I’d say we’re a seafood company that doesn’t really stick to the norms,” says Bill Iakovakis, co-owner of Marina Seafood, just after I’ve been shown the amazing mural sprayed on the roller doors of his new shopfront.
Featuring a fluorescent hip-hop vision of marine life, it’s a bold, bright and unique way of presenting a business with a difference.
Co-owner Peter Macarios is already planning another similar giant artwork inside the shop featuring a street-wise mermaid.
“Mermaids are the only sea creatures we don’t sell,” quips Peter, who bought Marina Seafood with Bill a year ago.
The retail side is a new venture, offering walk-in customers the same prices that the business offers to over two hundred regular wholesale buyers (mostly restaurants) across Victoria.
Based on Sydney Road in Melbourne’s Brunswick district, Peter and Bill set up shop together a year ago, but have known each other nearly thirty years.
“We compliment each other,” says Bill, “I’m the passive one and he’s the angry one, although on some days it’ll be the other way round.”
Trained in criminology at La Trobe University, Bill who grew up in Prahran, always had a nose for something fishy, but because he failed the eye test, a career with the Victoria Police was a non-starter. He went instead into credit control and business accounting.
“I’ve sort of fallen into this industry”, says Bill. “It’s a career that I choose to do, rather than have to do.” Despite it’s long hours, as Bill talks, his enthusiasm for his chosen profession is clear.
“One thing I stress to the staff is that ultimately we’re in the service industry. It’s about providing a service and an experience. If you can’t provide those things, somebody else will.”
“That’s been the biggest drive for us – to go that little bit extra with our customers.” Bill started working with Peter Macarios more than ten years ago, sorting out the paperwork for Peter’s previous company Thasos Seafoods. Fish have always played a central part in Peter’s life.
“On the day I was born in Melbourne’s Queen Vic hospital,” says Peter, “my father (Giorgos) was fishing for scallops in Port Phillip Bay. He was the first Greek to fish for scallops here,” says Peter proudly. “My father had always fished, from the early days back in Kavalla.”
Peter’s own start in seafood commerce began when, as a 21-year-old, he bought a fish and chip shop in Toorak back in ’86. Work at Footscray wholesale fish market followed, before Peter started his first wholesale seafood business. 25 years later, Peter’s still up regularly at 3am, in time to get to Footscray to get the early morning catch.
“Most of our fresh fish comes from the Bass Strait,” says Peter. “Calamari, octopus, scallops and oysters are some of the big sellers.”
With twelve staff, Marina Seafood has a fleet of seven delivery vans travelling the length and breadth of Victoria, often making up to fifty deliveries a day.
“Because we’re a new business, we’re here seven days a week,” says Bill , who admits that such commitment has its cost.
“It does put a toll on the family.” “It’s a very competitive business. Probably 80 per cent of our industry, especially in the fresh produce, is Greek. The majority are migrants, whether it be Asians or Greeks.”
When I ask what advantages Marina Seafood offers to customers who might normally buy their fish at the local supermarket, Bill says it’s not just about price.
“We pride ourselves on the freshness of our product, also we have a lot of variety. But it’s also about the service, we like to educate our customers, they’ll say we want to cook some fish up, we’ll introduce them to different types of fish, and suggest ways to prepare it.”
Bill’s favourite fish recipe? “Probably grilled snapper – with a bit of a lemon juice and a touch of cracked pepper.”
“Whether you go with whiting, garfish, snapper, I don’t think you can beat a whole fish grilled or steamed.”
It’s obvious, that while Bill and Peter are every inch commercial creatures, dealing in seafood is as much a labour of love, as it is a means to make a living.
“The way our diet is changing now,” says Bill, “we’ve got to take into consideration that our generation is getting healthier, with the exposure we have to quality seafood and such rich produce available in this country.”
To get hold of Bill and Peter’s fine fish and seafood products head over to their new shop at 169 Sydney Road, Brunswick, Victoria, open Tues-Wed 8am-2pm and Thurs-Sat 8am-4pm. Tel. (03) 9387 7897