Archive for Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sustainable seafood: New downtown restaurant serving fresh concept

Jeff Lewis, a recent Kansas University graduate, left, and Ted Nguyen, a professional fisherman and restauranteur, have combined to create Angler's Seafood House, 1004 Mass., after noticing a void in the fish market downtown. The two owners say that they use sustainable fish and local ingredients when possible.

Jeff Lewis, a recent Kansas University graduate, left, and Ted Nguyen, a professional fisherman and restauranteur, have combined to create Angler's Seafood House, 1004 Mass., after noticing a void in the fish market downtown. The two owners say that they use sustainable fish and local ingredients when possible.

October 22, 2008


Snow crab is served at Angler's Seafood House, 1004 Mass.

Snow crab is served at Angler's Seafood House, 1004 Mass.

Blackened rainbow trout with jalapeno corn salsa

Blackened rainbow trout with jalapeno corn salsa

Yellow Fin Tuna Tataki

Yellow Fin Tuna Tataki

Diver Scallop Trio

Diver Scallop Trio

On paper, the task looks like a daunting one: a fresh, sustainable seafood place located in landlocked Lawrence.

But owners Vu "Ted" Nguyen and Jeff Lewis have done just that, debuting Angler's Seafood House, 1004 Mass., in a soft opening last month.

"This is probably one of the most challenging concepts I can think of doing in Lawrence," says Lewis, 24. "But we think we've got it set up, the infrastructure is strong enough, the concept is strong enough, the brand is strong enough and our understanding of business is strong enough to work."

Filling a void

Lewis and Nguyen are local men with longtime ties to the Lawrence restaurant scene.

Nguyen's family owns the Orient Vietnamese Restaurant, next door at 1006 Mass., and has owned two restaurants on the West Coast. He met Lewis, a 2008 graduate of Kansas University, while Lewis was working on a branding project for the 23rd Street Brewery, in which Nguyen, 42, had a stake. Lewis had worked in Lawrence restaurants for seven years while pursuing a degree in industrial design.

They became friends and began talking about the possibility of working together on a fresh seafood restaurant.

"(We) explored it, researched it, became knowledgeable on the subject and kind of came upon the movement of sustainable seafood and realized how really important it is and the whole concept of conservation of seafood and prolong it for future generations," Lewis says. "And we're not trying to force it on people. Just kind of making it public knowledge."

What the restaurant's philosophy means for the average customer might be most easily demonstrated in what Angler's does not carry. Sustainability means avoiding varieties that are overfished as well as trying to stay true to the fish's wild and seasonal patterns.

"Orange roughy is extremely overfished. Chilean sea bass, swordfish, all kinds of things. Farmed salmon, we don't carry. And that's the biggest question we get from people, 'Do you carry salmon?'" Lewis says. "We can only use wild caught salmon, and that's such a seasonal thing."

The dance of freshness

Because of its goal of keeping a sustainable, fresh product and its commitment to using as many locally grown ingredients as possible, it took 10 months to plan Angler's menu.

"It's researching out vendors, then researching out the seasons of the fish, so that we don't end up short-changing ourselves to where we have all these fabulous fish dishes and then four months later we can't serve any of it because it's out of season," Lewis says. "Life would be a lot easier if we had frozen seafood."

The delicate dance between seasonality and an emphasis on freshness means the restaurant requires daily deliveries of seafood. That works just fine with the restaurant's philosophy in motion.

"It's gone within a day and a half or two days. That's how we keep it fresh. That's the key. Because when it's caught, from the boat, they come in and they hold it for 24 hours, they have to chill it down for 24 hours. Then it's shipped out, it's shipped out to us," Nguyen says. "So within 48 hours of being caught, at the longest, it is here at the restaurant. We're talking three days, max three and a half days, that fish has been caught and has been eaten."

Virtues of being local

In fact, the key word in the restaurant is "fast." From the lobsters that are overnighted from Maine, to the turnaround for fish as it comes in, to the changes that Lewis can make to the menu if necessary - it is all fast.

"I do all the in-house design stuff," Lewis says. "So if we need to redo the menu because something happened with the seasonal fluctuation with the fish markets, in a day we can change the entire menu around. That's what nice about not being a corporate-structured place. We don't have to call the corporate office and get OK'd by six levels of bureaucracy. 'Hey, Ted, what do you think? OK, I'll change it.'"

That may seem unusual, but Nguyen explains it's all about making sure Angler's customers are happy.

"We want to keep the quality and everything the same as the first day we opened," he says. "There have been instances where we do get fresh fish in but it's not to our standard, and we refuse it, and that means then that it's not on the menu. The way we look at it is, we would rather have a customer upset it's not there than a customer upset because it's that quality."

