In each issue of Detroit City Limits, we’ll profile a regular vendor at Detroit’s Eastern Market, focusing on some of the lesser-known vendors and products.
This week: Bay Port Fish Co.
Vendor: Owner Tod Williams and daughter Lakon Williams.
Products: Fresh, frozen and smoked fish and other seafood from the Great Lakes.
Location: Fishing on Lake Huron near the “thumb” area of the Lower Peninsula and vending at Shed 3 at Eastern Market.
Q&A with Tod and Lakon Williams
DCL: How did you get started?
TW: We bought the company from a guy who had been in business since the 1930s in the village of Bay Port on Lake Huron. At first I ran it with my brother, but he has passed away. Our staff varies from year to year, but it’s usually me, my daughter and about half a dozen other employees, all part-timers. We also get some of our fish, like trout, from tribal fisherman, since a treaty with the local Native Americans allows them to fish for certain types of fish but sportsmen can’t.
LW: I started with my family’s company in April 2012 full time, but I have worked farmers markets since they started selling at the one in Port Austin. I usually am the vendor at Eastern Market, and Dad is most importantly our boat captain. We have four boats altogether, but only three we use regularly. They are The Osprey, The Patsy, The Argo, and the docked boat, the Sunflower.
DCL: What are your most popular products?
TW: Our yellow perch and whitefish are popular and we sell quite a few catfish. We sell a lot of smoked fish. It’s hot smoked, a lot different from cold-smoked salmon, which is practically raw.
DCL: How did you get involved with Eastern Market?
TW: We’ve got a retail market near where we fish, but with the economy and the price of gas, people aren’t traveling to buy fish. We started going to Port Austin at the tip of the thumb, to vend at a farmers market there for the past seven or eight years years, and then Ann Arbor farmers market for four or five years. Various people said we should try to get in at Eastern Market, and we’re grateful they let us in there. We aren’t selling there right now, because we don’t fish in the winter. We’ll be back to fishing in March, but our boats are on dry land right now.
LW: We plan to attend the market April through December, possibly extending to all year if customers demand it. I love being a part of the Eastern market family and am anticipating next year already.
DCL: What’s in the future for your business?
TW: It’s hard to say. We’re limited by the Michigan DNR in terms of where we can fish and what we can fish, so every year, what we have to sell just depends on what we catch.
DCL: What do you like about Detroit?
TW: I grew up in that area, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. It looks to me like they’ve turned a corner. Eastern Market is pretty impressive, and the whole downtown area seems to be blooming.
–Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at email@example.com.