The woman at the helm of Quality Seafood shares her small-business tips for staying afloat in a changing industry and a rapidly evolving Austin.
By Hannah J. Phillips, Illustration by Madison Weakley
Opened in 1938, beloved local eatery Quality Seafood has a rich legacy of providing the freshest seafood possible to Austinites for 81 years. But when Carol Huntsberger and her then husband became the establishment’s new owners in 2003, she wasn’t planning to be intimately involved in the everyday operations of the business. When the team soon ran into some trouble balancing the books, however, Huntsberger dove in headfirst, armed with an accounting degree from Texas State University.
Huntsberger never looked back, becoming sole owner in 2010. Under her leadership, Quality Seafood has not only stayed afloat, but expanded to accommodate its many faithful patrons, doubling its square footage and growing its customer base alongside Austin’s changing population. Starting with just 12 workers, Quality Seafood now employs 58 people, offers a diverse menu, catering services and on-site cooking classes.
Huntsberger shares her top tips for how small businesses can—and should—stay relevant in an ever-evolving market.
EDUCATE YOURSELF ABOUT EVERY ASPECT OF THE BUSINESS.
“As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I was coming in to a business with people who had worked in the industry—and together—for a long time. I had to earn their respect, but I also had to lean on them. I learned what a good fish looks like and how to cut it. I met with all our vendors and fishermen to learn how they fish. I saw where they grow scallops and met with people who had been working with and buying from Quality Seafood for years.”
MAKE EVERYONE FEEL IMPORTANT.
“We remember how people make us feel. And food is so centered around memories: We remember running in the door as a little kid and smelling brownies, and every time you smell that smell, it takes you back. All of our senses are that memory. There’s nothing greater than getting together around the table, and we want to be part of that at Quality Seafood. That’s why we added a large community table in our restaurant, and it’s why I started our cooking classes. As the owner, the classes are my way to engage with our customers in a very intimate setting.”
BUILD LONG-LASTING RELATIONSHIPS WITH CUSTOMERS AND ANTICIPATE THEIR NEEDS.
“At Quality Seafood, we have three businesses with very different consumer needs: We sell to chefs at over 280 local restaurants, we have a retail counter for customers and we have our own restaurant, which is constantly expanding. In each of these, we strive to know our customers’ needs before they do. During the holidays, for example, we know that Italian families will celebrate the Feast of Seven Fishes, so we make sure to have products that are not often widely available, and we market that because it’s important to us that food heritage stays accessible to families.”
STAY LOYAL TO YOUR BRAND.
“Our original mission is in our name: We bring in quality seafood and can tell you where that fish comes from, who the fishermen are, how and what they feed their fish. When I started, Quality Seafood already had a great reputation as one of the only places you could get seafood. Since it’s become easier over the years to go to the grocery store, we’ve evolved our menus and marketing to keep families and children coming here. We originally only had fried food on the menu, and I started adding fish tacos and grilled octopus. I also started writing a personal newsletter. I wanted people to know who I was, to hear staff stories and our journey, and I wanted customers to share their recipes and what they wanted to see change.”
SET REALISTIC PERSONAL AND BUSINESS GOALS.
“Another thing I learned…was to make a list of the six most important things I need to accomplish every day. The list is never longer because most people can’t get through those six items without interruption. If you get up early and knock those things out, you leave your day feeling accomplished. I have lists all over the place, and I try to keep it realistic so I can get home at the end of the day and say, ‘Tomorrow’s a new day with six new things!’ ”
READ MORE FROM THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE