Shopping for fish at New Fulton Market with Braun Seafood

Even after spending a full day at Braun Seafood Co., general manager Keith Reda’s work isn’t always done.

Every Tuesday just before midnight, he heads back to company headquarters in Cutchogue, starts up the large refrigerated truck and makes his way to the New Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point, arriving long before rush hour. 

Though you might not realize it, the large Bronx market plays a vital role for smaller local fish markets. For Reda and Braun Seafood Co., Fulton helps meet demand that far exceeds what the local bounty can supply.

“As far as the local fish goes, there’s just not enough, [especially] on certain days when the weather has been bad and guys locally haven’t been out to catch fish,” said Reda.

Fulton Fish Market provides a third of all seafood consumed in New York City. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

He has seen the market change since he started riding the big rig to the market when he was just 17, back when it was still on South Street in Manhattan. In November 2005, the market moved into the 400,000-square-foot facility it occupies today.

Reda started working for Braun Seafood at 15 during school vacations and continued there summers during college. Before he earned his commercial driver’s license, he would ride the truck as an assistant, helping others load the truck and purchase fish. Now, he goes in alone and acts as a one-man band, buying, stacking and loading all by himself.

Braun employs about 10 salespeople who sell fish wholesale across Long Island. They tell Reda what they need, and he does the best he can to fill those orders, trudging to the market starting at around 2:30 a.m. with a clipboard full of orders. Wearing a sweatshirt to keep warm in the 45-degree warehouse and boots to protect his feet from the wet, slick floors, he maneuvers his way around the facility. He chats with old buddies he has known for years, careful to avoid the hand trucks and forklifts that are constantly buzzing around the market, carrying hundreds of pounds of fish at a time.

“I kind of have an idea what they’re looking for when [I] get into the market,” Reda said. “I talk to [our salespeople] about if they don’t have two- to four-pound red snappers, do they want a different kind of fish? Or should I get a little bit bigger or smaller fish? So that all comes into play.”

Keith Reda at Braun’s Seafood in Cutchogue. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

Fishing is heavily regulated by the government, so if Braun needs a fish that’s out of season in New York State, Fulton is the place to get it. The market opens at 1 a.m. and quickly fills with trucks ready to bring fish back to various locations across the northeast.

“Fulton Market is the hub for all stuff coming from the north, south, west and all over,” he said.

During a trip to the Bronx in July, Reda included swordfish from New Zealand among the 6,000 pounds of fish he personally selected to bring back to Cutchogue. (Braun’s full-time buyer purchases another 15,000 pounds by phone that also gets loaded into the truck by forklift.)

Reda’s pre-dawn shopping spree is one of four trips the company takes a week. Mike Checklick, vice president of purchasing for Braun, goes in twice a week, and another driver heads into the Bronx once more. The company sells nearly 100,000 pounds of seafood a week in their busiest summer months.

Regulars at Braun might be surprised to know that once a week before work, Reda drives to the city, loads the truck and returns. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

Nearly 20 years of experience has made Reda an expert in picking out the perfect seafood for Braun. He inspects fish as he walks through the market, picking it up, weighing it and, of course, deciding if it’s worth the price.

“There are some stands that we deal with more regularly than others just because the consistent quality of their stuff is a little bit better than others,” Reda said.

It’s definitely an active job. Although most of the 6,000 pounds of seafood he buys is loaded on his truck with the help of forklifts and hand trucks, he must organize it himself, moving boxes around inside the truck to make sure there’s room for everything.

“The company needs me to do it, because we don’t have enough people to go into the city right now,” he said. “I think it’s good to keep your hand in there a little bit, to stay in touch with the people we buy from — and keeping up relationships is important for me and the company here.”

He usually gets back to Cutchogue around  5:45 a.m., or a little later, and starts right back in to work a new day.

This article is part of a series on The Working Waterfront, published in a special edition of Northforker magazine. The video was made possible by Acadia Center.