In 1986, Dwight Colton landed a job with, what some may describe as a dream company. Fish Market Restaurants, which was created a decade earlier, was on the rise as a go-to eatery for West Coast residents who wanted fresh, gourmet seafood.
Today, Colton is the vice president of operations for Fish Market Restaurants, which now has several restaurants in California, including two in San Diego County. The most familiar location to some residents and tourists may be its downtown location, which opened 30 years ago this year and is situated on the waterfront.
Colton, who said he was referred to the company by a friend, made his way to California as a chef for the restaurant when it opened in San Diego. He went on to become a general manager and a regional manager before being promoted to his current position in 2006.
Colton said he chose to stay with the company through the decades because of his colleagues.
“Our company has always strived to hire people with great attitudes and a willingness to do whatever it takes to ensure that every guest has an uncompromising dining experience,” Colton said. “The concept began with a simple philosophy: serve the highest quality and freshest seafood in a clean and comfortable restaurant, and treat every guest as if they were a guest in your own home. This philosophy has made the decision to stay an easy one.”
Although Colton has many fond memories with the company, including meeting his wife Heather, a former employee, of 24 years — the 2015 fire that devastated the landmark San Diego restaurant stands out most to him. Apparent kitchen grease ignited a fire in May that year, causing $1.2 million in damages.
Colton said the building was “empty, full of smoke, fire and water damage.”
“t simply could not have looked bleaker,” Colton said. “The very next day, all of the owners were on site and committed their time, resources and finances to not only ensure that we were to reopen as soon as possible but to make sure that every employees’ wages were paid during the rehab period.”
In two months, the restaurant was operating again.
“The commitment to the staff and making them whole is unheard of in our industry,” Colton said.
Commitment Through the Years
As the restaurant industry continues to transform daily, Bob Wilson who co-founded the company in Palo Alto with Fred Duckett, said Fish Market Restaurants has stayed afloat because of its commitment to employees and guests.
“Not only is our product and ambiance first rate, but we look upon our operation as a ‘people business’ ranking our partners first,” Wilson said. “We don’t call them employees, because they work with us and not for us. There are 22 (people) that have been with us for over 30 years and next year we will recognize a bus boy for his 40 years of service. Even though we have tried to move him up, he is totally satisfied as a bus boy and doesn’t need the added responsibility.”
But Wilson said Fish Market Restaurants also strives to offer gourmet seafood that’s different from other eateries.
“We were among the first to grill seafood on Mexican mesquite wood charcoal,” Wilson said. “It produces forge like heat, sears the outside quickly, thus retaining the moisture inherent in the product. Along with our seafood market, which operates as an integral part of our operation, we are able to provide the freshest and highest quality seafood obtainable. All of our seafood is deboned whether purchased at the market or served in the restaurant.”
Colton said the commitment to its “people” shows in the feedback the company receives from guests.
“There were also countless guests who reached out to us after the fire and offered their help and pledged to return when we reopened,” Colton said. “That was really heartwarming.”
The Next 30 Years
Fish Market Restaurants has major plans as it looks forward, Colton said.
“We are embarking on significant remodel plans for number of our restaurants, including San Diego,” Colton said. “We feel this commitment to enhance the facilities, along with our longstanding commitment to the highest quality seafood and to our guests will help carry us forward for another 30 or more years.”
Of course, every plan implemented isn’t done without research. In fact, Wilson offers this advice for any entrepreneurs looking to find success, especially in the restaurant industry.
“Don’t try to do it without research,” Wilson said. “Seek out operations similar to what one would contemplate and copy what you feel are its strengths. It is in effect a free for all industry, just make certain you emulate the best of the guy with the ‘golden egg.’”
For more information about Fish Market Restaurants, go to www.thefishmarket.com.
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