I always laugh when valley folks tell me they don’t like eating seafood so far from the coast.
So far from the coast? I’ve eaten sushi in Indiana — now that’s risking it all for the love of raw fish, people. Yet in Modesto, the perception remains for some that no fish could possibly be fresh enough in the Central Valley. So new locally owned seafood distributor Ohana Seafood hopes to change people’s minds one great meal at a time.
The fledgling company, which launched in January, is run by father-and-son team John L. Mensonides and Jason Mensonides. Together they run a service that delivers fresh seafood straight from the docks of San Francisco — and sourced from all over the world — six days a week to area restaurants.
Ohana Seafood works with most of downtown Modesto’s high-end eateries — including Dewz, Galletto, Tresetti’s — and delivers from Sacramento to Turlock.
Before becoming a professional fishmonger, the senior Mensonides worked for 20 years in financial planning. A fourth generation Modestan, he left the field in the mid-2000s, and started a consulting business. One of his clients was Aloha Seafood, and he started working for them after falling in love with the industry.
He was general manager for the San Francisco-based Aloha for six years, handling most of their Central Valley customers. But last November he was let go, as the owners wanted to change course with their company.
So instead of looking for another company, Mensonides started his own. His Ohana Seafood (named for the Hawaiian word that means family and togetherness) works only with wholesalers who sell largely sustainable and ethically caught seafood on San Francisco’s Pier 45.
“We want our customers to feel that sense of love in ‘Ohana.’ We love our customers and we really will do back flips for them,” John Mensonides said. “We don’t just sling boxes of fish and get a document signed.”
The only question was would his Modesto and Central Valley clients follow him to Ohana.
The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes.
Galletto Ristorante Executive Chef Stephanie Chavez switched from Aloha to Ohana after the Mensonides family started the company.
“Hands down it’s their outstanding service. I can call John anytime day or night and he answers. I’ve texted him at midnight and he responds,” Chavez said.
The product quality is another reason. The men hand-select all of their products and make it their business to know the source and the way it was caught. Most of the Pacific catch was caught and then brought into Modesto the very next day.
For international offerings, say from Japan, John Mensonides said fish could be swimming in the ocean on a Tuesday, and in Modesto that Thursday morning via overnight flight and on your plate that evening.
“He can get anything from salmon to fresh squid to gulf shrimp and tiger shrimp. It’s all such great quality and all so fresh,” said Jordan Maisetti who owns Tresetti’s with his mother, Tammy Maisetti. They receive fish from Ohana three to four times a week, he said.
John’s wife, Kathleen Mensonides, also is a business partner in the venture. Together, the family has two freezer vans they use to make deliveries. Mensonides is up at 3 a.m. six days a week to head into San Francisco and select the freshest catches. When they started, the company’s main van had 12 miles on it. Now, about eight months later, it has 35,000 miles.
All those miles come from delivering to some 40 restaurants, like Toscana’s in Turlock and Redwood Cafe in north Modesto, among many others up and down the valley. But it’s not all just white tablecloth restaurants that use the family’s service. John Mensonides said they’ve delivered to taco trucks and have no minimum order requirements.
If you want to try Ohana Seafood without going out to eat you can buy their products from The Village Butcher in McHenry Village, Dave’s Meat Service on Blue Gum Avenue and The Market at La Comisaria on Seventh Street.
The Mensonides family also is opening its own facility in the same warehouse as The Market on Seventh Street, which used to house on La Comisaria. The 8,000 square-foot space has a commercial kitchen and plenty of storage. The goal is to eventually install a wholesale counter for customers to come in and buy seafood from them directly.
For valley chefs, a service like Ohana’s helps them meet customers’ increasing demands for better sourced, better quality ingredients. Like the farm-to-table movement, more consumers want to know where and how the fish on their plate was caught.
“We have a mission to educate the consumer here. To let them know it’s OK to ask, ‘How did this fish arrive at the table?’ ” the senior Mensonides said. “We are leading that charge and wanted to be an active part of educating the consumer. People say you can’t get good fish in Modesto. But I say, ‘Well, actually, you can Here’s my card’.”