When Paul Cormier started working at Boyd’s Lobster Shop in 1987, he never expected to have a decades-long career in seafood. Originally taking the job because it was close to his home and he was tired of travelling around the city selling snacks as a Nut Man, Cormier started working for Blaise and Linda Boyd, who opened the fish and seafood shop in 1976. After that, it didn’t take long for Cormier to fall in love with selling seafood.
When the Boyds moved back to their original home of Antigonish, Nova Scotia in 2001, so that Blaise could resume his previous career as a fisherman and go back to catching seafood rather than selling it, Cormier and his brother Gerard decided to buy the business, which they still run together nearly 15 years later.
Just as it did under Blaise and Linda’s watch, Boyd’s sells a wide variety of fresh and frozen seafood — the kind that Calgarians just can’t find in their local grocery stores. Relying on the seasonality of fishing schedules, depending on the time of year, customers can find both farmed and wild salmon, mussels and oysters, Arctic char, shrimp and scallops, crab, swordfish, shark, lobster, and many other kinds of fish and shellfish. Cormier said that there was a steep learning curve when he first started working at the shop nearly 30 years ago, but staying on top the educational aspect of seafood has kept Boyd’s successful.
“Product knowledge is everything,” Cormier says. “If you’re going to sell something, you need to learn about your product. To this day, I’m always learning and there’s always something new. If I don’t have an answer to a customer’s questions, I’m going to find out, for my own sake as well as theirs.”
The biggest educational component that comes with Cormier’s job, however, is teaching his customers about the various products he sells and convincing them how easy they are to prepare at home. Despite our geographical situation, Calgarians love their seafood — look at the popularity of fish-based dishes in our local restaurants — but it seems to be something that many of us are gun shy about when it comes to cooking it up at home. One issue is just teaching people about the differences between different species: most of us are familiar with salmon and halibut, but Boyd also carries less common fish that may seem intimidating to some customers. Options like shark or even mahi mahi can be a harder sell.
“There’s products that you need to develop a market for and it takes time,” Cormier admits. “People have to be willing to try something new. One thing about seafood is that you have that whole range of different characteristics. They have different textures, different consistencies, different flavours. You can take the same recipe and apply it to a number of different types of fish and you’re going to have a different experience.”
Cormier tells his customers to adhere to the “golden rule” of cooking fish: no matter what cooking method you choose (grilling, broiling, poaching, etc) to cook at a high heat and allow for 10 to 12 minutes of cooking time for each inch of thickness. From there, you can dress the fish with the seasoning, sauce, or condiment of your choice and experiment with different flavours and recipes. It’s not quite foolproof, but it’s just as easy, and usually quicker, than cooking pork, beef, or chicken, and Cormier hopes that as people realize this, they’ll be more likely to try cooking fish or other seafood at home.
“If you go out to a restaurant you’re going to be very limited in what you’re able to get and the costs are so much higher,” he says. “Because it’s such a perishable item, there are more risks involved for restaurants that serve it. But if you can cook it, there’s such a big reward. Financially it’s going to cost you a lot less and you can also do it up the way you like to do it, or experiment.”
Like any business that’s been operating for almost 40 years, Boyd’s has developed a loyal following of customers who “get” the concept of cooking and eating seafood on a regular basis, and Cormier says that he has several customers that started coming in with their parents as kids who could barely reach the counter and are now routinely serving seafood to their own families. Cormier firmly believes that once
people get used to buying and cooking his products they gain the confidence to try new varieties and discover new treats from the sea, opening the door to all kinds of new culinary experiences.
“There’s a reason we do carry a huge selection — people do want to explore,” Cormier says. “The sea offers a huge variety of product.”