By Emily J. Weitz
Peter Ambrose grew up in the seafood industry on the East End. His first job was at the Seafood Shop in Wainscott, where he learned the business from the ground up. In the years since, the industry itself has changed, but Ambrose’s commitment to reserving a space for clambakes in everyone’s summer schedule has not. So, this month, he started the Hampton Seafood Company in East Hampton.
“I started in the industry at a time when, if you worked at a seafood market, you were required to do much more than just know what each fish looked like and wait on customers. We scaled fish, cleaned calamari, mussels, shrimp, we shucked clams and oysters. I learned the business on all levels.”
By 1992, Ambrose was running the clambake and catering division of the Seafood Shop.
“For the next eight years, I split time between the catering and working a few days a week in the market,” he says, “until in about 2000 I strictly ran the catering business. By then it had become a full-time endeavor.”
Since that time, more than just the operations have changed in the seafood business. The populations of fish are constantly evolving, and the number of workers out on the water has dwindled.
“Regulations and the cost of being a commercial fisherman has caused the decline of commercial fishermen on the East End,” says Ambrose. “A decline in bay scallops and restrictions on haulseining have resulted in a major decline of two of the most profitable commercial fishing industries for small local fishermen.”
However, movements back towards sustainable and local practices are things that the Hampton Seafood Company supports.
“We as a market are going back to some old school practices with how we prepare and offer certain items,” he said, “which will allow us to provide the highest quality shrimp and shellfish.”
Ambrose wanted his new shop to be more than a seafood market. With his background in both the market end and in the catering, he has become well acquainted with gourmet recipes, fresh ingredients, and local vendors. As a result, the Hampton Seafood Company is both the place to get your catered clambakes and the place to get all the ingredients, and even the recipes, to do it yourself.
“We expanded the retail [since predecessor Claws on Wheels] by about a third,” says Ambrose. “We really designed the store in a manner I believe a high quality ‘foodie’ market should resemble. Subway tiles, custom shelving and produce display — it’s simple yet elegant.”
The retail items on the racks include lots of local vendors, including Sag Harbor Baking Company, Mali B Sweets, Anka Flat Breads, Hamptons Honey, Hamptons Popcorn and much more.
“As far as prepared foods go,” says Ambrose, “Claws on Wheels was foremost a takeout seafood market. We’ve simplified the number of offerings on the menu. We’ve creatively designed the items that are on our menu so they’re unlike any other tuna burger, fish taco, etc.”
Because Ambrose knows every level of the seafood business, he knows also that it starts out at sea.
“We have a fleet of our own fishing boats and relationships with other captains and boats that should allow us to have the freshest ‘our deck to your deck’ seafood around,” he says. In the future, he hopes the business will expand to be deck to diner as well.
“Eventually we hope to create a wholesale division that will allow restaurants to purchase the freshest of seafood right off our boats.”
Ambrose has other ideas for the future, too.
“We would love to add a food truck that moves from beach to beach in the evenings,” he says, “offering up buckets of mussels and clams, takeout clambakes and fish tacos.”
For now, the Hampton Seafood Company is happy to fuse the needs of those looking for a fresh easy dinner on the beach and those looking to cook all their local ingredients at home.
“We very much want to be the go-to market in East Hampton not only for fresh seafood and prepared goods, but a market folks look to to pick up the unique flavored olive oils, Asian products, and favorite farmers’ market items… We want people to look to us for ideas and products to prepare their fresh seafood.”