Fishnet co-founders Keyia and Ferhat Yalcin dreamed of becoming the Five Guys of seafood. Twelve years later, they’ve expanded beyond the perfect fish sandwich as they prepare to move from a Mount Vernon Marketplace stall to a neighborhood restaurant in Remington.
The seafood spot angling to offer high-grade fish at affordable prices will celebrate their anniversary with a closing-day celebration for the business on Sunday. Keyia Yalcin said a food truck is planned to be up and running by early 2024, followed by the new restaurant opening in the summer.
”When we started Fishnet, we’re like, ‘OK, fish is our thing. … We’re going to have a tight menu that focuses on fish and we’re just going to do this thing well,” Yalcin said of Fishnet’s first iteration in College Park, Maryland.
With greater success, co-founder and executive chef Ferhat Yalcin — now husband to Keyia — called on his Turkish heritage to expand into Eastern-flavored shrimp tacos, tuna tartare and balik ekmek, a mackerel-based sandwich popular in Istanbul.
Students and government contractors flocked to the location before its closure in 2018. In an interview with The Diamondback — an independent student publication at the University of Maryland, College Park — Keyia Yalcin said the shuttering stemmed from a lack of traffic during the government shutdown.
After a failed attempt to expand into Washington, D.C.’s rapidly changing Shaw neighborhood, Fishnet was reinvented — on a smaller scale — in a Mount Vernon Marketplace stall in 2019.
“It [Mount Vernon Marketplace] was really about, for me, understanding what customers want,” Yalcin said.
And the customers wanted more. The 2024 Remington location aims to add on to the previously expanded College Park menu with crab cakes, ceviches and more shrimp.
“By 2022, we just hit the limits of our space,” Yalcin said of the Mount Vernon digs.
Forced to turn down certain catering orders and triage outdoor tables for community gatherings, which on one occasion required up to 3,000 meals, was bad for business, she said. It’s a burden Yalcin is grateful to have within an increasingly volatile industry in which she described herself as “the last of the Mohicans.”
“The margins over time have gone down with how much you can make in this business, and the reality is that people only have so much money. … If [someone] can get a chicken sandwich for half the price, they’re going to go do that,” she said.
Yalcin aims to cut costs in Remington, in part, by growing Fishnet’s reliance on Baltimore’s urban gardens. The eatery has previously purchased supplies from as far as Florida, Mexico and Peru, opening them up to supply chain disruptions that have caused a rapid increase in the cost of food, and especially seafood. The key to running a successful business into the future, she said, is sustainability.
Yalcin said Fishnet currently obtains less than 1% of their produce, such as lettuce and cherry tomatoes, from groups investing in urban farming such as Green Street Academy and Farm Alliance of Baltimore. She hopes to raise that number to 50% in the next restaurant.
Yalcin acknowledged, though, that sourcing about half of her produce, and in certain cases her seafood, from Baltimore’s urban farms is an ambitious goal. Customers must be open to a more seasonal menu depending on what crops can be locally grown, and ramping up production of, say, aquaculture-grown tilapia, which Fishnet has previously used, will require further advancements in urban farming.
But to Yalcin, Fishnet can not succeed without community investment.
“We’re being really thoughtful about, not only what does it take to sustain and run a business now, but what does it take to sustain and run a business in 50 years. … We’re going to have to set up now to make that doable,” she said.
“Because prices will always go up.”