“Am I talking too fast?” asked Martha Gaul, the person behind all seafood at Heinen’s. “I’m just so excited; I want to tell you everything!”
To say Gaul has passion for her job would be an understatement. It’s genuine and quite refreshing. I spent some time with her last week in an attempt to get a better understanding of where my seafood – where our seafood – comes from.
Gaul has been in the grocery business for 36 years with the past 12 spent at Heinen’s. She started in the meat department at the old Rini-Rego then eventually oversaw the seafood department. When Giant Eagle took over, she wasn’t crazy about the operation and called Tom Heinen for a job, which led to a three-hour interview. A year-and-a-half later, he hired her. She jokes about still being salty that it took him so long.
In fact, she jokes a lot. It’s clear Gaul doesn’t take herself too seriously and likes to have fun. And that fun carries over into how she manager her team, roughly 40 people (though she quickly adds that there are many more that wish they were part of her group).
“We have a very hands-on team,” she explains. “We are all equal, no one is the boss. Actually, they are all my boss. They tell me what they need and how things can continue to improve. We have a great, open relationship. At the end of the day, it’s all about selling great product and having fun, and we have fun.”
How has the BP spill affected business? Less than 2 percent of all seafood actually comes from the Gulf, Gaul explains, primarily oysters and shrimp. We don’t get anything from the Gulf. But in general, it has affected prices of oysters because the demand for oysters from other areas is so much stronger, so goes the price.
Where does your seafood comes from? About 30 percent of our seafood comes from Euclid Fish (mostly shellfish – clams, mussels, also swordfish, etc.). We also work with Euro USA out of Cleveland. On the east coast, I like Puritan for cod, sole, haddock (delivers from there twice a week).
But what she is really excited about is a new partnership that started at the end of February with an Alaskan company called Favco. “They deliver overnight direct to our stores five days a week [no deliveries on Sundays and Mondays]. We get Alaskan cod, king salmon, Coho salmon, saki salmon, halibut, rockfish [which she strongly recommends] and more. You have no idea how great this relationship has been. Fish is processed off the boat to our order. From Anchorage to Bainbridge. Customers are getting seafood that was in the water just 24 hours earlier – it’s absolutely amazing,” she explains.
The freshness doesn’t stop there. Gaul is looking into a direct from Hawaii program and something similar with a company out of Maine called Catch a Piece of Maine. “This company is great,” Gaul adds. “There are these two brothers that knew as kids they just wanted to be lobstermen. But their parents made them go to college just to be certain. They did, and then right after graduation followed their dream. I met with John [one of the brothers] and knew we wanted to work with them. These are the kind of people we like to work with – people with good stores, families; people that have pride in what they do and what they sell. These are the people and companies we seek out and like to support.”
What sets you guys apart? We have a knowledgeable team, an excited and enthusiastic team. Our fish is ridiculously fresh. We aren’t afraid not to carry something. Sometimes the fishermen go out to work and come back empty. Or if something comes to us and we’re not crazy about it, we don’t take it. If we wouldn’t buy it ourselves, we won’t sell it. Nothing in our case is frozen, except for the shrimp. Our product is really superior and the best in town. Also, we work with great, local suppliers. It’s a pleasure doing business with these people. I know exactly where our food comes from; we all do, and happily pass on this information and these stories to our customers. There is nothing to hide; it’s the only way to do business.
How long is seafood in the case for? No more than 2 to 3 days. If we don’t sell something, we cook it. How long is something good in our fridge for? 1 – 2 days, after that, I’d freeze it.
It’s almost clambake time! We kick off clambake season with a huge clambake/meeting at the beach (she has held other meetings at Whiskey Island – she likes to get out of the office atmosphere and have fun with her group). We easily sell a couple thousand clambakes a season; it’s a great time of the year for us. You used to only sell in months that end in R, but now we sell year-round (farm-raised clams from the east coast; wild clams from Prince Edward Island). We actually sell clambakes all year long, but of course September and October are the busy times. It’s chilly and perfect. A beer in one hand and broth in the other, what could be better?
We do everything from individual bakes to giving you everything you need to host a clambake for a big group, including the pot, burner and stand. Gaul shares that they get everything from Euclid Fish then sell to the customers and that there’s zero markup to the customer when they need to rent equipment.
Why do you like your job so much? I can’t even tell you how much I like where I work and what I do. I get anxious to go to work in the morning! This really is the best organization to work for. Tom and Jeff [Heinen] are just top-notch. Classy, loyal and generous human beings. You can sit down and have a beer with them – they are one of us. I really do love it; I wish I worked here for more than 12 years.
What Heinen’s do you shop at? I shop at all of them, wherever I end my day. I can honestly tell you that I don’t shop anywhere else. If we don’t carry it I don’t need it. Growing up, my mom would shop at the Green Rd. store. I can remember she would only let food in the house that was bought at Heinen’s because she trusted them.
Favorite restaurant in town? Whiskey Island, Sunset Bar. Take the dog, grab a beer and sit on the picnic table, nothing better.
What restaurant do you miss? Sawyer House in Mentor.
If you had to eat seafood everyday for the rest of your life, what would it be? Scallops because you can cook them a variety of ways and the flavor and texture is just great.
Favorite childhood meal? Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn that my mom made.
Although this post was sponsored by Heinen’s, I can tell you that I truly enjoyed spending some time with Marty. Personally, I am very picky about where my food comes and regardless of what I buy, I like to know its origin. This Q&A was informative and made me feel good about the seafood purchases I have been buying. I was especially intrigued and impressed about the seafood from Alaska. I was also impressed with Marty in general. It’s refreshing to meet people that are giddy about their work and actually like what they do. I’m the same way about my career and could never understand why anyone would spend so much time doing something that doesn’t make them happy. We spend so much of our lives working; we might as well enjoy it.
Finally, if you have thoughts or questions yourself about anything seafood related, Marty wants to hear from you. She looks forward to chatting with customers and encourages people to call her at anytime for whatever they may need: 216-475-2300 x 2323.