BENTON HARBOR — Things were going swimmingly at the new Flagship True North Fish Market as staff conducted a trial run Tuesday at its Benton Harbor location before the official opening Thursday.
Friends and well-wishers came in to offer their support and try such menu items as fish and chips, popcorn shrimp, perch sandwiches and catfish bites.
This is the second local venture for owner Rachel Collins, who has been in the seafood business for 30 years, including as a chef and owner of an international caviar company. Before that she worked in her family’s restaurant in northwest Illinois, specializing in Northern Italian cuisine.
“My people were fishers and foragers,” Collins said.
A Harbor Country resident for 20 years, Collins opened Flagship Specialty Foods & Fish Market, on Red Arrow Highway in Lakeside, in 2016, offering fresh and prepared foods. Then she noticed that customers were coming from St. Joseph and Benton Harbor to taste her food offerings.
That led her to look into a second location, landing at 325 W. Main St., with its iconic “FOOD” sign outside. The restaurant most recently was run as Mosaic on Main.
After looking at other locations, “this had more charm,” Collins said. “I’d rather go somewhere that is interesting than some place that is sterile.”
(One local connection: Collins’ mother attended the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s and is friends with renowned sculptor Richard Hunt, who has a studio in Benton Harbor.)
The new Flagship will have a casual atmosphere, and customers will place and pick up their own orders.
“We’re trying not to be a restaurant,” Collins said. “People want to get in, eat and get out.”
Of course, it will rely on her in-depth knowledge of everything that swims or floats.
The menu includes fresh clam strips, a grilled salad with salmon or chicken, and a broth bowl made with mussels. There also are items for kids. Side dishes include artichoke fritters with lemon caper aioli.
On Tuesday, the fresh seafood case displayed wild Pacific salmon, Bar Harbor mussels, and Faroe Island salmon. Salmon has been the biggest seller in Lakeside, Collins said.
The shelves were stocked with specialty items, from base stock for squid ink paella to Spanish sardines.
Collins said she is conscientious about where she imports her seafood from, and the vendor who supplies most of her supply is “excruciatingly careful” that the food is raised in a sustainable and healthy manner.
The entrepreneur continues to ride the wave of a renaissance in American food that started in the 1980s.
“It doesn’t have to be imported to be good,” Collins said.
Collins, who is interested in building and neighborhood preservation, looks forward to being part of the rebirth of Benton Harbor, as well.
“It’s always a slow build,” she said. “I’m happy to be part of that change.”
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak