Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern Features Catanese Classic Seafood

perchCleveland: Pighead and Perch

Andrew Zimmern makes some unexpected taste discoveries in Cleveland. From beef souse to popcorn shoots grown in the dark to a whole pig head served on a platter, Andrew finds out that Cleveland’s food is full of surprises.

Original Airdate | Monday, December 02, 2013
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Catanese Classic Seafood Is Growing At Rate That’s No Fish Tale

Brothers Jim and John CataneseBy JAY MILLER, Crain’s Cleveland Business

Originally Published: February 18, 2013 4:30 AM  Modified: February 19, 2013 4:09 PM

The bustling restaurant trade in Northeast Ohio is prompting a big expansion by the operator of Catanese Classic Seafood in Cleveland’s Flats. The food service distributor to the region’s upscale restaurants is embarking on a $1.3 million project that includes an upgrade of its riverfront fish processing facility and the purchase and renovation of a building across the street from its existing headquarters. A major impetus behind Catanese’s growth is the company’s plan to grow its fish processing business sixfold. The plan also includes growth for ancillary food service supply businesses.

Last year, Catanese began buying the catch of Lake Erie commercial fisheries that would dock at the plant on the Cuyahoga River. Company co-owner and vice president John Catanese said the company processed 100,000 pounds of lake fish this past fishing season, but he expects that figure to grow to 600,000 pounds a year once the expansion is completed.

“We are so fortunate we have such wonderful chefs here (in Northeast Ohio)” Mr. Catanese said. “As they grow, we grow.”

Marlin Investment Group LLC is co-owned by John Catanese and his brother, James, who is president. In addition to the seafood operation, they run two restaurant-related businesses called Chef Cube and Chef2Chef Foods, which import cheeses, spices, oils and products for bakers. The company also sells many of its products at three stands in the West Side Market — The Cheese Shop, Urban Herbs and Catanese Classic Seafoods.

John Catanese estimated sales for the three businesses totaled about $20 million last year. The expansion includes the purchase and renovation of a building at 1615 Merwin Ave. in the Flats and an expansion of the current headquarters at 1600 Merwin. The new building will house Chef Cube and Chef2Chef Foods.

County property records indicate Marlin Investment paid the Geist Living Trust $155,000 for the building at 1615 Merwin. The brothers opened Catanese Classic Seafood with one other employee in 2004 on Crayton Avenue on Cleveland’s East Side. The business expanded to the Flats in 2008 when the Cataneses acquired the building and assets of bankrupt State Fish Inc. for more than $1.4 million.

Included in the purchase was the 24,000-square-foot building at 1600 Merwin, where a three-story freezer and the fish processing plant are located. That purchase also brought a retail clambake business and a retail shop out front of the wholesaling operation. John Catanese said the company has about 60 employees; the expansion is expected to create 30 jobs.

The brothers have been in the seafood business since their high school days. Their father, Dominick, founded Waterfront Seafoods Inc. in 1982 and the family operated that business for nearly two decades. John Catanese said the brothers sold that business and went into the fish importing business in south Florida before starting the current business in 2004.

While a sixfold increase in processing sounds ambitious, it isn’t overly so. The commercial lake catch is primarily walleye and yellow perch. According to the Lake Erie Committee, a U.S.-Canadian agency comprised of state and provincial fishery managers, the allowable yellow perch catch in Lake Erie in 2012 was 13.6 million pounds, up from 12.6 million pounds in 2011. The walleye allocation, measured in number of fish, grew to 3.5 million in 2012 from 2.9 million in 2011.

The company’s expansion is getting some assistance from local governments. Cuyahoga County is providing a $450,000 loan for the $1.3 million project. According to county documents the loan carries a 2% interest rate and a 15-year term. The city of Cleveland is chipping in a $90,000 loan. The company has pledged to the county that the expansion will create 30 jobs. John Catanese said the growth will continue. He envisions, for example, getting back into the business of importing fish for other distributors.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be finished,” he said. “It’s exciting growing and this industry is a lot of fun.”

Along The Water

Media Credit: Port of Cleveland

Catanese Classic Seafood investment in the Flats reaps benefits and expands local foods movement.

