If you prefer your fish fresh and locally sourced, then there’s an Instagram account you need to follow. No, it doesn’t have bright, shiny photos of composed dishes. No tweezer-placed microgreens, dot plating or brush-stroked sauce designs for this one. It’s working chefs holding up their catch — head on, eyes looking at you.
But really, it’s Tim Griner’s catch. As owner of Charlotte Fish Company, he delivers line-caught, netted and even spearfished local seafood to Charlotte-area restaurants. And he gets them here fast. His deliveries make it from water to prep table in three days or fewer.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and as reported by the WWF, because of the complicated systems in place, “around 35% of harvested fish and seafood is either lost or wasted” during the supply routes attempting to circulate commercial catches.
But Griner aims to operate well below that average — providing high-quality seafood with zero waste.
After each fishing trip, Griner delivers his catch of mostly South Atlantic grouper to fill his list of standing orders from Charlotte-area restaurants. There’s a good chance you’ve eaten a fish from his line if you’ve ordered grouper at places like The Fig Tree, Stoke, Upstream, The Asbury or any of the Moffett Group of restaurants from NC Red to Stagioni. Griner also sells to seafood markets like Clean Catch on Selwyn Road.
Griner doesn’t only sell grouper. Just before meeting CharlotteFive for lunch at Community Culinary School of Charlotte on Monroe Road, Griner finished a delivery of 25 pounds of Vermilion snapper to Chef Drew Dodd at NC Red.
In contrast to the sweet, plump flesh of a 30-pound Atlantic grouper, whole Vermilion snappers average about a pound each and have meat that is “white and flaky, clean flavored,” according to Dodd.
Tim’s product, as well as his genuine personality, is a favorite amongst local chefs.
“Tim’s the man,” said Chef Mike Long, executive chef of The Asbury in Uptown.
“We always look forward to seeing Tim. The product is great, and he’s always honest,” said Greg Zanitsch, chef and owner of the Fig Tree in Elizabeth.
It would be too simplistic and rather pun-heavy to say Griner fell into his fishing career. But after years working as a civil engineer, Griner wanted a smaller operation. Following the economic crash of 2007-08, the firm with which Griner was a partner saw its contracts go from a multiple-year waiting list to an empty roster. This left Griner with plenty of time to sit around and twiddle his thumbs. And fish.
To help feed a dinner party, and without a license to sell his product, Griner gifted a couple of fresh groupers to a friend and former client in Charlotte, provoking an enthusiastic response by guests and the catering team, alike. The host of the party was particularly impressed. It was days, sometimes weeks, fresher that the fish his friend was used to experiencing. He encouraged Griner to find a way to start fishing commercially.
Throwing a line from a 23-foot Grady White off Sunset Beach was a world away from commercial fishing, Griner learned. Yet soon, he would have federal and state licenses — not the easiest permits to acquire, according to Griner — as well as a crew, all the necessary fishing and safety equipment, and most importantly for a deep-sea fisherman, a 31-foot boat, perfunctorily named The Mariner.
“I didn’t name her. But it’s bad luck to change it,” Griner said with a laugh when recalling the purchase of his first commercial fishing vessel.
500-1,000 pounds of grouper
A good day sees Griner and the father and son team who act as captain and first mate of The Mariner with over 500 pounds of grouper, sometimes touching 1,000 pounds on a particularly flush excursion.
“We go for grouper. That’s what everybody wants,” Griner said when asked about restaurant demand for different varieties of fish. But he has to remain flexible. A recent trip left his crew unable to find many grouper. They instead targeted and caught Vermilion snapper — 800 pounds to be exact.
‘When you get a text from Griner, you stop what you’re doing’
After the 2-3 day fishing trip is over, the standing order gets filled to the best of Griner and his crew’s ability. A text blast to Charlotte chefs follows the completion of Griner’s standing orders and is filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
“When you get a text from Griner, you stop what you’re doing and make your order. It’s always a race,” said Chris Coleman. Coleman recently left his position at Stoke in Uptown and will soon open The Goodyear House in NoDa.
The streamlined, efficient path of his fish is a huge part of the success at Charlotte Fish Company. And Charlotte chefs have come to expect the best from Griner.
“It touches three people from the time it leaves the water,” Griner said. Those three people are: the fisherman, Griner and the chef who receives it.
“Tim, really from the boat to the door, takes the greatest care to make sure it’s as fresh as possible. The eyes are clear. The gills are shiny and fresh,” Coleman said.
Much of the additional catch — or “trash fish” to which it is often unfortunately referred — is offered on Saturdays at Charlotte Fish Company’s stand within the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market. The fish there smelled nothing like the dank, putrid fish markets that often scare unaccustomed customers. Instead, a deep inhale revealed a briney sweetness — like fresh cucumbers drying in a seabreeze.
Griner donates the leftover catch in his ice chests to Community Culinary School of Charlotte on Monroe Road — a ministry-based vocational organization that is a part of the Department of Social Services and funded by the Mecklenburg ABC Board. The school teaches basic culinary skills to students who have oftentimes experienced a difficult road. Whether the student has been affected by drug addiction, criminal behavior or other hardships, inclusivity is the goal. A counselor on staff supports students as they transition out of destructive behaviors and into positive ones as culinary professionals.
The seafood Griner donates is used for instruction — from proper receiving and storage to fabrication to preparation. Some is served in the school’s lunch cafe, open to the public. Dishes like grilled fish tacos and shrimp and grits help teach the average class of 17-20 students something entirely new.
“Many haven’t ever seen a whole fish,” said Chef Ron Ahlert, head instructor at CCSC.
Nothing goes to waste. Fish bones leftover from instruction will end up in the fish broth, or fumet as the students will learn it, and used to create the accompanying sauce, or seafood velouté, for the weekly shrimp and grits.
So, while Griner doesn’t receive compensation for his donated catch, the hope is that he and all of Charlotte diners will benefit from the ripple effects, whether that is by enjoying shrimp and grits in the Community Culinary School cafe, or by eating at a favorite neighborhood restaurant where a newly hired cook has mastered a technique she learned from Chef Ron.
Of course, it’s imperative we keep the fish in our oceans healthy. But it’s also critical to think about what happens to them once they hit land. Those decisions are important, too. After all, that’s where most of us choose to eat.