A Tale of Survival for a Local Small Business
Small World Seafood faced dire straits in 2020, as COVID-19 locked city residents in their homes and shuttered the Philadelphia restaurant business. But the business, purveying fine fish and seafood to local restaurants, staged a transformation. Partners Robert Amar and Andy Farrell pivoted their struggling business to become a direct-to-consumer provider of amazing fresh fish, seafood and so much more. Over the past year, the experiment has prospered and built an experience way bigger than just selling and buying fish. The Small World Seafood truck has become legend in Center City and Fairmount, a fish tale worth knowing.
As Covid isolation extended from weeks into months and the original hysteria and challenges of getting the most basic of necessities passed, people adjusted to the new normal, but they were trapped in their homes with few places to go, few places to eat, few people with whom to socialize. They were bored. Eating the same old food became very tiresome and new ideas were needed. Many city residents with so much time at home and so little to do, became interested in expanding their cooking skills, baking bread, making soups, perfecting new recipes and more.
For Small World Seafood, the pandemic threatened to be a long-term disaster for its business. But partners Robert and Andy came up with plan B. The plan was brilliant! Restaurants could not operate as usual, and orders were severely reduced. City residents were trapped in their homes, with limited food options. Delicious home-cooked seafood dinners fit the bill perfectly. And so, they launched the plan. They set up a system to deliver top-notch fresh-from-the-ocean fish and seafood to three locations in Center City and three in Fairmount. Online ordering, pre-payment and outdoor pickup from the truck ensured a Covid-safe and risk-free experience. To add to the delight of having access to premium treasures from the sea, customers also receive a weekly newsletter from Robert. It is packed with background, cooking tips and recipes. The experience is like having membership in an exclusive club.
In addition, as time has stretched on, add-on items have appeared on the truck. Small local businesses are being supported by Small World Seafood. Items such as specialty spices, flavored butters and custom dredges to use in the recipes, fish stock, exotic mushrooms to accompany fish dinners, bagels to eat with the smoked fish, frozen dough and chocolate babka to die for, have all been featured. Supporting these small businesses is critical to recovery, once the city finally emerge from this crisis.
Robert’s weekly newsletters are about more than fish, though. He is a writer and a philosopher and shares his thoughts of the moment each Tuesday, along with his predictions on which of Neptune’s bounties we will have to choose from when we order later in the week. One particular newsletter included a little bit of his history growing up in Montreal. A touching story that was especially heartwarming, was of being drawn away from the men who were talking about sports, hockey no doubt, and into his mother’s kitchen, attracted to the chatter and laughter of the women who were cooking family meals. And perhaps those moments laid the foundation for his passion for spreading the word about the joy of cooking and eating amazing food.
I was late to the game, after hearing murmurs from friends about the ‘fish man’, but not paying attention. After a while, my interest peaked and, not wanting to be left out, I finally started asking questions. True confessions, I was dubious, for the following reason: we usually spend our summers in Newfoundland, Canada. In the coastal hinterland of the North Atlantic, we are treated to the most amazing cod, which almost jumps from the ocean onto our plates. Our generous and kind neighbors share their catch with us. Nothing tastes like cod right from the ocean. But anyway, I found the website, checked it out, signed up and made my first order. With the exception of cod from Bonavista, Newfoundland (sorry Robert), I have never tasted such wonderful fish. Armed with personal instructions on how to cook each week’s catch, many amazing meals have made their way to our table. After week one, I was hooked.
As with everything COVID-19, this short-term plan has stretched into long-term. And, with the great success in town, there is even a plan to expand delivery to our lucky neighbors in Bala Cynwyd and maybe beyond. Robert has speculated about what will happen when we do finally return to ‘normal’. He says that for as long as the customers keep coming, he will keep on trucking. All I can say is, ‘Yes please’!
It you would like to learn more about Small World Seafood, please visit their website:
Sandra Sokol is retired after working 25 years as an administrator at the Fox School, Temple University. A long-time Center City resident, along with her husband, she raised her family here. They spend their summers on the beautiful island of Newfoundland, Canada (usually). Sandra enjoys contributing as an administrative volunteer at Penn’s Village.