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Diving into seafood business took smart planning

As a teenager, Larry Mesiti worked as a fishmonger in his home state of New Jersey. And after three decades of working for some of the nation’s most popular restaurants and resorts – graduating from server to bartender to director of operations – Larry, now 56 and an entrepreneur, is back to his roots, running Deep Sea Seafood Market on Monroe Road in Charlotte.

Larry and his wife, Tracy, opened their business in a space next door to a Firestone Complete Auto Care, in a shopping center near Sardis Road North, after Thanksgiving in 2012.

Their shop is stocked with an always-fresh, never-frozen, always-rotating, assortment of fish, such as Alaskan Halibut, Carolina rainbow trout, yellowfin tuna, snow crab legs, Scottish salmon, mahi mahi and even alligator sausage.

At Deep Sea, Larry handles most of the “front of house” operations (helping customers and taking orders), while Tracy handles “back of the house” duties, such a food prep and cooking.

They offer prepared meals, such as seafood salad and made-from-scratch New England clam chowder, and have a dine-in operation, with a rotating menu of what Tracy calls, “whatever I’m craving.”

Menu favorites include salmon BLTs, shrimp po boy sandwiches and blackened corvina tacos with chipotle cream.

Most of their wares cost between $13 and $19 – a little more expensive than what you’d find at the supermarket (“but twice as good,” Larry says) and less expensive than what you’d find at more expensive grocers like Whole Foods.

Here’s how the couple, with two children, got their business off the ground:

Cost savings: Larry and Tracy chose the space they did for several reasons. For one, Monroe Road was a major thoroughfare. The rent was also about half the cost of rent at other south Charlotte shopping centers.

But the deciding factor was more nitty-gritty: The space was already equipped with an exhaust hood. Purchasing and installing that alone could cost $50,000, Larry said.

Planning ahead: As another cost-saving measure, Larry hired an architect to draw up the plans but decided to tackle the construction himself.

One of his best time- and energy-saving decisions was to submit his plans to the health department before he started building.

It was a good decision, Larry says, because he ended up having to change the plans.

For example, he had planned to have two sinks beside each other. But per health department regulations, he would need more space between them than he had to spare.

With their help, he was able to design an L-shaped sink that fit regulations and worked in the space. Having his plans pre-approved saved thousands of dollars and a lot of hassle, Larry said.

It also helped them open in just two months.

Developing regulars: Though the shop doesn’t have the capacity (or manpower) to serve a crowd of 60 people at lunch, Larry says he found that by sending out a daily email with their lunch menu, he and his wife increased foot traffic substantially. It also built a regular clientele.

Another winning strategy: adding a bevy of southern comfort food to the rotation. Larry used to oversee operations at a barbecue restaurant in Times Square, so he knew the secret to banana pudding and melt-in-your-mouth hushpuppies. But customers’ favorite addition, he says, might just be the sweet tea.

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