“Do what you do but to its best possibilities” – Stefan Griesbach
As for most people who fall in love, for Stefan it too occurred by chance. How to we pinpoint the moment of that kindling fire? Perhaps there isn’t a singularly particular one but rather a multitude of memories and experiences that forge out the path of where we are meant to be. From eating oysters straight off the rocks in Charente-Maritime with his aunt at the age of 9 it has brought him to Galway and to supplying the freshest of the Atlantic to the people and restaurants of the west. Always attracted by water sports and fishing he decided to have a professional career on the water and so trained to become a fish farmer in Brittany. “Being from Paris getting work in Fish shops was the way to go during summer holidays. Plus nobody wants to work with fish, so there is always a vacancy and this is where and how I learnt the ropes, so to speak.”
In a bid to improve his English and gain new experiences Stefan arrived as a fully trained fish farmer in Galway 20 years ago to work on the salmon farms in Carraroe, Connemara, citing the international reputation that the region has for seafood as a pulling factor. Just a short number of years later Gannet Fishmongers was formed and has been a mainstay in the Galway Food Market for as long as I can remember. I’m reminded of how long when Stefan recalls how the business has developed in that time.
“Gannet has grown over the years, we are now doing a lot more fish than when we first started on the Galway Market in 2002 at the invitation of Seamus Sheridan to trade outside his cheese shop, but we are also doing it better.”
Passionate and hands-on is a description oft rolled out for those with a smidgen of the interest that Stefan gives his industry. When asked to describe what he does on a day-to-day basis he holds nothing back, finishing with his unique sense of wit. “Sourcing, buying, filleting, wholesaling, retailing, cleaning, managing and trying to develop a business in my spare time…”
From his time on the fish farms of Connemara and after 15 years operating out of Galway Market and others around the county, including a factory shop at Ballybane Industrial Estate, he has seen many changes in the fishing industry. “We have seen massive change in our wholesale and retail trade since we started. We have educated our customers to a point where our regulars know what we are selling and the importance of buying what is in season”. The impact of social media has aided this education and has seen a shift in that approach entirely for marketing when they found other avenues to be less than satisfactory. “We tried printed press advertising which we found extremely expensive for very little return. Contracting someone else to do our marketing never worked as the engagement and passion we have was never there”, Stefan explains.
So with so many changes since, where does he see the business developing? “We are very classical in what we are doing. We specialise in fresh, raw or live fish and seafood and this is what we want to stick to: “do what you do, but to its best possibilities.” This certainly doesn’t mean that Stefan and Gannet are not keen on developing, expanding or diversifying what they do but indeed there seems to be rather exciting times ahead. “Smoking our own fish would be a dream but realistically we also know that this needs such time commitment. The main development for Gannet this year will be the launch of our online business. A massive project has been on the pipeline for the last 2 years, coming out in a few months… will talk more about it’s when ready to take off.” However he is keen to exercise a note of caution when he reminds himself, “Upscaling a business is only good when you can retain the core quality of your product.”
Recently, at the Connaught regional section of the Irish Restaurant Awards held in Sligo, Stefan was bestowed with the award of Local Food Hero. With a huge passion for educating customers on misleading yet still legal labeling of food, particularly in supermarkets, he has spoken out against this in an effort to action change.
“We highlighted this many times recently and not so recently. Building the food industry is about educating consumers, and we cannot start any serious work on this as long as they are constantly being confused. Regulations exist to prevent this but they are not being enforced.”
A trip to Japan in 2016 is described as “a culinary eye opener,” where mounds of sushi and the delicacy of poisonous blowfish fugu was savoured. This continuous self-directed learning, a constant eye on quality, and adapting to the changes of the market are just some of what impresses upon me as hugely important to Stefan and Gannet Fish. These values, along with the passion to carry them out are at the core of what makes Gannet who they are and ultimately sets them apart.