Tom Robinson’s Seafood shop is a unique old-fashioned fish market. The sharp smell of fish fills the air, and customers browse for seafood at the open counter.
The seafood store is a fish market, located behind Armadillo Grill in Carrboro, that has offered a reliable source of wild-caught fresh fish from North Carolina’s coast Thursdays through Saturdays for the past couple of decades.
Owner Kay Hamrick said the staff drives down to pick up fish on Wednesday from local fisheries on the coast of North Carolina. They start in Swansboro and make a number of stops, depending on what’s in season. Almost all of their fish is from North Carolina, Virginia or South Carolina, with the exception of salmon from Canada.
“It’s a true sustainable fishery; how I define sustainable is businesses that employ other small community people,” said Jeff Reilich, a regular customer since the store opened. “It comes from little fisherman, and I emphasize the little part. It sustains North Carolina because the fish comes from real people living at the ocean.”
Reilich knew Tom Robinson, the original owner of the shop, who passed away from cancer in 2010. Robinson, a UNC alum, started selling produce and fish out of his truck on Rosemary Street.
Robinson’s grandfather paid for college with the same business model, catching fish in Wilmington, but transporting it back on ice by train.
“There was not a more uncompromising man (Robinson) to do business with,” Reilich said. “He sold the highest quality seafood.”
Robinson’s vision was a market with high quality products and an environment with many different cultures.
“We basically haven’t changed very much at all," Hamrick said. "He was interested in fresh, local, wild-caught seafood, and he knew a lot of the small fisherman down there at the coast. He just loved to talk to people and learning about different cultures, and we’ve tried to maintain that.”
The shop sells fish to people from all over the world, as well as local businesses, Hamrick said.
“We get a really diverse set of people, and I just really enjoy talking to the people that come in. I also enjoy knowing there’s a fish place where I can go and get sushi quality meat,” Erin Wilson, a store employee, said.
Hamrick said the customer's enjoy the variety and reliability of the fresh seafood.
"A lot of them just come in and take a deep breath,” Hamrick said.
The shop composts their fish scraps, which help grow chestnuts and persimmons on Hamrick’s farm.
“The person you’re buying from is literally trying to live off the land and sea in NC,” Reilich said.
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