City Fish

Wholesale distributor of quality seafood in Calgary, Alberta
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
Dana MerkWynne

Nelson Leung, owner and director of City Fish in Calgary, Alberta, has been in the fish business for more than three decades. Just out of school, he took an opportunity while looking for a place to apply his skills. “Before I established City Fish, I had a retail fish shop in Calgary,” he recounts. “I sold that business and started this one in 1985. The nature of my business is still within the same industry, but now I provide wholesale and distribution to end users. My customers include restaurants and supermarkets.”

He calls the founding of his current business an opportunity. After working in the seafood market for many years, Leung had established the industry knowledge and relationships to be able to provide a needed service. “We set ourselves apart by working hard and looking after our customers,” he explains. “I started this company from scratch, with nothing. Now I have 25 employees and our annual revenue exceeds $20 million. We still operate from a single location and serve customers in Calgary and the surrounding areas.”

City Fish

Lasting relationships

Leung and his team serve as a central link in the food-supply chain, bringing fresh seafood from fishermen to retailers and restaurants. “Our business relies on long-term relationships,” he elaborates. “There are several different suppliers we buy our products from. All of our customers are local and we see a lot of loyalty in those relationships. We use our own trucks for distribution, running from our facility to our customers on a daily basis.”

The company headquarters offers just what Leung’s team needs to provide fast service and fresh seafood. “We have a freezer setup, a cooler setup and a tank for our live stocks,” he says. “We have a small area for dry goods, which only makes up about 5 percent of our revenue.”

“We have a few offices to take care of back-end tasks and paperwork, then a yard for our delivery trucks,” adds Leung. “That’s it, it is very simple. Our product more or less comes in and moves out, although we do a little custom cutting and packing for some of our customers. That is a very small portion of our operation, though.”

The company’s selection of seafood ranges from the basics to the exotic. Daily fresh fish items include cod, char, halibut, pickerel, salmon, sea bass, snapper, sole, steelhead and tuna. Leung can also provide specialty items on request, such as catfish, Mahi Mahi, swordfish, shark and marlin.

On the frozen end of the operation, customers can purchase shellfish, smoked items and many of the same fish that the company offers fresh. The live tanks hold lobster and crab. Elsewhere in the company’s facility, Leung and his team maintain live oysters, scallops, mussels and clams. While seafood is the highlight of the business, customers can also purchase auxiliary products, such as breading and batter as well as some specialty meats such as frog, chicken and veal by request.

Looking ahead

City Fish has been growing steadily for more than 30 years. While customer loyalty and strong ties to vendors keep the ball rolling, Leung and his team still face challenges in the market. “We come up against the same obstacles year after year,” he notes. “Every industry has competition. To stay ahead of the game, our biggest priority is getting a good quality product, though sometimes we still have to contend with nature and weather.”

2014 was a good year for the business and Leung reports that supply has been steady. Prices are rising though and the crew works constantly to balance inventory with demand and customer expectations. Leung also tries to bring in different products all the time. Over the past few years, not many new products have been introduced into the market, though for 2014, Leung says one of his more popular items has been salmon.

Value is a major component of the company’s long-term success. Aside from additional items, Leung is constantly looking for new ways to improve quality, service and value for customers. “We receive our products through air shipping and land transportation,” he details. “In the last couple of years we were able to work with a new company, providing air shipment at a much better rate than regular air shipment. While air transportation costs a bit more than trucking, the quality is better when seafood arrives to us. Because we are saving some money on that, we can pass it along to our customers. We also use common carriers for land transportation.”

The business is a constant concern for Leung and his crew. “I am fortunate to have a team of employees who work the way I do, focusing on quality and customer service,” he says. ”Different things happen all the time and dealing with the nature of the business is tough.”

But, his dedication continues to pay off. The business is growing and Leung says he is looking for a new location for upcoming expansion. While no major changes are set for 2015, City Fish will continue to provide excellent service and seafood to customers in Calgary and surrounding areas.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Canadian Western Bank