The Keyport Fishery is a historic seafood eatery located in downtown Keyport, NJ. Located across from the Raritan Bay, the Keyport Fishery's building has stood for more than seventy three years. With only a handful of owners, and various renovations and repairs, the building and its owners have weathered many of life's challenges.
150 West Front Street, Keyport NJ
Flood, fire, and recession have all been overcome by the fishery and its loyal customer base. With a long standing reputation of serving quality food at fair prices, the Keyport Fishery has enjoyed a rich history of loyal customers as well as a place in the customer's homes and hearts.
Located at 150 West Front Street, in Keyport, the building has a wonderful past and remains a local landmark to this day. The original owners were the Ellisworth Oyster Company. The company used the building to store bay tools used in the oyster industry. The company sold ownership to Charles Burlew, who transformed the building into Burlew's Fishery.
Circa 1921, Robert E. Wilson, Sr. began working with Burlew and continued for the next fifteen years. In 1936 at the age of twenty five, Wilson Sr. purchased the property and officially changes the name to The Keyport Fishery. However, to this day, many patrons call it "Wilsons".
In 1943, Wilson, Sr., and his wife Meta had a son, Robert E. Wilson, Jr., that began working for his father at the tender age of ten. He would sweep floors, fill oyster baskets, and filet fish all while learning the business from his father. When Wilson, Jr. graduated from Keyport High School in 1962, father and son decided to expand the business by adding a cooked seafood kitchen to the building. The renovations included deep fryers and a walk-in cooler. The only promotion that they depended upon for their grand reopening was to re-letter the building to advertise "Cooked Seafood to Take Out".
In 1963, Wilson, Jr., married Peggy Weidman adding to the Wilson family and the hands that would help grow the business. Later that year, the kitchen renovations were complete, and the new Keyport Fishery opened for business with little fanfare. The Wilson's decided on a conservative business approach relying solely on their current customers to promote their new expanded business. This allowed them to concentrate solely on the quality of their product. This philosophy would serve the Wilson's well for many years and continues to exist at the Keyport Fishery today.
In keeping the business a family affair, Wilson, Sr's wife Meta served as cashier, Wilson, Jr's wife Peggy was the counter help, and Wilson, Jr., was the cook. Wilson, Sr., continued to manage the fresh fish sales.
Through the years, the family grew to include three daughters of Wilson, Jr. and Peggy. The girl's Patty, Laura. and Barbara all worked in the business at one time or another.
The business incurred many obstacles through the years. Recurring hurricanes presented one of the biggest challenges. The building itself is located directly over the Raritan Bay making it vulnerable to high tides. "We have survived many hurricanes in this building" Wilson, Jr., said "but the Nor 'Easter storm of December 11, 1992 destroyed a good portion of the 150 year old building".
However, after this major coastal storm the Wilson's prevailed and repaired the damage with their own hands.
Over the years, the country's economic troubles took a tool on the business bottom line. "The gas shortage in the 1970's was difficult" Wilson, Jr., said. With people being unable to afford basic items, traveling to the fishery was a luxury they were unable to justify. During this period, the Wilson's had a difficult time balancing the effects of rising costs against the prices customers had become accustomed.
While there were many obstacles to building a successful business, the Wilson's have seen many generations pass through their screen door. They have enjoyed the stories about each customer's particular experience. There are multitudes of stories about families enjoying the food as will as taking in the building's old time atmosphere. The remember coming with their folks, ordering their food, giving their initials, looking at the old photos of Keyport on the walls, and taking home a warm brown paper bag filled with delicious seafood. Generations have been served in the building. Couples have met in the legendary Good Friday lines and returned on their wedding day to celebrate with the Wilson family. Generations have endured the Christmas Eve lines to bring home cooked and fresh seafood for family gatherings. It is likely that the generations to come will continue to enjoy both the stories and the food of the Keyport Fishery.
Cooked SEAFOOD TO TAKEOUT
Wilson, Sr., worked at the Keyport Fishery until the age of seventy nine, a remarkable period of sixty nine years. He passed away in 1991, at the age of eighty seven. Throughout the years, Wilson, Jr., and his wife Peggy would endure numerous heart related illnesses. In 2001, weary from health related issues and looking to enjoy their remaining years, Wilson, Jr., and Peggy decided it was time to retire. Later that year Michael Nosti contacted the Wilsons to purchase the business. Shortly after their initial conversation, the Wilsons came to an agreement with Mr. Nosti in February, 2002. On May 10, 2002 the Keyport Fishery was sold. The sale marked the end of an amazing 65 year proprietorship. However, it marked the beginning of a peaceful retirement for both Robert and Peggy for many years to come.
On May 10, 2002 the Fishery may have changed hands, but the commitment to serve the freshest, best quality fish at a fair price continues on. Our family has been customers for over forty years and realize we didn't have to "reinvent the wheel" by changing things. We kept the same vendors and recipes. We added some additions to the menu including homemade soups, Manhattan Clam Chowder, New England Clam Chowder, New Orleans Shrimp & Scallop Soup, Whiting, Tilapia, Sandwiches & Platters, Homemade Crab Cakes, Fried Calamari with homemade Marinara Sauce, Lobster Rolls, and Fresh Shrimp Cocktail.
We had a devastating fire in August 2006, caused by a cigarette which rolled under the 100 year old building, causing the fire. With the help of a lot of people in the town and friends we rebuilt the Fishery keeping everything the same.
Fresh FISH MARKET
We would love to have your company, come and enjoy this historic eatery down by the waterfront in Keyport.
Thank you to all our loyal customers old and new, we appreciate your patronage.