Each Thursday, live lobsters pulled out of Muscongus Bay in the Gulf of Maine are carried by refrigerated truck via Interstate 84 south to Bethel. They are delivered to Community Shellfish in Francis Clark Circle where Bob Altman manages a 4,000-square-foot distribution facility, complete with a custom-built saltwater tank that stores 5,000 pounds. The next day the shellfish is delivered to fish stores, restaurants, and farmers markets that serve most of Fairfield County.
The company, based in Bremen, Maine, also brings Maine clams, scallops, and oysters grown on the Medomak River to Bethel. There is even space left over for a small commercial kitchen for retail customers which doubles as a film studio.
The company is operated by childhood friends from Greenwich: Bob Altman, a filmmaker, the founder and CEO Boe Marsh, and Shea Farrell, an actor. The men, all age 66, are each in their second careers as purveyors of Maine shellfish.
Marsh purchased a 100-year-old lobster co-op in 2013 and privatized it after a career on Wall Street. The company expanded in 2021 to Connecticut. It received a federal grant of about $420,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Agriculture Market Program to create videos that show new customers in Connecticut where the shellfish comes from and introduce them to the harvesters, which is where Altman, who worked at film and TV production companies like Viacom and Paramount for 30 years, comes in.
The grant-funded videos feature recipes prepared by a professional cook in the Bethel kitchen and two-minute videos of Maine seafood harvesters.
This marketing strategy is intended to help consumers learn about sustainable practices, familiarize themselves with Maine’s waterfront, and encourage them to try interesting recipes, including some of Altman’s own.
Describing the name of this video project, Merroir, Altman said, “They say the land and the water and the environment influence the grape in winemaking. They call that terroir. Merroir explains the flavor profiles of the pristine waters in Maine.”
In addition to a 30-year career with TV and film production companies like Paramount and Viacom, Altman has made 3,000 food videos.
Of the 50 videos he has made about Maine seafood harvesters, he said some are carrying on the work of previous generations, while others are newcomers to the field, including a pair of sisters farming oysters. “There’s a lot of women-owned businesses on the waterfront. There are some boats (harvesters) that are 10 generations.”
The videos are streamed on TV monitors provided by the company in stores and locations where the shellfish is sold and have generated hundreds of thousands of views.
“A lot of what we sell is branded with the name of the fisherman and his or her boat's name and the place of harvest. You can actually meet the person who harvests your food and hear from them, which makes it unique. An educated consumer is your best customer and if people know about the quality of Maine seafood, they’ll come in and say 'Do you have Maine day-boat scallops?,' as opposed to 'Do you have scallops',” he explained.
The idea to expand to Connecticut was raised by Altman, who lives in Danbury, while visiting Marsh during the pandemic.
Altman had commuted to Manhattan for 25 years and had a film studio in Norwalk.
“I’d been visiting Boe in Maine for years. We came to think that if we can educate people as to why Maine seafood is so good, we could sell it in Fairfield County. We literally got a van and filled it up. We did that for a year to test the market. This is the beginning of the third year. I love it. I’m working so much harder than before,” Altman laughed.
At their Maine location, the company has its own lobster dock serving 40 boats, its own oyster farm on the Muscongus Bay, and purchase deals with local clam and mussel farmers. There is no middleman between the dock in Maine and the stores and restaurants in Connecticut.
Before Community Shellfish began operating in Connecticut, shellfish imported to the state were first held at a distribution site in Boston for up to two weeks. “What we do is short-circuit that supply chain,” Altman explained. The company slogan is fittingly, "It was in the sea this morning."
“The relationship that’s been cultivated between us and Community Shellfish has been instrumental to our success. Having access directly from the source obviously brings it to the next level,” said Chris Bruno at Edison Kitchen.
“We are primarily buying oysters, and our experiences in sourcing their other offerings have been just as pristine. In sourcing our food for Edison, we demand it is wholesome and pristinely fresh and that it originates from the cleanest environment and maintains those qualities throughout the whole process. Having that kind of confidence in our products is paramount. And along with great service, Community Shellfish gets an A+ in all areas,” he told Bethel Grapevine.
Establishing business in Bethel has been “fantastic,” with excitement about Community Shellfish spreading through word-of-mouth, Altman said.
“Lobsters are fun even if you only have them once a year. Everybody loves to have a lobster bake for a birthday or family gathering,” Altman said.
“We sell thousands of clams each week. They come from a bay that is sandy bottomed, so there’s no mud in them. Our mussels are grown on ropes, not on rocks. They’re pristine.”
Community Shellfish is open Friday afternoons and Saturdays for retail. Hours of retail sales and more information about Community Shellfish CT is available on their website.