IT'S NO ACCIDENT that Tim Caluya’s seafood shop in downtown Kirkland is thriving. With top-quality fish, delicious prepared foods and an infectious enthusiasm for helping customers enjoy their purchases, he presents a compelling alternative to seafood departments at larger local groceries.
His major selling points are having the freshest and best variety of seafood on the Eastside--and has established a loyal local following that would attest to that.
"This is all I do: fish," he says. "We try to do it a little better."
However, getting to the point where he was ready to open wasn’t easy. In fact, it was two decades in the making.
Caluya moved to the area from Hawaii in 1984 and soon got a job at Pike Place Fish Market, of fish-throwing fame.
“At first, they weren’t geared up to tourism,” Tim recalls. “But being born and raised in Hawaii, that’s something we know how to do and something I thought I could help them out with.” Over the course of his 13 years there, Caluya helped start the market's delivery department and hotel sales program.
He left the market in 1997 and was soon hired as a manager of what is now Metropolitan Market in West Seattle. He knew he one day wanted to open his own fish market, so he soaked up what experience he could. Seeking additional experience to prepare him for his dream venture, Caluya eventually took a job at Larry’s Markets and worked for a time on the wholesaling end of the business.
In 2005, when a fish market closed in Parkplace Center (between and ), Caluya knew it was the perfect opportunity. He still had many connections on the Eastside from his Pike Place days, because the market had had a location at Crossroads in Bellevue.
“I was trying to find a fancy name for the shop,” he says. “I wanted 'Simply Seafood,' but there was a local magazine with that name. My wife said, ‘People know you, Tim. You should use your name.’ People actually came in when I first opened thinking maybe it was me. So that was a blessing.”
Caluya called on his experience to help shape Tim’s Seafood.
“I didn’t want to just be a fish market,” he says. “I wanted to be a little different.” Thanks to his experience, Caluya knew that many customers appreciate options that were already prepared. He added a variety of prepared foods, from Hawaiian specialties such as Ahi Poke to local favorites like halibut and crab cakes and his "addictive" smoked salmon dip.
"People would come in and say, 'You've got to put 'addictive' on the label, you've got to warn people!'" Caluya says with a characteristic laugh.
He also appreciated his customers’ need for information and advice and happily talks to customers, making recommendations for good choices based on their unique interests and needs, offering cooking suggestions and dispensing tips on how much to buy.
“The main thing is not to overcook your seafood,” he says. “Make sure you start off with fresh fish. Trust your nose. Anything that smells bad, it’s not fresh. Get to know your fishmonger and always trust your own nose.”
And of course, with more than two decades of seafood sales experience, Caluya offers a full lineup of seafood, including–of course–shipping and delivery. The key to his business, though, is quality.
“I have four or five wholesalers I deal with,” he says. “They know what I want. We’re very picky. When you come in, you’ll notice. We don’t have that strong fish smell. We have a clean smell, which is what you want. You don’t want seafood with a strong fish smell.”
CALUYA IS is very careful about where he buys his fish, avoiding regions where there have been problems and helping to re-establish fish populations by staying clear of fish on endangered lists. “I stay away from frozen because of what we do. I look at countries the fish is coming from because different countries play by different rules. We have stricter rules here than Asia, for example. I won’t bring anything in from China because of the trouble they’ve had–you don’t know what they’re putting in them, feeding them or conditions in the farms. I won’t sell fish I won’t eat myself.”
His three top-selling species are wild-caught chinook, or "King," salmon; halibut; and, in season, whole, cooked Dungeness crab.
For the holidays, Caluya says Dungeness crab is in season, but the supply is tight for Christmas. He also recommends a lot of the bottom fillets, which he said are coming in “really nice and fresh right now.”
We were curious as to his personal favorites, since he has lived a life around seafood, starting in Hawaii.
"I would say king salmon, halibut--you have to know how to cook it, you don't want to overcook it or it will dry out--and then probably petrale sole," he says. "Petrale sole here in the Northwest is like the Rolls Royce of sole."
Caluya likes to keep things simple in the preparation.
"For king salmon, I use garlic powder and pepper, and then soy sauce and lemon juice to put it in after I cook it," he says. "I just like to saute the sole; it doesn't take long."
What’s next for Tim’s Seafood?
“I’d love to open another fish market, but with the economy the way it is, I’m happy here,” he says. So, count on seeing Caluya at Parkplace for a while. And while you’re at it, consider taking some of his advice: “Be adventurous when it comes to seafood. Try everything at least once.”
Tim’s Seafood is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. See Tim's website here. The phone number is 425-827-0195.