Family Run Trifecta Turns 25

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Written by: Gina Birch

Merrick’s Seafood offers wholesale and retail markets, alluring choices

When Richard and Joan Santorico moved to Cape Coral to start a small wholesale fish company, they never imagined a family business that would grow to become one of the leading providers of fish inSouthwest Florida. Merrick’s Seafood is now celebrating its quarter-century mark, supplying more than 250 restaurants, managing a successful retail market and delighting diners inits adjacent restaurant–Fish Tale Grill.

One of the Santoricos’ three daughters, Kerry Kreig, and her husband, Dave Kreig, purchased the business six years ago with the intention of taking it to “the next level,” and by all accounts have done just that. Other players in the family affair include sisters Debra Santorico and Amy Keen, along with Amy’s husband, Dave Keen.

Kerry Kreig says the story began in Merrick, on Long Island in New York, where her father plotted each night with his neighbor–owner of Merrick’s Seafood in New York–on how to open a similar business in Cape Coral.

As the business grew, Debra Santorico moved south to help. Looking at what Merrick’s is today, she says, “it’s crazy, definitely nothing like it was when it was just me, my mom and dad. It has exploded.”

Merrick’s Seafood is now celebrating its quarter-century mark, supplying more than 250 restaurants, managing a successful retail market and delighting diners inits adjacent restaurant–Fish Tale Grill.

And when Kerry Kreig arrived she expanded prepared items in the retail market–from a handful to more than 70. You’ll always find one case full of fresh seafood, the other freshly prepared “We Make You Bake” selection. Best-sellers include crabmeat-stuffed grouper, various nut-encrusted groupers and generous seafood-stuffed portobello mushrooms. Each comes in cooking tins with instructions to prepare a “foolproof” gourmet seafood dinner.

Kerry Kreig also aspired to offer healthful lunch options in an area of downtown Cape Coral that at the time was populated mostly by fast food and bar food. She admits, with a grin, “My goal was always to open a restaurant.”

It may have been her goal, but the process happened quite organically. There were a few tables in the market where customers could wait for orders. As prepared selections increased, people wanted to dine there, too. Kerry Kreig remembers: “We didn’t have silverware or anything. My sister works in the fish market, she’s not a waitress. So we put food on fish trash and that’s kinda how it started.”

Having the fish market attached to the restaurants is a dream for Kerry Krieg, who says, “I had access to everything, so when I wanted something I just went in the back and took it. Most places have to order it but we have the creme de la creme of stuff so it’s pretty awesome!”

The wholesale business allows the market and the restaurant to hold the line on pricing, according to Dave Keen, who says, “They complement each other.” He oversees the wholesale end, securing the highest-quality local seafood as well as imports from around the world. He even has a representative on the competitive auction block in Hawaii, if a restaurant is looking for something specific, Keen can find it. He’s also conscious about purchasing from sustainable and environmentally conscious fisheries.

Spending so much time with family is “surprisingly nice,” according to Dave Kreig, who adds, “We have our times when we butt heads but we have such a committed core, we are all fighting for the same goals.” Dave Keen agrees: “It’s more that we are trying to make the business the best possible. We just may have different ways of getting the same goal, but we do very well as a family, that’s for sure.”

And the family atmosphere doesn’t stop with blood, says Amy Keen: “Everyone is part of the family here, whether you work for us or are actual family, and I think that’s one of the tips for success.”

Coral Pratillo concurs. A server at Fish Tale since it opened, she has become a favorite among the patrons. She says about her job, “It’s fabulous, they are a family and they treat you like family.” Covering her mouth and lowering her voice, she notes, “They keep an eye out for me.”

Fish Tale is now open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner. The summer, look for prime rib specials on Sunday, and “Twilight Dining”–dinner for two and a bottle of wine for a set price.

The food is always artfully plated, fresh and flavorful. The market selection are colorful and plentiful–making decisions difficult at best.

The small family spot housing three harmonious businesses not only adds value to the now-flourishing options in the so-called “South Cape,” but also to restaurants across Southwest Florida

Gina Birch is a well-known Southwest Florida broadcast journalist and frequent contributor to TOTI media

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