The morning of my conversation with John and Peggi Towne, owners of the Olde Towne Seafood & Market and managers of the Bandon Farmers’ Market, John was not actually there. He was finishing up some crabbing he had done that morning. When he joined Peggi and me, he was amused and proud to tell me that before we met that day, he had already caught several crabs and dropped them off at Tony’s Crab Shack to be prepared for eating. All by 10:00 a.m. That kind of turnaround, getting seafood out of the water and ready to be on a plate within a 24 hour period, is the foundation of the Seafood Market’s business.
The Townes chose to be in Bandon after years of traveling to the coast to fish and crab. Peggi grew up in Portland, and John in California, and then they lived in Azalea for several years. They bought a home in Bandon thinking they would keep it as a vacation rental, but after seeing the potential for a seafood business and an opportunity for Peggi to manage the newly organized farmers’ market, they decided to stay. John continued commuting to work in California for a couple of years but finally came to Bandon for good to focus all of his attention on the market.
The market keeps John and Peggi very busy during the spring, summer and fall months, and what they are selling depends entirely on when the fish are in local waters. They sell salmon and ling cod from spring to fall, tuna in the late summer, halibut in the spring and summer, Dungeness crab in the winter and spring, and rock fish in the winter. When things slow down in the winter, the Townes are able to make a couple of trips to California to visit their grandkids.
As they often sell to tourists who come through Bandon in the summer months, they find themselves acting as tour guides in addition to providers of seafood. They love to share their love and knowledge of Bandon and are sure to direct tourists to places such as the beaches, Washed Ashore, and tours of the lighthouse at Bullards Beach State Park. They keep their store stocked with brochures featuring activities tourists might enjoy.
They are happy to sell to and help tourists, but their regular customers are the locals who pay close attention to what is being caught that day and when it will be in the store. The fishers often call or text John and Peggi from their boats to tell them what they’re catching and when to expect it will be available, and the Townes pass that information on to the customers who check in during the day. At times, they’ll stay open later than their posted hours to make sure their customers get the seafood they want without delaying until the next morning.
The seafood John and Peggi buy to sell to Bandon’s locals, tourists and local restaurants are as fresh as they can get it. The majority of the fish and seafood are caught on Oregon’s south coast along the 50 mile stretch of water between Coos Bay to the north and Port Orford to the south, and as most of the fishing boats are “day boats,” the fish typically come to the market the day or the day after they are caught, already filleted and ready for purchase. Although some of their products like shrimp necessarily come from non-local sources, they do everything they can to buy locally and to avoid farm-raised seafood. They are excited to have recently found a source of wild shrimp from the Gulf Coast.
They are quick to point out the differences between the seafood available at their market and what is available at local grocery stores. They emphasize that the fish they buy are very fresh, caught and sold within a day or two, whereas grocery store fish may sit on a boat for a few days before they get to a processing plant. By the time the fish are processed and then trucked to stores, these fish have been out of the water for at least 6 days, often even longer. The Townes also have good relationships with the fishers they buy from, and they know they are getting quality product. They are quick to point out that the way the fish are handled is key to good taste, and the fish they buy are processed right on the boat by the skilled fishermen who catch them.
Also available at the Olde Towne Seafood & Market is locally and responsibly raised meat. The pork comes from Circle Star Ranch where the pigs hang out in pasture and are fed with non-GMO grain and goat milk, both from the ranch which is “Animal Welfare Approved.” The beef and lamb are from Cascade Natural, a third generation ranch, where the animals are grass fed only, and no antibiotics or hormones are used.
John and Peggi tend to spend more time with their customers than just what it takes to make a transaction. They are committed to educating people about the process of getting a fish from the water to their plates so they have a better idea of exactly what they’re buying. They also enjoy swapping recipes with their customers, learning new ways of preparing what they sell, and passing on what other customers have shared with them. Customers can buy seasonings and other vital ingredients to preparing tasty seafood dishes right there in the market.
The Townes clearly love what they do. They care about providing quality seafood and meat to Bandon’s residents and tourists and work to educate customers and make sure they are happy with their products. They are also passionate about the community of Bandon as a whole. They volunteer with the Port of Bandon and community garden (to which they donate fish carcasses for rich fertilizer), they are members of the Bandon Grange, and they will soon be working with the Bandon Youth Center as well.
Stop in at the Olde Towne Seafood & Market and find out what John and Peggi are up to next. More than likely, you’ll walk out with some very fresh seafood and everything you need to prepare it, and you will have learned something you didn’t know about fresh fish, or Bandon, or both.
Olde Towne Seafood & Market
Open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday
250 1st St. SW in Old Town Bandon
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