Brothers Jim and John Catanese are self-described “true fishmongers,” connecting restaurants, retailers, and fish lovers across a tri-state region to seafood from around the globe. Now, the owners of Catanese Classic Seafood in the Flats are on the verge of increasing the volume of Lake Erie fish they buy from virtually nothing to six semi-truck trailers’ worth annually. And it was an investment the brothers made to avoid a potential disaster that made this latest expansion of their business and the local foods movement possible.

The Catanese brothers recently reached agreements to buy all fish caught by two local fishing crews who scour Lake Erie from May to November. John Catanese, vice president and co-owner, expects the arrangement to produce more than 600,000 pounds of yellow perch alone next year – not to mention 8 more jobs. “It will be a game changer for us,” he said.

New bulkheads the brothers installed along their riverfront operations are the key. The investment makes it easy for the fishing boats to pull alongside the Catanese facilities, located on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River just south of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

Although they have been in the fish business for 30 years, the Catanese brothers – Jim is co-owner and company president – only moved to the Cuyahoga River location in 2008 after buying another local seafood business. The purchase included retail space and a processing facility with an adjoining 10,000-square-foot freezer. Their investment also came with a set of deteriorating bulkheads that were threatening the three-story freezer, just eight feet away.

By 2011, the bulkheads were collapsing so quickly that the foundation of the freezer building began to shift. “When we bought the complex, we knew things were shifting, but the situation got much worse in a short time span,” said John. “We had to act quickly — if we did not replace the bulkheads this year, we would have been in the river by next year.”

Last winter, the brothers made a major capital investment in the facilities, replacing 125 feet of riverfront bulkheading. And by May of this year, they began to see new business opportunities. “We reached out to local fishermen,” said John. “We knew Lake Erie had great fish to offer, and figured we could expand our operation by purchasing their catches.”

This year the brothers tested the market, buying roughly 100,000 pounds of fish, including yellow perch, lake whitefish, white perch, white bass, and carp. “Things went so well this year that we set up the exclusive deal, and will be hiring additional staff,” explained John.

In addition to the fresh Lake Erie catches, the brothers bring in dozens of types of seafood from Australia, Norway, Ecuador, Alaska and elsewhere. “Our business supplies sushi bars, grocery stores, white tablecloth restaurants, even the casino,” said John. They fly in shipments daily, with other seafood coming by truck from as far south as Louisiana and as far east as Boston.

The Catanese brothers also believe their business has benefited from the improved quality of Cleveland’s waters. “The river and lake are so much cleaner,” said John. “That’s why our catches are up, and another reason it made sense for us to invest here.”

Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, whose ward includes the Flats, also sees the link between the Catanese brothers and Cleveland’s local foods movement. “They are a powerful and interesting hybrid of agro-industrial-commercial fishing with sustainable, local food production in a city where you couldn’t even eat a fish out of the river 45 years ago,” said Cimperman. “It’s an iconic story of a family run business making major investments in the Flats and now reaping the rewards.”

While the majority of their business is in Greater Cleveland, the brothers’ customer base reaches to Columbus, Akron-Canton, Pittsburgh, and parts of Michigan. They also own an import business that bring herbs, spices, oils and cheese to the area, and operate three stands at Cleveland’s West Side Market: Chef Cube, Urban Herbs, and, of course, Classic Seafood.

The Catanese brothers are not finished investing. Next year, they plan to completely rebuild their retail space, install a test kitchen upstairs, add a new roof, and repair other bulkheads. John explained that their desire to continue upgrading is based in part on a belief in the area’s rebirth. “The Flats are a unique place,” he said. “The investment nearby gives us confidence that the area will be better than ever, and more sustainable because of the mixed uses. We’re thrilled to be a part of it.”


  • Catanese Classic Seafood’s riverfront facility encompasses 32,000 square feet
  • It’s 10,000-square-foot freezer is three stories tall
  • The complex has a total of 250 feet of frontage along the Cuyahoga River
  • The business replaced 125 feet of riverfront bulkheads
  • Customers can purchase fish and seafood from the riverfront location or the Classic Seafood stand in the Westside Market
  • The business supplies more than 250 restaurants with fish and seafood

For more information:
Catanese Classic Seafood
1600 Merwin Avenue
(216) 696-0080

Article and photo courtesy of:

Clambake Season: Northeast Ohio’s Favorite Fall Feast Has It’s Traditions and Twists

By Joe Crea, Northeast Ohio Media Group

Sure as the leaves turn colors and the stands fill with football fans, a certain briny smell scents the air this time of year. It’s the aroma of steaming clams wafting on the chill breeze. No doubt about it. Clambakes are one of Cleveland’s favorite feasts.

