered no earlier than Thursday,” Hendrix said. “And in most cases it arrived at Inland the day before.”

Hendrix’ newsletter allows him not to over-order, and he keeps his fish in 30-degree refrigerators. Success can be simple, even if you’re using Longfellow for marketing advice.

“Let us, then, be up and doing,/ With a heart for any fate;/ Still achieving, still pursuing,/ Learn to labor and to wait,” reads the poem “A Psalm of Life”, which Hendrix used to set to guitar music for his English students.

With one success under his belt, Hendrix is expanding the business to a new location at 1571 Highlands Rd. in the Bellview Shops in Franklin, which he believes will open new opportunities.

“Sylva is not Franklin and Franklin is not Sylva,” Hendrix said. “My Sylva location is downtown and serves the downtown community. Franklin is based on access.”

Hendrix has nurtured the relationship between his shop and the Glorious Jackson County Farmer’s Market, which offers the area’s best vegetables within plain sight of his entrance every Saturday during the growing season, because he sees a common goal.

The Franklin business is blessed with a big parking lot, and Hendrix plans to work in conjunction with the growers at Living Earth Farm Shares to coordinate his hours with their distribution days.

“It’s just a natural relationship,” Hendrix said. “It’s all about eating healthy.”

Eric’s Fresh Fish Market is open Thursday and Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. beginning in April.

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