Kathleen Hulsey knows her way around seafood, despite the fact the Johns Creek resident and owner of Kathleen’s Catch seafood markets, has never spent a day on the lake, fishing pole in hand.
“[My husband] Mike is my connection with the seafood business. I love to cook fish and eat fish and sell fish, but I have NEVER been fishing!” Kathleen Hulsey laughed.
On the other hand, Mike, her husband of 37 years, spent more than three decades working with a major distributor of seafood and knows the industry inside and out. When Kathleen decided to open her own business after her two children were grown, seafood seemed the logical choice.
“There was literally no place in Atlanta to buy fresh, all-natural seafood other than the grocery stores and, let’s face it, grocery stores are simply not set up to do the job right,” said Kathleen, an Atlanta native whose past careers included commercial real estate and construction.
Recognizing there was a gap to fill in providing the public freshly caught seafood, Hulsey opened the first location of Kathleen’s Catch in Johns Creek in 2011. In the summer of 2015, she opened the second site in downtown Milton.
Hulsey’s business model is simple – to provide the widest selection of the freshest seafood products available.
“If we have done our job correctly, our customers know a little more about the food they are eating, where it came from and how to prepare it when they leave our stores,” she noted. “And they are confident that they are eating absolutely all natural, chemical free food.”
The demand for seafood is at an all-time high in the United States. The average person consumed 15.5 pounds of seafood in 2015, up from 14.6 pounds in 2014, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual report on U.S. consumption.
Hulsey is fully aware that her customers are not only adding more seafood to their diet, but they are also making educated choices, as far as freshness and quality. While much of the seafood supply comes from the same places, the journey to the table is another story.
“I get [my products] every day, and [it does not go] through a warehouse, transferred to different trucks and adding days to the life of the fish,” Hulsey said.
Extending the shelf life of fish for several days also requires some retailers to add chemicals to the products. At Kathleen’s Catch, Hulsey said seafood is delivered fresh every day, six days a week, direct from the processor, and never frozen or chemically altered.
“The grocery stores get their fish from the same place I do. But here, seafood is all we do,” she said. “When you come to my store you get me, my daughter and my employees who only sell fish.”
It is a family affair at Kathleen’s Catch. In addition to Mike, daughter Sara is the manager of the Milton location.
As far as specialties of the house, Hulsey said salmon is by far the best seller. She buys Atlantic salmon responsibly farmed by Verlasso, which is listed as a good choice on the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.
“All the farmed fish we buy is from the very best farms in the world – no growth hormones, no preventative antibiotics, low pen densities, low to no environmental impact,” Hulsey explained.
In addition to farmed seafood, Kathleen’s Catch offers many choices for wild fish as well.
“I buy domestic fish as often as possible so that it gets to my store quickly with a limited carbon footprint,” Hulsey said.
Her long list of direct suppliers includes red snapper from Panama City, grouper from Madeira Beach, Fla., shrimp from Brunswick, Ga., or Holden Beach, N.C., striped bass from the Chesapeake, monkfish from along the East Coast, and of course, wild Alaskan salmon when it is in season, she said.
Hulsey recognizes that many people love fish but are hesitant to prepare it themselves at home. So staff at Kathleen’s Catch can help guide customers on the best ways to prepare their choices at home.
“All of our employees can offer suggestions as to how to prepare our fish,” Hulsey said. “We have an executive chef on staff at Milton, Jon Beatty, who knows everything there is to know about how to prepare anything in the kitchen. And he loves to talk about it!”
At the Johns Creek location is Bryan Wyatt, a former chef and caterer with years of experience who can assist with recipe ideas.
For the novice seafood consumer, Hulsey recommends a very light fillet like west coast Dover sole or Petrale sole.
“Both are types of flounders and are very mild. It is what I offer when people come in looking for tilapia which I do not sell,” she noted.
For the more adventurous consumer, Hulsey said she has access to all varieties of interesting items.
“Just let me know what you want and I will do my best to get it for you,” she promised. “As a Southerner the most adventurous thing I have ever sold are steamer clams. We don’t have anything like that down here!”
One would think that someone surrounded by seafood all day long would want something different when dining out. Not for Hulsey, noting her life is wall to wall fish – at work, at home and when going out.
“Fish, fish and more fish!” Hulsey laughed. “I always eat it.”
Looking ahead, Hulsey said she has her hands full with the two markets (“I don’t have any more daughters to help me open another store!” she laughed), but does not rule out another location.
“I have five very talented full-time people working for me who make the idea of expansion tempting. So I guess we will just have to wait and see,” she mused.