Catching Up With… Sean Barrett

Photo of Sean Barrett

How one company is inspiring chefs and restaurants around the country to pair story with seafood.

Expanding on the launch of our Storied Fish research report, The Untapped Potential of Story to Sell Seafood, we caught up with Sean Barrett, Co-Founder of Dock to Dish to hear how spreading the message of “know your fisherman” has allowed restaurants to market Storied Fish at top prices, and has inspired chefs to demand story with their seafood.

Why did you start pairing fish with story and when did you know that it worked?

Dock to Dish is built on a “know your fishermen” platform. We require real, documentable source transparency. We don’t think you can have any type of a discussion about sustainability until transparency is front and center.
We grew up fluently understanding that storytelling around the dinner table was an integral part of harbor town culture. Many of our members had never experienced this kind of curated seafood before. We built an incredibly loyal base of supporters and advocates rather quickly. Once they experienced Dock to Dish, they all said the same thing, “This is how wild seafood sourcing and distribution should be.” They would no longer eat seafood that could not provide that kind of experience.

How do you measure the value of attaching a story to your seafood?

Dock to Dish seafood is the most expensive dish on the menu in 20 of New York City’s fine-dining restaurants.  Every restaurant is able to sell Dock to Dish at a premium because it comes with accurate catch data. We deliver data with each fish we sell. The front of house staff reads our materials before they start serving. When a diner hears that the Dock to Dish special is Captain Beckwith’s fluke from Montauk, that turns on their imagination. They can picture these Montauk fishermen on their boats and they feel connected to the source.

How do customers respond to the seafood stories that you tell?

The general public loves crowd pleasers like tuna. Any story about tuna is bound to sell. We also have the Dan Barber refugees or apostles, and they’re most interested in the underutilized species. They like to hear stories of fish that they’ve never heard of, like Atlantic butterfish.
Our stories focus on our fisherman and include detailed information about changes in the ecosystem and environment. Sharing this information led to a whole new level of interest and enthusiasm from conservation groups, many of whom applauded our mission and methodology, even calling Dock to Dish the new face of sustainable seafood in the U.S.

Have you noticed any changes in the use or effectiveness of Storied Fish over time?

Initially we had a lot of resistance from consumers. They didn’t have interest or education in cooking up something like spiny dogfish. Once the chefs started really getting psyched, that excitement spread to our CSF (community-supported fishery) members.
Many of our chefs tell us that we’re causing the change. Chefs have started to demand freshness, quality, and story. They tell their suppliers, “If Dock to Dish can tell us [where this fish came from], then so can you.”
And fishermen reap the benefits as well. Many fishermen are connected with chefs and restaurants on social media. When we saw chefs thanking fishermen we realized the power of sharing fishermen’s stories. Since the quality of seafood depends on how it’s handled once it’s caught, commitment to quality across the supply chain is essential. Once fishermen got to know the chef who was going to prepare their fish, they started to take extra care. In this we saw a restoration of quality controls. Fisherman started using lost techniques that their grandfathers used.

What challenges have you encountered when it comes to Storied Fish?

It is a tremendous task to tell all of these stories. We have to deliver accurate and honest information to customers at all times. One mistake or misspelling can be bad for business. In this business we see all of kinds of fraud. There is a lot of Storied Fish out there, but lots of it isn’t real. Still, the number one challenge that we encounter is that restaurants sell out of our fish. Not a bad problem to have!

How could your example scale or apply elsewhere?

For Dock to Dish, attaching data and narratives to their fish is already scaling. We are currently engaged deeply with Google on the East Coast and we service their New York City headquarters in Chelsea, which has over 6,000 employees. And we are beginning conversations with Google on the West Coast. We have made it possible for Google to influence and introduce a whole new way of eating and offering seafood.

Read more about Sean’s involvement with Future of Fish here. And check out this video about Dock to Dish’s partnership with Google.