This summer, Charles Russo III, a “third generation fishmonger,” will expand the family business with the anticipated opening of a 4,050-square-foot production facility and wholesale market called Russo’s Fresh Seafood in Bluffton.
“We’re carrying on a long tradition of excellence in seafood,” owner Russo, told The Island Packet.
Russo’s grandfather started Charles J. Russo Seafood in Savannah in 1946, and passed the business to his son, Charles Russo II, who continues to own and operate the restaurant and seafood distribution company.
For Russo, the seafood industry isn’t just a family business, it’s “in his blood.” They take pride in the details of the seafood.
“For almost 75 years, my family has been held to a standard of ‘fish excellence,’” Russo said. “My main objective (with the Bluffton location) is to carry on the tradition of seafood, but also, it’s about getting people back to supporting local fish markets, meat markets and farmers markets instead of a grocery store. It’s important to know where your food comes from.”
This “boat-to-table” cuisine is something he’s passionate about, noting that 90 percent of seafood in the U.S is imported.
“And a lot of those countries outside of the U.S. have few regulations, and who knows what they’re putting in there,” he said.
His best advice for ordering fresh and local seafood?
“Ask lots of questions about where it’s coming from,” he said. “Restaurants that truly serve local and fresh seafood will know the area where the fish is caught and can tell you specifics on it.
“A lot of menus say they’re serving one thing, but you’re getting something totally different.”
Russo works with fishermen from Florida to Virginia to ensure the restaurants he serves will get “superior seafood.”
“People in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry will choose fresh and local seafood if it is available to them, and a professional fishmonger is the key,” he said.
However, he’s not out to “compete” with the local fishmongers in the area, he said.
“This industry is so small, we are always helping each other out,” he said. “It’s like one big family business.”
The opening of his new processing facility will help Russos better serve their customers with fresh seafood.
They currently provide fish for Barnacle Bill’s Fresh Seafood, Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte, Coast Oceanfront Dining, ELA’s On the Water, The Lucky Rooster Kitchen and Bar, Poseidon Coastal Cuisine, Skull Creek Boathouse, Red Fish Restaurant and WiseGuys. In Bluffton, Russo’s fish is served at Cottage Cafe, HogsHead Kitchen and Wine Bar, May River Grill, Mi Tierra Mexican Restaurant, The Pearl Kitchen & Bar, Bakery & Tea Room and Savory Cafe and Provisions.
Eventually, Russo hopes to expand the Bluffton business at 246 Red Cedar St. from a wholesale and production facility to eventually retail.