You needn’t look far to find them, in newspaper ads, in church bulletins, on the airwaves. And on neighbors’ decks and patios. Despite the fact that we’re several hundred miles from the nearest ocean, Northeast Ohio ranks among the nation’s largest consumers of clams and clambakes.

“Without question, this area pulls more clams, collectively, than any other city in America,” says Jim Catanese of Classic Seafood in Cleveland.

“I worked in New York City, at Fulton Fish Market, and they were constantly amazed by the demand here,” Catanese says.

Ohio’s historical links to New England may be a key to that appetite, he says, but generations of strong marketing play a role as well.

“Years and years ago, the old-timers developed a seafood business that — in a traditionally slow time of year here — found a niche,” Catanese says. “They developed a business with the corn that was being harvested, the sweet potatoes being dug, and clams coming into season.

“It hasn’t really lost any steam or momentum at all,” he adds.

The ingredients rarely vary. Anyone who’s dug into a couple of local bakes can rattle off the key elements. Typically they include a dozen clams (usually tied in a mesh bag), half a chicken, a sweet potato, ear of corn and a roll and butter. Coleslaw and clam broth are usually part of the deal. Variations abound, of course — steak instead of chicken, redskin potatoes to replace the yams, skip the broth and spoon up some creamy chowder.

Local chefs gussy up their versions or include extras. Chris Hodgson of Hodge’s in downtown Cleveland offers “smashed” yams and sherry coleslaw. Blue Canyon Kitchen & Tavern in Twinsburg includes all-you-can-eat Black Garlic Clam Chowder, corn spoon bread and roasted chicken. Regan Reik, executive chef of Pier W in Lakewood, uses a South Asian-style tandoor oven. The seafood and other ingredients, along with confit chicken (slowly poached in olive oil), are cooked in a hauntingly fragrant broth of coconut milk, lemongrass and lime.

Along the Atlantic coast where “shore dinners” are common weekend gatherings in season, chicken isn’t always part of the equation.

“The East Coast clambake tends to include fish of some kind, usually cod,” says Catanese. Soft-shell or “steamer” clams are favored (“they think the steamers are sweeter,” he says) though when that variety is special-ordered here, it’s usually for deep-frying in clam rolls.

Elliott Lewis, fishmonger for Whole Foods Market in University Heights, thinks it’s a mistake to omit chicken from the steamer.

“Here people sometimes grill the chicken on the side — but that steals flavor from the broth,” says Lewis, who started out as a crabber on the coast of North Carolina and has spent the past 27 years cutting fish.

“Adding chicken and live seaweed to the steamer keeps the moisture and flavor in the fish and other ingredients,” he says.

One big change over the years has been the gradual shift away from serving steamed cherrystone clams, in favor of middleneck or topneck varieties.

“Once they open up, they’re chewy — real chewy,” Lewis says.

“Years ago, everyone bought cherrystones,” Catanese agrees. “Now if someone wants to buy cherrystones, I try to talk them out of it.”

That’s because their extra-large size and lower price led shoppers to believe cherrystones were the best value — except cherrystones, essentially more mature clams, grow tough as they age.

“The longer they’re in the water, the bigger they’ll grow,” Catanese says.

Cherrystones are best suited for stewing in chowders, or added to the clam steamer to intensify the aroma and taste of the broth. (After the bake is served, the meat from cherrystones can be pulled, diced and added to soups, pasta or grain dishes.) Do-it-yourself clambakers should choose middleneck clams, which constitute almost 90 percent of sales for clambakes, Catanese says.

“They’re just the right size, they’re not too tough, and people are still getting good value.”

Reserve the littleneck clams for pasta dishes, bouillabaisse and similar dishes where cooking times are more easily controlled. Lewis says the smaller clams dry out easily. While assembling ingredients, look for ways to add or enhance flavors naturally, rather than just dousing your bake with salt or sodium-laden seasonings.

“There are still plenty of fresh herbs in the gardens or in the stores,” Lewis says. “Old Bay is OK, but it’s like 40 percent sodium. If you use it, go easy. Great broth is broth you can just sip and enjoy good, full flavor — you want to taste the sweet seafood and other flavors, not a mouthful of salt.”

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