Would you buy seafood from the back of a truck?
If you like fresh Gulf Coast seafood and don't live anywhere near the Gulf of Mexico, you probably would.
Fabian Seafood Co. made its first stop of the season in Rochester on Wednesday, May 5.
ALSO READ: Why did the turtle cross the road?
Those in the know were lined up to get fresh-caught shrimp and, for a short time, red snapper.
“That was really popular — we sold out of snapper quick,” said Jeremy Chamberlin, who was coordinating operations at the corner of Second Street and 19th Avenue Southwest.
Most of the people who stopped by have been visiting the truck for years, many for decades.
Julie Galkowski remembers when she was young, her parents would stop by the Fabian Seafood truck when it visited Winona.
“We would get shrimp once or twice a year,” she said. “It was a big deal.”
Galkowski has lived in Rochester for about 20 years, and picks up fresh shrimp at the Fabian truck every year.
Fabian staff set aside five coolers with 10 pounds of seafood each for another regular customer who runs area Vietnamese restaurants.
“People love shrimp from the Gulf,” Chamberlin said. “It’s delicious, and there’s just something intangible about it.”
The season usually kicks off in late April or May in this area, and trucks make stops into November. Chamberlain said there’s too much risk with winter weather any earlier or later. Unless it’s frozen, for seafood to be fresh, it has to move fast, he said. The seafood is put on ice and kept cold for transport, but is never frozen.
“We don’t like to freeze our product,” he said.
Chamberlain’s grandparents started the company. He credits their son, his uncle, Steve Fabian, for expanding and growing the business into the operation it is now while keeping it family owned.
Mary Frances Lane brought her grandchildren with her to pick up shrimp for fresh shrimp cocktail.
“It tastes so much better,” she said. “Shrimp cocktail is so fabulous, because you’re using shrimp that’s so fresh.”
Lane is on a Fabian mailing list and gets a postcard with the date the truck will be in town.
The business concept is simple: The Galveston, Texas-based company works with people who fish the Gulf. Then they truck the fresh-caught seafood to the Upper Midwest, where people don’t have access to fresh seafood.
“Everything you see here is no more than two days old,” Chamberlin said.
The simple concept, established about 45 years ago, has grown to a coordinated effort of multiple trucks and air shipments culminating in dozens of stops in half a dozen states.
Longtime customer Kristy Johnson, of Rochester, joined the team to add some seasonal help each year.
“I’ll work for shrimp,” she joked.
For some Upper Midwesterners, their first visit can be a bit intimidating.
Johnson helps by explaining the differences in shrimp available, and how much crab meat they have.
Fabian also provides preparation instructions for red snapper, and storage and freezing instructions for shrimp if it won't be cooked in a day or two.
The Fabian truck returns to Rochester on May 26.