BY CAROLINE KLOSTER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY BETH MANN
James Clark and Marcey Clark do seafood differently. On the dinner tables of loyal clientele who have supported the Clarks’ family-owned fish market, Hook & Larder, since 2016, you’ll find fish that might seem exotic and unfamiliar: cobia, lionfish and African pompano, among others. But these species were all caught by local fishers off the coast of North Carolina.
James, a chef who has experience in the kitchens of Crossroads Chapel Hill at The Carolina Inn and Postal Fish Company, is renowned for his dishes made with sustainable fish – varieties you won’t find at your average local grocery. The goal of Hook & Larder is two-fold: introduce North Carolinians to the fresh seafood available locally while preserving well-loved species for the future.
“We want the people in this area and our community to be able to access North Carolina fish, too,” James says. “They can go to Whole Foods and get something that might be from another country, but we want to educate them, so they know there’s great seafood here in North Carolina that we’d like for them to be spending their money on,” James says.
“We want there to be fish for other generations,” Marcey adds. “For instance, lionfish eat all of the small grouper, little snapper and black sea bass, so if these things come in, and there’s no predator that’s going to stop them, then these fish will eat all the babies, and there won’t be any more of those favorite [types of] fish.”
The entire Clark family works together at Hook & Larder to retrieve, package and sell a rotating selection of fish each week. On Mondays, Marcey and James touch base with the Manteo, Wanchese, Beaufort, Southport and Cedar Island fishers to discuss their catches. Tuesdays are usually a fish pickup day; Marcey, James or their oldest daughter, Madison, 19, will sell the fish at various markets throughout the week.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and markets closed, Hook & Larder customers called Marcey asking for alternative ways to get their fish during quarantine. The Clarks agreed to allow customers to pick up packaged orders and will also deliver to anyone who asks, James says. Their youngest daughter, Paige, 13, is their main shrimp bagger who weighs and packages orders.
“It’s kept us very busy,” Marcey says. “We have the type of business that people sought out during this [time].”
The Clarks have the enthusiasm and open-mindedness of Chatham residents to thank for their continued success during COVID-19. “They’re pretty adventurous eaters, and we give advice on how to cook the fish so that they will try something new,” Marcey says. “Before, they might be a little apprehensive, but once we tell them how to do it, they take it home, and most of the time we get comments about how good it was.”
Even with steady business during these uncertain times, James and Marcey have vowed not to make any decisions about expanding for the time being. But their dream is to one day turn Hook & Larder into a brick-and-mortar location.
“Knock on wood, we’re doing really, really well right now, and we want to keep this wave riding as best as we can …” James says. “We’re four or five months into this pandemic, and we don’t know if we’re on the tail end of it or the upside of it, so it’s really tough for us to say.”
“We want to stay right where we are,” Marcey adds, “and that means we just have to see what happens and cross our fingers.”
Seafood from Hook & Larder is available for pickup at the Sandhills Farmers Market in Pinehurst on Wednesdays, the Pittsboro Farmers Market on Thursdays and Oakleaf in Carrboro on Saturdays, plus delivery to Briar Chapel and Fearrington on Tuesdays.