Freshness and flavor are important to Lexington seafood store owner

swthompson@herald-leader.comFebruary 20, 2013 

Lent is a huge deal for the seafood industry because Catholics and some other Christian faiths traditionally abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the 40-day period leading up to Easter.

At Lexington Seafood Co. in Chevy Chase, Lent doesn't seem to have much effect because business is brisk all year.

Michael Humzey Yessin and a business partner opened the store five years ago because there were few competitors, and with Yessin's love of fishing, it offered a great opportunity.

At the time, Yessin and his wife, Sherry, home-schooled their daughters, Holly and Sally, and running the seafood store offered a schedule that was suitable for the family.

Yessin is now divorced and his business partner is gone, so he operates Lexington Seafood by himself.

"It works fine," he said. "I know every bit of that fish. There's nobody outside doing any ordering. I know where it came from and how long it's been here."

Yessin is at the store at 6 a.m.; it opens at 10 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. (The store will be closed Saturday through Feb. 28.)

For him, mopping the floor is as important as cutting the halibut, and when health inspectors visit, Yessin is never surprised when he scores 100.

He cuts whole fish and sells shrimp, mussels, scallops and soft and hard shell crabs for cooks to prepare at home.

But at lunchtime, he's cooking the product. The menu: whatever is in the case. And lunch is ready in minutes when you cook as fast as Yessin. The secret to tasty seafood is cooking it hot and fast, he said. He bakes or steams fish, and makes the crab cakes from scratch.

The sides dishes are whatever seasonal items he can get from Elmwood Stock Farm. The fish market is a drop-off site for the farm's community supported agriculture customers.

The sandwich bread Yessin uses is from Lexington's Sunrise Bakery.

"There's nothing greater than feeding somebody," he said. "I've cooked all my life, but I never wanted to own a restaurant."

Yessin's focus is on the food, not the presentation. "I get more enjoyment from sitting down to a piece of fish on a paper plate," he said. "The best piece of fish I ever had was on a paper plate. It's not the presentation or what it's served on. You can put it in my hand. I don't care."

When it tastes good, and the quality and freshness are there, it doesn't matter how it's served. That's what he strives for.

After several months of working with different fish purveyors, Yessin has found the "good guys."

"When I first started, I knew a lot about fish," he said. "I knew about a lot of different species of fish. Once I got going I had to figure out who's the guy who sells you what he tells you he sells you.

"In my five years' time, I've weeded out the imposters. Good guys tell me about other good guys they deal with. Guys on my side of the counter love to help you out.

"The unique part of our business is that we are people who are taking a big risk. As soon as that fish comes in the door, the time is ticking."

Many of his customers were familiar with Yessin's family long before he started selling seafood. His father, Humzey Yessin, was student manager for the University of Kentucky's Fabulous Five basketball team and was the golf pro at Tates Creek Country Club when it first opened. He also was an avid fisherman who encouraged his sons to love fishing. Michael Yessin competes in fishing tournaments twice a year. When he's not selling fish, he's catching it.

Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.

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