Mac's Seafood Buys Chatham Fish And Lobster

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Business , Commercial fishing and shellfishing

Chatham Fish and Lobster's retail fish market and restaurant at The Cornfield in Chatham. The longstanding Chatham business was recently sold to Mac's Seafood of Wellfleet. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – When Mac and Alex Hay opened their seafood company in Wellfleet in 1995, Mac drove to Chatham every day to buy freshly landed fish from Chatham Fish and Lobster. As it expanded to include several restaurants and seafood markets on the Outer Cape, Mac's Seafood continued to source much of its product from the Chatham company.

Now, 23 years later, the Wellfleet Harbor Seafood Company, which owns the Mac's Seafood family of companies, has acquired Chatham Fish and Lobster in what owner Mac Hay said is a logical step in the growth of the Wellfleet-based company.

“It's the right next step for our business to expand,” he said this week.

The acquisition includes Chatham Fish and Lobster's two retail stores, at The Cornfield in Chatham and at the Ring Bros. Marketplace in South Dennis, as well as its fish processing plant in Commerce Park. Hay said Chatham Fish and Lobster, which has been in business for about 35 years, will continue to operate under the same name with the existing staff, and no changes are immediately planned in the retail operations. Long term, system, equipment and technology upgrades will be implemented to improve efficiency and customer service, he said.

“Essentially what we're telling everybody is status quo,” he said. “Not a whole lot is going to change.”

Hay said the high quality of the product and the fact that it came from local fishermen kept Mac's Seafood a client of Chatham Fish and Lobster for the past 23 years. For the past several years, Mac's has been one of the company's largest buyers. Knowing where the fish comes from has always been an important part of the business, Hay said, and purchasing the processor and wholesaler “cements our ability to have direct sourcing from fishermen,” he said.

“That's something that we've been able to do here in Wellfleet with our shellfish,” he said. Locally sourced and sustainable products is a “key to our success,” he added. “Growing our business to include a foundational supplier with an impeccable reputation for excellence and service seemed like a natural progression for us.”

Hay said he'd been talking with Chatham Fish and Lobster owner David Carnes “for years” about acquiring the company. “I think the timing was finally right for everyone,” he said of the purchase, officially announced in a press release May 25.

Carnes, who began the company in the early 1980s, will remain as a consultant while the two companies are integrated. Hay had praise for the Chatham company's staff, both the folks working at the processing and wholesale operations and the retail stores and restaurant, adding that many had been on the job for a number of years.

“That's a testament to the strength of that company in keeping that staff on, and having them contribute to our future success is very important,” he said.

Prior to starting Chatham Fish and Lobster, Carnes managed the Chatham Seafood Co-op, which was founded by a group of local fishermen to retain control over the sale of their catch. Chatham Fish and Lobster leased one of the two packing bays at the municipal fish pier and ran a seafood processing and wholesale operation in Commerce Park. In 1988, the company opened a retail fish store at The Cornfield, expanding into adjacent space in 2006 where it sells prepared foods and a menu of eat-in and take-out items. It also operates a retail fish market in the Ring Bros. Marketplace in South Dennis.

After 30 years of packing fish, the company did not renew its lease at the fish pier in 2013. At the time Carnes said the low margin on much of the fish being brought in by the Chatham fleet, the decreasing volume of higher-priced groundfish like cod and increased regulations no longer made the operation viable.

Wellfleet Harbor Seafood Company owns and operates fish markets in Eastham, Wellfleet and Provincetown. In addition to Mac's on the Pier, the company's signature seafood restaurant located at the municipal pier on Wellfleet Harbor, it also operates Mac's Shack and Mac's Fish House in Provincetown, as well as a catering business.

While there will be changes at the back ends of Chatham Fish and Lobster businesses, modernizing and upgrading equipment and technology, Hay said he intends to spend time evaluating the retail and restaurant operations, learning what works and developing a plan to build on that.

“I'm not going in there with this grand plan to turn it into the Mac Shack,” he said, referring to the company's restaurants in Wellfleet and Provincetown. His current food and beverage manager will be working with managers in Chatham to review that operation, he said.

“In the short term they'll continue to do what they're doing and just try to do it better,” said Hay.

The sale includes both Chatham Fish and Lobster business and real estate. The sale price of the business was not available, but according to the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, the real estate was purchased on May 14 by South Chatham Properties LLC, which lists Hay as agent and manager. Three units at The Cornfield were sold for a total of $1,240,000, while the property at 0 Commerce Park North was sold for $60,000 and 127 Commerce Park South was sold for $700,000. Documents on file at the Registry of Deeds indicate that South Chatham Properties was given a $1,464,000 mortgage on all five properties by Eastern Bank of Boston.

Hay, a Wellfleet resident and father of two teenage daughters who attend Nauset schools, grew up in Wellesley and spent summers in Wellfleet. He graduated from Colgate University, and after working on the Wellfleet pier for a few summers, opened a fish market at the harborfront location with his brother in 1995, according to the company's website. Three years later they bought the clam shack business next door.

While he's concentrated his businesses in the Outer Cape, “it's exciting to go into a new community,” Hay said of the move into Chatham.