By Susan Elise Campbell
Moby Rick’s Seafood recently opened its doors at 251 North Main St. in Mechanicville, the second restaurant in Saratoga County owned and operated by Rick Lofstad.
According to Lofstad, by combining fresh product with good marketing, he and his chefs aim to get local patrons hooked on a variety of seafood dishes.
“Right now you can’t put in a net 20 to 80 miles off the east coast without pulling up all kinds of delicious seafood,” he said. Lofstad wants to introduce people’s palates to a wider taste of the sea.
“Craft beer brewers have a tasting room,” he said. “Why can’t a fisherman?”
His idea is to serve smaller flights of fish, not unlike flights of craft beers, for tasting. These are the “ugly fish with spines and horns to protect them from predators,” he said, whose flavors and textures have yet to be discovered by restaurant-goers.
Lofstad said he is still planning out how the tasting room concept will work. One way is to host a tasting night and have local chefs invent recipes that highlight the seafood. He said he would deliver portions of different species “and see what they and my chefs come up with.”
“Maybe I’ll put the fish right on the bar so diners can see what they look like, or a picture of the sea robins, skate, porgies, sand shark and whatever other seafoods customers are sampling,” he said.
The bar at Moby Rick’s seats 18. It was built by Lofstad out of benches from an old brewery. But it had some deep cracks in it that he filled with blue sand and resin, reminiscent of the fishing waters that have long been part of his personal and professional life.
“I am a third generation fisherman,” he said. “My grandfather came over from Norway on a boat and ended up in New York.”
All three of his grandfather’s sons came into the fishing business with him. Another generation later, working with Lofstad and his cousins, the family was producing six million pounds of fish per year.
By age 25 Lofstad was managing a dock in the Hamptons. He said he was the first fisherman to export fluke to Japan. But he lost his business as a result of 9/11.
“Eventually I was invited to Troy, where I sold $3,500 worth of fish the first day at the farmer’s market,” he said. “Later I was lured to Saratoga by a local cheese maker, and I sold $4,000 my first day.”
Farmers markets remained lucrative for Lofstad, but when he learned he was about to become father to his daughter, he opened the first Moby Rick’s restaurant and seafood market, now located at 26 Congress St. in Saratoga Springs.
Later he took another location in Clifton Park. When COVID hit, Lofstad turned the space into a packing area for products heading to market.
“We were selling $1.25 million pre-COVID at farmer’s markets and $4 million in 2020 and 2021,” he said.
Sales dropped off as restaurants reopened, but Lofstad said his “farmer’s market customers still want fresh fish in the winter,” so his newest restaurant was conceived.
“COVID shuttered Hildreth’s Restaurant after 42 years, and I was able to lease the building with a turnkey kitchen,” said Lofstad.
The space has been re-designed with an extensive fresh seafood market, a counter for chowder and other take-out items, and dine-in seating for 60, in addition to the bar space.
Lofstad spent two months remodeling and changing the former 1970s décor. He added knotty pine paneling throughout that, along with a fireplace, gives the space an Adirondack ambiance.
Lofstad owns and operates Pura Vida Fisheries, which supplies his restaurants, retail stores and 25 farmer’s markets in the Capital Region and Hudson Valley. The challenge is to keep prices reasonable while making a profit, Lofstad said
The business website is www.mobyricks.com/clifton-park.