WRITTEN BY: JESSE OLESON | STAFF WRITER
Adorned with a Padres cap and a green jacket, Mitch Conniff, co-owner of Mitch’s Seafood sits at his desk on the floor above the restaurant. In the corner of the office are three fishing poles leaning up against the wall that leads to the balcony. The balcony overlooks the America’s Cup Harbor that borders Shelter Island. Three of the walls are blank and the other has a plastic replica of a Bluefin Tuna with the jaw of a small shark in its mouth. Since its opening in November of 2008, Mitch’s has been a local spot for fisherman and college student alike.
The Point: Could you tell me a little bit about how Mitch’s Seafood came about?
Conniff: Yeah sure. So the owners of the restaurant are myself, and my wife. And there are two other couples, Brian Kiyohara and his wife Viola, and Randy Toussaint and his wife Tracy. They are both longtime Point Loma fisherman and I’ve been a part of the fishing community around here for about 20 years. So we’ve all been working in the area of San Diego for a really long time and realized that this business here was going to be opening up and so we thought we might as well start selling our own fish instead of selling it to somebody else to cook.
The Point: How long have you lived in San Diego?
Conniff: I’ve lived in San Diego for 18 years.
The Point: And where did you grow up?
San Jose area.
The Point: What did the restaurant look like when it first opened?
Conniff: It kind of looked like an English tea room to be perfectly honest with you. It was a restaurant before but it was just a completely different seafood place focused on East Coast style seafood with friendly clams and that whole thing. Our thing is local seafood from San Diego. So everything we sell here is from Baja or San Diego and that is our focus.
The Point: What does a typical day look like for you?
Conniff: For me, it really varies a lot. In the summertime I’m usually up around 4. I’ll meet one of the fishing boats that is coming in. We still have working docks over here at Driscoll’s and I like to go meet those guys when they get in and pick my fish directly off the boat. Then from there on out, it’s wherever the business needs me. I’ll either be downstairs cooking or helping customers. The busier it gets I find myself in my office more doing human resource type things and accounts pay- able.
The Point: Do you get a lot of chances to go out fishing?
Conniff: I do. My brother is a commercial lobster fisherman. I spend about 10 days commercial tuna fishing in the summer and go recreational fishing about five or six times a year.
The Point: You advertise a lot about stewardship of the ocean and local seafood only, could you speak to that?
Conniff: A lot of the fish we use is directly off of fisherman still fishing in San Diego. San Diego used to be one of the world’s biggest commercial fleets and it’s not anymore. We fish a lot of lobster here, a lot of sardine and tuna. Part of how we like to look at sustain- ability is not only protecting the species of fish but also by not using fish that is caught in an environmentally destructive manner, like trawl nets. We also look at the sustainability of the fisherman and try using fish that is caught by working commercial fisherman who are doing the right thing. But in terms of the ocean, we work with a couple groups here in San Diego, the Ocean Discovery Institute, which is a local group that takes kids from City Heights and introduces them to the fields of marine sciences. We also work with the San Diego Oceans Foundation and they’ve done some work with Scripps Institute in La Jolla and SeaWorld to release stocks of juvenile Sea Bass into local waters and it is now better than it was 40 or 50 years ago. Any groups that are like that in our local area we try and support in any way that we can.
The Point: You mentioned working with a group that also works with Sea- World. What are your thoughts on all the accusations against them?
Conniff: I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion one way or another. From a personal standpoint, it seems to me like killer whales belong in the wild. But, I can speak with authority that SeaWorld does a lot of great things in our community in regards to protecting marine life and informing people about marine life.
The Point: How did the name “Mitch’s” come about?
Conniff: Yes, it is my name. For a long time, I wanted to have my own restaurant and if you asked me before we opened this place if I would ever name a restaurant after myself I’d say “Hell no.” It’s not something I would ever do. When we took this place over there was a lady who owned the place and she didn’t have the greatest relationship with a lot of the fisherman around here. We actually operated under her name for about a year but nobody wanted to say, “Let’s go to Hudson Bay.” They would say, “Let’s go to Mitch’s place.” So when we did change the name and kind of remodeled the place, the name “Mitch’s Seafood” just kind of stuck.
The Point: What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
Conniff: I’m a fish taco guy. There’s nothing that says San Diego or Southern California like fish tacos as far as I’m concerned.
The Point: What is one of the most memorable customers you’ve had?
Conniff: There’s a bunch that pop into my head. There’s this one guy that comes here ever year, every spring. He rides his bike out here from Colorado and he comes in and gets clam chowder. He’s in a town for a week or 10 days and he’s been doing it every year, I think, since we’ve been opened.
The Point: What is next for Mitch’s?
Conniff: You know, we just want to keep growing. Not so much growing in size or growing our customer base but kind of just growing in terms of how we do things better. We are actually in the process of remodeling our kitchen so that we can expand our menu a bit and offer more raw seafood, which is something I love and something that is under-represented down here on the water front.
photo by: ONELOMBARD.COM