Stuart Meltzer is hooked on Providence

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Stuart “Stu” Meltzer wants you to learn about seafood. Not just try seafood, but really understand the bounty of the sea.

You don’t have to know anything before you visit him. You may never have tried grey sole or local monkfish in your life. You can ask any question you like. That’s why Meltzer chose to call his Providence business “Fearless Fish,” because no customer should be afraid to learn.

“The reaction [to the shop] has been amazingly positive,” says Meltzer, “and we’re super, super grateful for the support. Ultimately, people are looking for a high-quality product and someone to help them along with it.”

Meltzer is a fast-talking, heavily bearded 38-year-old with a can-do aura. He grew up in Deerfield, Illinois, a “very Jewish” suburb of Chicago. Once Meltzer started working in the seafood industry, as both fishmonger and salesman, he quickly learned the ins and outs of the supply chain. Meltzer also earned an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and was director of marketing for the Fortune Fish Company for two years.

“I started out in the seafood business right out of college,” says Meltzer, whose bachelor’s degree, in English literature, is from the University of Colorado Boulder. “I was buying fish from around the country and selling it to high-end chefs and retailers in Chicago. I decided to go into the seafood industry because I wanted to sell something that was good for people. I also loved food and restaurants and a seafood wholesaler seemed to fit the bill.”

In 2014, Meltzer decided to try something new. He relocated to Boston, where he got involved in design consulting.

“Basically, it’s helping companies better understand their customers and develop new products or services to serve them,” he explains. “My goal had been to open my own business, so I felt that was a valuable skillset to acquire.”

At the consulting company, Meltzer met his future wife, Rose Manning, a Rhode Island native. After three years, he returned to seafood as a distributor. He found himself in Providence on a regular basis, and he developed a deep affection for the city and the quality of life in Rhode Island.

The couple could easily picture raising a family here – and they also imagined opening their own business in Providence.

Fearless Fish opened on West Fountain Street in early 2019, and it made quite a splash. With its good-humored social media feeds and logo of a woman riding a giant fish, the new market attracted food writers from across the state. Earlier this year, the company won Best Locally Owned Seafood Market from Rhode Island Monthly.

Fearless Fish isn’t big; the one-room shop contains little more than a glass display case, a few shelves and a freezer. But Meltzer offers an astonishing range of fish, from sushi-grade tuna to triggerfish, tautog and smoked sable. Today, Fearless Fish is a haven for amateur cooks who want to broaden their palates but have no idea where to start.

“I love food,” says Meltzer. “I also love the connection – and oftentimes the tension – between the food that we eat and how we treat our environment. People worry about mercury and sustainability issues. There’s a lot floating around that creates a bit of confusion or uncertainty in people. The idea behind Fearless Fish was to alleviate some of those concerns, no matter where you are on your seafood journey.”

Meltzer is interested in many culinary traditions, but he continues to draw inspiration from his Jewish upbringing in Chicago.

“Judaism was always front and center. It was certainly a big part of my childhood,” he says. “I’m proud of that heritage. I think it guides a lot of things that I do, more than I fully realize.”

Fearless Fish carries such traditional Jewish fare as herring in wine sauce and smoked bluefish paté, and in the future, Meltzer wants to prepare delicacies like lox and kippered whitefish.

“Those are the kind of things I love,” Meltzer says. “Those are the elements of seafood I associate most with my Jewish heritage – and would hope to expand on.”

Fearless Fish is located at 425 W. Fountain St., Providence. 401-415-8905, Fearlessfishmarket.com. 

ROBERT ISENBERG (risenberg@jewishallianceri.org) is the multimedia producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and a writer for Jewish Rhode Island.