Nguyen says eventually he'd like to have a first-hand role in the quality of Angler's fish. A professional angler on the side, he hopes to take Lewis on a trip in the spring to catch tuna for the restaurant. But getting away may pose a challenge for the men, who, through 15-hour days make sure they are as hands-on as owners can be. Lewis works a shift in the kitchen every day, Nguyen monitors the business side of things and both have had a hand in everything from picking the paint colors to explaining to customers what sustainability means.

And they hope all that work will pay off with happy customers who may have learned a thing or two about commercial fishing while enjoying fresh scallops, lobster or mahi-mahi.

Says Nguyen, simply, "The way we look at it is come here and eat and you make a difference and you don't even have to do anything."


Judgesmails 8 years, 9 months ago

I would just ignore the constant negative comments from the LJW Forum regulars. Regardless of the article, all theyre going to do is b*tch and complain.Try it for yourself and form your own opinion.

No1Jyhwk 8 years, 9 months ago

Was it a miscommunication or a case of false advertising with the local vendor? It seems more likely to be the former. The article says that the restaurant has secured several local vendors, so why is the vendor in question taking such an adversarial stance?

terrapin2 8 years, 9 months ago

That's all fine and dandy, however I suggest they make sure they are actually purchasing from local vendors before they advertise them on their menu!!! They had a local farmer listed on their laminated menus but they weren't even buying his produce! Hopefully they manage the seafood aspect a bit better.

nobody1793 8 years, 9 months ago

Flying refrigerated seafood overnight to the most landlocked place on earth = sustainable? It is a wasteful luxury. There is a difference between selecting non-depleted fish and "sustanability". Not that I have a problem with it, but let's call a spade a spade.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 8 years, 9 months ago

The only sustainable diet is to eat vegetarian.

bmoody51 8 years, 9 months ago

My wife and I ate there the other night. Normally, I give a restaurant 2 opportunities. This one didn't merit the second chance. My wife ordered the yellow fin tataki and a side order of the cucumber/seaweed salad. She was not told the tataki came on the same salad. The salad was so overpowering in taste the tataki was lost. The same for the scallops trio I ordered for $16. The 3 silver dollar size scallops came on the same salad and the delicate taste of the scallops was just completely overpowered. Don't think I'll go there again. Can not recommend it at all.

Ronda Miller 8 years, 9 months ago

Sounds as though would be a pricey venture. I hope they are able to survive in today's economy. I know Lawrence has been hoping for a fresh seafood rest. for quite some time. I am willing to give it a try - sounds tasty!

ralphralph 8 years, 9 months ago

"Sustainable" is a joke. At best it's a gimmick, at worst it's a lie, like so many other "green" concepts. We have food that's already in Kansas; some of it is fish. If you want to save the world, eat something that you can reach, not something flown in. What's the carbon footprint of the catch of the day if it's caught in the North Atlantic and eaten in Lawrence.Hey, I like good seafood; but cut the "sustainable" crap.

Boston_Corbett 8 years, 9 months ago

I hope that they patronize that ex-dairy farmer in Basehor who is farming Tilapia. Now THAT would be buying locally.

mamsir 8 years, 9 months ago

anglers- i wish you the best of luck on your new concept! we look forward to checking out your restaurant in the near future. great idea and something lawrence needed

Shane Garrett 8 years, 9 months ago

Way to go VU. wishing you a big catch in Lawrence. SJG!

Weezy_Jefferson 8 years, 9 months ago

That place is awesome! I've eaten there three times already.

6gallery 8 years, 9 months ago


WWoftheW 8 years, 9 months ago

My first opportunity was great. Loved the crab and the fish and chips. Will be back.

Mkh 8 years, 9 months ago

I agree that flying in seafood several times a week in a volume needed for a resturant is not "sustainable". But being a big seafood fan I gave this place a try. I have to say the best thing was the $2 October Fest beers they had, the food was not impressive. I ordered a salmon special that was apparently "the best" option that night and it was dry, bland, and took longer than twenty minutes to be served. It was certainly not worth the price. I might give them another chance at some point, but overall it was a disapointment.It's not a bad idea, but the problem with most people in this town is they have no idea how to execute that good idea, how to bring quality to stand behind their product.I still think the best bet for seafood here both in taste and price is buying it fresh from the Merc and cooking it yourself at home.

wn1127 8 years, 9 months ago

My daughter ate there the other night and raved about it... loved the scallops... I say to each his own ~ I know I'll try it at least once.

oldvet 8 years, 9 months ago

"The only sustainable diet is to eat vegetarian."Well, that makes me feel better about being sustainable, because I've certainly eaten a few vegetarians in my days...

