HANCOCK - Peterson's Fish Market has been in business for going on 20 years.
It's a milestone the Peterson family proudly wants to celebrate with the community.
"I never thought we'd be this successful," Pat Peterson said looking back. "Everyone is so good to us; especially the locals. They're the ones who keep us going."
Editor’s note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Peterson’s Fish Market of Hancock. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.
As a token of their gratitude, Peterson's Fish Market is having a "customer appreciation day" during regular hours Thursday, Sept. 13. Everything is going to be 50 percent off.
"That includes everything in the store and the trailer," Pat said. "The people are what made us successful so I have to give back something."
Owned by Pat and Gilmore Peterson, and their oldest son Chris and his wife Tammie, the business opened on Quincy Hill in Hancock mid-December 1992 "on a wing and a prayer." It started out of a 30-by-30 former gas station building.
"We really started out with nothing," Pat said. "We scraped things together that we had to have and I remember coming up with 20 dollars in change to start the till."
Tammie and Pat worked tirelessly from morning until 8 p.m., seven days a week, trying to build a customer base. Aside from a few orders from restaurants, the business depended on foot traffic, which slowly trickled in.
At that time, Tammie said they sold whitefish, trout, herring and chubs, which was caught fresh from Lake Superior daily by Chris and Gilmore.
"We had to hire an old fisherman, Legga Jarve, who taught us how to fillet," Pat added. "We didn't know how to smoke fish so he taught us how to do that, too."
Eventually Jarve became a delivery man and an occasional babysitter for Tammie's kids who grew up around the fish market.
"That's how I think of the fish market growing," Tammie said. "My kids got older."
Since day one it's been a labor of love for the Petersons, who expanded the fish market from the small gas station building into a multi-faceted operation, which includes Four Suns Fish & Chips.
The seasonal concession trailer opened five years ago and dishes up a variety of fresh whitefish offerings, baked or fried, along with homemade sides. The recipes are from their youngest son, Matt, who graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City.
Smoked fish chowder with roasted corn and jalapeno emulsion, whitefish tostadas (Gil's recipe) and whitefish baskets are just a sampling of the menu's tasty favorites.
Indoor and outdoor seating is available and overlooks the Quincy Mine Hoist across U.S. 41. Outdoor seating is sheltered from the wind by somewhat-rusted tin walls, accented by port holes and nautical dcor, characteristic of an old fishing dock.
A rope and bell, repurposed from an old fishing boat, is chimed when orders are ready.
"Even the customers will ring it sometimes," Tammie said.
Peterson's Fish Market continues to offer fresh and smoked Lake Superior whitefish, trout, herring and farm-raised salmon.
Nine years ago, when Gilmore suffered a heart attack, Chris took over the reigns as captain of their two fishing tugs Three Suns and Charlene.
The boats fish Lake Superior year-round; even during the winter months.
"I'd say there's about 2,000 pounds of fish we fillet every other day," Pat said. "The amount of fish that goes out of here, I'm just blown away by it."
During the month of November, however, Pat said they fish only herring as the other species are spawning.
The holidays are a busy time of year for the Petersons. In addition providing fresh catches to local customers, they're shipping orders throughout the United States.
For a small northern fish market, Peterson's has sure made major headlines, being featured in national publications like the Detroit Free Press, New York Times, Chicago Sun Times and Lakeland Boating.
"We get calls from all over the country," Pat said. "We had two guys come up from Madison who are doing a video documentary and they did a bunch of interviews and went on the boat."
As for the future, Pat said they're looking to operate 100 percent green. It's a project Chris has been working on for the past five years.
Also in the works is a gift shop, dessert cart and a new kitchen, which will replace the indoor seating area near the concession trailer.
"We're going to put another addition on here for indoor seating," Pat said. "I want a room for tables and chairs with heat and air conditioning."
During customer appreciation day Thursday, customers are invited to enter their name in a raffle for a variety of prizes, including a 32-inch flat-screen TV, a DVD player, gift certificates and more.
"It's going to be 20 gifts for 20 years," Pat said. "We'll let that drawing go for a couple of weeks to give people a chance to enter. We just want to show our appreciation for our customers."
Building a business from scratch was a work in progress for the Petersons, who overcame many obstacles moving to the Copper Country from the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northern Wisconsin. Together they poured years of blood, sweat and tears into making Peterson's Fish Market the thriving family business it is today.
"Like I said, we started this on a wing and a prayer 20 years ago," Pat said. "But everyone in this family - Chris, Tammie, Joel, Tammi, Matt and grandkids Derek, Corinna, Meghan and Abby - have all pulled together to make it a success; and with our customer base - we just keep growing.."
Four Suns Fish & Chips is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The concession trailer offers free birthday dinners with a paying customer. Call Four Suns Fish & Chips at 523-5733.
Peterson's Fish Market is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 482-2343 or visit them online at exploringthenorth.com.