Instead of lamenting their jobs selling timeshares lost when the pandemic shut down tourism, Edward Blum and Jared Dufault decided to open their own business.
Kona Seafood Market opened Sept. 14 on Kopiko Street in the same parking lot as The Club and boasts the freshest local fish and seafood.
Blum said before the pandemic hit he was living in South Kona, and on his commute to town, would see three to four vendors on the side of the road selling fish, often with a line of people waiting to purchase the catch.
“It got to the point where we thought there has to be a better way. This can’t be the best solution for the locals who go out there and fish days on end trying to make ends meet,” recalled Blum. “For the locals who should have so much access to fresh fish, their options are the grocery store or someone on the side of the road just didn’t seem right to us. There’s got to be something better.”
They had friends who owned fishing boats tell them it would take two days to go out fishing and two days to sell all their fish.
They thought that the time spent selling fish could be better used to increase their catch.
“So we started selling their fish and we saw how big the demand was and it exploded from there. We knew that we had something,” he said.
The fishmongers locally source their seafood from fishermen. They also sell shrimp from Shrimp Improvement Systems, lobsters, oysters, clams and mussels from Kona Cold located at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority.
“We try to get every single thing we can locally, but if we can’t we go elsewhere,” he said noting they just started importing salmon and scallops.
They also sell ahi bone, belly, collars and cheeks; local favorites hard to come by in the stores.
“There’s a lot of locals who don’t know we are here so we are trying to get the word out,” said Dufault.
They also make Kona Kampachi ceviche and some poke, and look forward to creating grab-and-go lunches.
Even though most of their clientele was local at first, they said they have experienced an uptick in business since tourists started returning to the island, although their main focus is serving the community.
“We have private chefs from Kukio and Hualalai buy from us, so we keep quality product for everybody. We have billionaires eating our fish as well as common folk. We are here for everybody,” Blum said. “We want to get the word out across the island that we are here for the average person. We’re not Suisan and don’t intend to be.”
Dufault said putting everything in one location under one roof makes it easier for the locals.
“It has helped us with the way we worked out pricing structures to be able to offer pretty consistent pricing for the locals,” Dufault explained. “We have only been in business four months and every single month it has gotten busier and busier and it’s only going to continue to get busier. The business is going to grow so we’re always going to need more fishermen. As long as they have a commercial license. If their fish is the quality we expect for our customer base then we will take it.”
They are also grateful for the opportunity to help local fishermen.
“The amount of local fishermen we have supported already is crazy,” Blum said. “Dozens of them that we have paid tens of thousands of dollars to.”
In addition to their storefront, they take pre-orders for the Saturday Keauhou Farmers Market and have plans to do the same in Waimea and Waikoloa. They also appear at pop-up food truck events selling fish sandwiches, poke, ceviche, skewers and tostadas.
Both said they are glad they took the leap of faith opening a business in the throes of a pandemic.
Both filed for unemployment when they lost their jobs. Dufault only received one check and Blum still has his claims pending since February 2020.
“If I was still waiting for that (unemployment insurance) I would be homeless, living in my car,” said Blum. “You can’t do that. You have to take advantage of the opportunities at hand. A lot of people sit there and feel sorry for themselves. I’m not that person. At the end of the day no one is going to take care of us.”
“Everything is a matter of perspective,” continued Dufault. “We can choose to look at it as the ‘feel bad for me’ or ‘I’m not going to start a business now’ but for us it was the perfect storm. It created the opportunity. If the coronavirus didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have this right now.”
“We have been very blessed,” said Blum. “We did this for our community. We did this to help the community.”
Kona Seafood Market is open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They also offer a 10% kamaaina discount on all fish filets, seafood, poke and ceviche.
“It is very important to us to support small local business,” said Dufault. “Sustainability is important to us. The most important thing to us is to have everything fresh.”