Brad Barker 8 years, 9 months ago

My wife and I have eaten at Angler's twice and we both loved it! We will definitely be going back very soon.

lwrres 8 years, 9 months ago

I have eaten at Angler's several times and have loved it each time. I would agree with Judgesmails people on this forum are so negative. It's like they have nothing better to do with their lives but complain on here. Half of the bloggers probably haven't even tried you guys yet. It's disappointing how unsupportive some people in this community are. For all of you who hate new concepts continue eating at Chili's and Applebee's and keep trying to change Lawrence into Overland Park.

Anglers 8 years, 9 months ago

We would like to clarify some INFORMATION in regards to our restaurant and all we represent.1. Sustainable Seafood. Please to truely understand this termonology check out and It refers to SEAFOOD that is harvested in ecological and environmentally responsible ways. We understand on the surface that it sounds "not green" to offer flown in Seafood in the midwest, but there is a larger picture to understand. We are a source for fresh seafood in a market dominated by irresponsible harvesting of a depleting resource, we focus on offering a sustainable alternative. 2. Local Products. The use of local food is very important in accompaning our featured product (seafood). We made the effort to visit local farms and had planned on utilzing their products,, but during our unadvertised soft opening(first two weeks) , we used the local fruits in our desserts, but never made enough of a committment to satisfy the farmers conditions. Regretfully, things seemed to have not worked out, and we are very disapointed and apoligize, and we don't believe that anyone truely thinks we would "dishonestly advertise" the use of local products, something that is intrigal to our future success and plans. We do use local products and those vendors are free to mention themselves, but we are not trying to prop ourselves on others hard work.3. We are locally owned and operated and are in our 2nd month of opereation. We appreciate the comments as they are important for us to refine our product and services. We just wanted to clarify some statements in order to better inform the community.4. We also appreciate the support and feedback that we have received in the past month and a half. Hopefully they will read this and comment to better expose our mission and their positive experiences.Thank you for your comments and support,Angler's Seafood House

lawrencechef 8 years, 9 months ago

Perhaps I can help clarify a common mistake with some of these posts. The term sustainable farming is any farming that is done in which a product may be farmed over and over in the same general area without any adverse effects to the area. That being said, the entire idea of sustainable farming is just that an idea. In 1990 US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as "an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole." but the FDA has never determined what is to be considered sustainable unlike what it has done with organic.Sustainability is more of a philosophy than anything else in which the farmer/grower decides if they are worthy of calling themselves sustainable. To those who cry foul about food that is being flown in as not sustainable due to CO2 emissions during travel, you must realize that nothing served in a restaurant anywhere will be up to your standards of sustainability unless there is a garden on site and you eat the food raw (since using any traditional cooking methods would of course use gas or electricity). Feel free to read Fast Food Nation or watch The 11th Hour if you want to learn more about the environmental atrocities conducted by various companies who claim that they are your friend in the business of food. My point is this: this restaurant should be applauded for their efforts in bringing something unseen in Lawrence (aka a seafood house) and trying to do it with as small of an impact on the environment in an Alice Waters like fashion. Lawrence is a very socially/environmentally conscious city and it would be a shame that anyone would turn their back on them based on a preconceived definition of a word that no one can actually define. My suggestion is that the next time you're hungry, skip the drive-thru at McDonalds and try this place. Then judge. Hell, you can probably walk there.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 9 months ago

Their other cafe,the Orient, buys local organic tofu weekly and tempeh sometimes.

jonas_opines 8 years, 9 months ago

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III (Anonymous) says: "The only sustainable diet is to eat vegetarians."Fixed that for you.

dtruck79 8 years, 9 months ago

I had the fish tacos and the fish was over cooked and dry. Also my friends had dinner at Anglers and said the food was dry and was disgusting, the crab cake and shrimp pasta. Not a place I would recommend.

gl0ck0wn3r 8 years, 9 months ago

" Multidisciplinary (Anonymous) says:For true fresh fish lover's, I bet they are happy to have a new place to try!"True fresh fish lovers know the difference between a possessive and a plural, how to spell and - unlike Richard Heckler - how to use a comma and a space bar.

gl0ck0wn3r 8 years, 9 months ago

Bah! I want a dolphin and some drawn butter.No really - haven't been yet, but they would have to work pretty hard to top the Bristol in Kansas City. The quotes in the article are hardly a good impression.

dtruck79 8 years, 9 months ago

Also the owner is professional fisherman how is that for sustaining fishing? Someone who catches fish just to win a trophy or money...

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