Customers hooked on shop’s fresh fish

Bags and trays full of an assortment of seafood surround Blue Valley Meats owner Christopher Galasso as he parcels orders out for customers from the just-delivered options Friday morning.

Bags and trays full of an assortment of seafood surround Blue Valley Meats owner Christopher Galasso as he parcels orders out for customers from the just-delivered options Friday morning. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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Valley Seafood can be reached at facebook.com/ValleySeafood, or by phone at 876-4700. Blue Valley Meats is at 1162 W. Pine St.

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Bags and trays full of an assortment of seafood surround Blue Valley Meats owner Christopher Galasso as he parcels orders out for customers from the just-delivered options Friday morning.

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After a delivery from the coast, Blue Valley Meats owner Kimi Galasso moves a tray full of oysters, prawns and mussels to a countertop between display cases full of fresh beef and pork products.

WALLA WALLA — Fresh-off-the-boat seafood hundreds of miles inland?

Of course! And responsibly harvested to boot.

Valley Seafood got off the ground earlier this year, the latest offering from Blue Valley Meats at 1162 W. Pine St.

The company’s offerings run the gamut from meats to juices and produce, and the seafood service was added with the idea of putting the freshest possible seafood on tables in the Walla Walla area, and of course turning a profit.

The fish have made a splash, the money more modestly so.

“It’s more of a public service,” said butcher Christopher Galasso, who along with his wife, Kimi, is part of the Blue Valley ownership team.

The tang of spices and fresh meat greets you at the door of the north end shop. Displays showcase assorted cuts of meat and sausages as well as shallots, onions, potatoes and other produce.

Chinook salmon, Pacific cod and Manila clams are nowhere in sight.

That’s because instead of trucking inventory in from the coast, all the fish sold by Valley Seafood is ordered in advance and delivered by FedEx to the store for customers to pick up the same day.

The route from the ocean to your door has fewer kinks than many a fishing line: Distributors in contact with fishing crews provide lists of species, harvest locations, catch methods and prices to the Galassos, who choose a distributor for each week’s offering.

An email is sent to customers on Valley Seafood’s list on Mondays and orders are placed by noon Wednesdays. When the boats come in, the seafood is shipped immediately to Walla Walla for pickups at the end of the week.

Galasso said the original intention was to use the service as a springboard to stocking seafood in a more traditional manner. The narrow margin for profit — and cautionary tales such as that of the defunct Fish on Land seafood store on Isaacs Avenue — convinced store owners otherwise.

“Walla Walla may not have enough demand to sustain a stand-alone fish market,” Galasso said.

But the cadre of customers who have signed up for the emails and deliveries has proved enthusiastic.

“I have a customer who literally skipped from the door to the counter, singing about her fish,” Galasso said.

That enthusiasm cuts both ways, he said.

Customers pay a premium — swordfish steaks for $19.50 a pound, for example — and their expectations are similarly high. So Valley Seafood is committed to selling nothing that doesn’t meet high standards, even if that means occasional weeks in which customers are told the shipment wasn’t up to par and was sent back.

Galasso said that uncertainty is accepted by nearly all its customers and played a role in the decision to stick with the preordered deliveries as opposed to a stocked seafood counter.

Besides quality and freshness, what’s to separate Valley Seafood’s service from other dock-to-door options, or for that matter the seafood cases at other grocery stores in the city?

Galasso said Blue Valley Meats and Valley Seafood are built on two basic questions: “Is this actually food? Should I eat it?”

The Galassos specialize in meats that come from animals that are raised and slaughtered in humane conditions, fed grass or other non-animal products and not subjected to antibiotic regimens.

While fish and other seafood aren’t typically “raised” in the same way as livestock, the ethic translates to what Valley Seafood offers its customers.

Efforts include choosing seafood that comes from sustainable stocks and is caught responsibly, Galasso said.

Valley Seafood uses information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to guide choices.

These sources can help consumers differentiate between, say, tuna to avoid and tuna to consume without worry, both in terms of ecological responsibility and because of potential mercury contamination.

A shopper armed with knowledge about which stocks and fishing methods are in the clear and which are not could spend a quarter-hour in front of the freezer cases at supermarkets in the city trying to figure out which items are “OK.”

Taking the uncertainty out of shopping is part of the business model, Galasso said. Shoppers at the Pine Street store “basically know that everything you see is OK. It’s all real food.”

Alasdair Stewart can be reached at alasdairstewart@wwub.com or 526-8311.

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