When I was seven-years-old, I spent the summer going to work with my dad, Henry Ungaro, where I shoveled ice, packed fillets and learned how to smoke fish like halibut and salmon. I also learned a great deal about hard work that year and decided it was best to spend the following four summers of my youth riding my bike and playing with friends instead. Good thing I did, because at age 12 I had no choice but to return to work with my father.
It was Good Friday, 1982, when the San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant finally opened its doors after a seemingly endless year of round-the-clock construction. My brother John was 10 and I was 12 when it became our job to set up the dining room for Auntie Carol on Sunday mornings, then help Dad set up the smoked fish display in the showcase before spending the rest of the day scaling and gutting fish, steaming crabs and washing down floors.
It was cold, wet and dirty, but we were able to spend time with our dad, which was rare as he and his partner Tommy Amalfitano had been working seven days a week to not only open the doors of the new business, but keep them open.
Working at the Fish Market has always been a family affair for the Ungaro and Amalfitano families. In 1957, my grandfather, Mackey Ungaro, put his son Henry and best friend Tommy to work at his storefront located at the corner of 9th St. and Meyler. They were only 15-years-old and the business was called Vista Seafood. Eventually, they moved the operation down to the waterfront as Norm’s Landing where Tommy’s mother, Mary, and his sister, Rosemarie, joined in.
Sooner or later, everyone found him or herself behind the counter or in the dining room, including Tommy Jr. and Tiffany, my brother Henry, sister Jennifer, Auntie Betty, Grandpa Mickey and many others.
It’s been over a half century since we started and here’s a short list of the accomplishments we are proud to share with the community of San Pedro:
- We are the largest Fish Market/Restaurant in Southern California with seating for 2,000 and over 10,000 visitors a weekend.
- We draw seafood lovers from all over the country, from every walk of life and every demographic. Take a look at our Facebook, Yelp and YouTube pages and see for yourself.
- We co-host the World’s Largest Lobster Festival drawing tens of thousands of visitors to San Pedro every year since 1999.
- We’ve been awarded a Guinness World Record for our work on the Lobster Festival.
- We were privileged to host Grammy Award-winner Mumford & Sons on their Railroad Revival Tour, which also drew thousands into San Pedro.
- We employ over 100 local residents with starting pay well above minimum wage while also offering healthcare, 401k and paid vacations.
- For hundreds of local kids, San Pedro Fish Market was their first job. Many have come back to thank us for the invaluable lessons of hard work and responsibility that carried them into successful careers as doctors, teachers, nurses, attorneys, accountants, longshoremen, police officers, POLA workers and even as an L.A. City Councilman.
- We support many local organizations in San Pedro, including the Boys and Girls Club, Mary Star, Holy Trinity and POLA High School.
- We are moving to make San Pedro nationally synonymous with fine seafood by launching our World Famous Shrimp Trays into retail stores. As of Feb 1, 2013, San Pedro Fish can be found in over 400 grocery stores across four states.
We have always been very modest about our accomplishments and charitable contributions, preferring to remain anonymous without seeking acknowledgment. However, I now believe it’s important for the community to know what we’ve done. Not because we need a pat on the back or a thank you, but rather because so many of our family members are no longer here to tell these stories…and they need to be told.
There are many desperate to make changes to the waterfront, to improve it, to make it a world destination. We’ve been working on that for 55 years and welcome the help. spt
Michael Ungaro is the COO of San Pedro Fish Market Enterprises, Inc.
The San Pedro Fish Market and Restaurant is located at Ports O’ Call Village (1190 Nagoya Way). For more info, visit www.SanPedroFish.com or find them on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.