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Let’s Eat: Meet East Coast Lobster’s new owner

Thunder Bay’s specialty seafood store looks forward to more growth.

Aaron Gillingham, owner of The Sal in Westfort, is expanding his portfolio and has taken over East Coast Lobster. Thunder Bay’s specialty seafood store was founded by Randy and Linda Gaudette almost 33 years ago, and the couple operated the store until they were ready for retirement.

Gaudette’s sister works at the Sal and Gillingham heard about the seafood shop coming up for sale, but didn’t think he had time for another business. “I always liked the idea but it was about timing. I could never get away from the Sal full time. It was almost like the pandemic opened the door, gave me the opportunity to be able to step away,” the new owner says.

With the Sal running smoothly under great staff, Gillingham finally felt like he could step back and tackle a new challenge. He started working under Gaudette in June this year to learn the ropes, and he got the keys on July 5.

East Coast Lobster is where people in Northwestern Ontario go to if they’re looking for seafood. “We have people coming from all over; from Geraldton, Fort Frances, Dryden, Marathon,” Gillingham says. The store sells to restaurants as well, and he hopes to expand that portion of the business in the future.

“Big ticket items” are live lobsters from Nova Scotia that come in every week, he says. “We stock lobster tails, crab legs, shrimp, scallops, pretty much, you name it, anything that comes from the water, we supply it.” The store also carries fresh lake-caught pickerel from Manitoba, which is very popular with customers.

Most of what East Coast Lobster sell comes from far away. They have suppliers in Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver. “Getting [the seafood] here, and getting it cheap enough that people want to buy,” is the biggest challenge, Gillingham says.

Every Thursday morning, East Coast Lobster gets a fresh shipment and fills up the coolers. “By Saturday, it’s usually gone,” he says, and suggests people come in on Thursday if they’re looking for lots to choose from.

East Coast Lobster also carries a range of products for sushi; not only tuna and salmon, but rice, seasonings, rolling mats and other imported foods. They also have products from Newfoundland and Labrador that are often hard to find outside of that province. The store posts updates to their pages on Facebook and Instagram, so customers can see what’s new.

“Randy built up such a strong rapport with his customers over the years that I haven’t had a grouchy customer come in yet. Everyone’s happy and smiling and in a good mood so I’ve really enjoyed it,” Gillingham says. “The experience has been great and it’s cool coming from the restaurant world to retail, because you can talk to customers a little bit about how they might want to try cooking it, or preparing it, or how to serve it.”

Asked about the future, Gillingham sounds optimistic. “I’ve got a couple of secrets in my back pocket but can’t tell you just yet. We’re looking forward to growing and expanding in the next few years,” he says.

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