Fish Tales -Fall 2019
by: Kevin Stanton
photography by: Terry Pommett
The legend goes like this: One night back in 1977, Bill Sandole caught 400 pounds of striped bass off Madaket Beach with Red Sox great Ted Williams.
“Those were the days before size limits,” Sandole said. “We had so much fish on the beach we had to take multiple trips to bring it all back. I was using this homemade lure that mimicked the movement of a fish on top of the water.”
That Ted Williams, the last man in major league baseball to hit over .400, was also on the beach that night fishing was pure happenstance.
“He came up to me and my girlfriend at the time and he said, ‘How about you trade me one of those lures and I’ll take a picture with you and your girlfriend.’ I couldn’t do it. I liked those lures too much,” Sandole said.
“He looked at me and said, ‘I’m not usually jealous of much, but I am sure jealous of you right now.’ He couldn’t have been a nicer guy.”
Without a plan in place for what to do with the fish, Sandole began selling it door to door, with a majority of his business at the time going to chefs and caterers. The first iteration of Sandole’s fish market was a small spot behind Marine Home Center with a walk-in freezer.
“The only problem with that place is that when the man who owned it died I found out I didn’t have an actual lease. I got a call saying I had to be out in 24 hours,” Sandole said. “I had to find a place to store 1,500 pounds of fish, which wasn’t easy.”
Soon after, he purchased an old bunkhouse from Frank Powers on what was then Mount Vernon Farm. The space was modest. It had a garage, which housed a couple tractors, a walk-in freezer and an apartment upstairs where a taxi driver lived. For a while Bill sold fish wholesale to restaurants. After getting tired of chasing down money at the end of the summer he decided to change the space into a retail fish market called 167 Seafood.
“The only way we were able to get a license was because Frank Powers dug up some old receipts from 1932 saying they used to sell cod and littlenecks at the property. There used to be an old fish and chips truck here,” Sandole said.
Bill’s son Jesse grew up in the shop. He started out washing dishes at an early age, later moving up to cutting fish at 13. Today the space is a far cry from the modest bunkhouse it once was.
“It’s been a really fun journey. Jesse took over in 2015 and has turned this place into what it is,” Bill said. Jesse’s vision was inspired by his time surfing and cooking with friends in Baja, Mexico. Working closely with his chef Kevin Burleson, he introduced a food truck and transformed the side yard into dining space complete with picnic tables, umbrellas and piped-in music.
Instead of wolfing your food down in the car or bringing it home, you now have the choice of grabbing it fresh from the food truck and taking a seat at one of the tables.
“We originally went to Mexico because a friend had the idea of opening a 167 in Baja,” Jesse said. “A lot of our food is Baja-inspired. We ended up doing some private catering and did a lot of fishing with the locals. We would catch blue marlin half a mile off the beach. One day we caught two huge blue marlin, we ended up giving the majority to the locals and kept some for ourselves. We ate that for a week, making fish tacos on the beach in between surfing. All of this was based around us wanting to surf and work on our menu.”
Other menu items like the carnitas tacos were also directly inspired by that trip.
“There was this guy who sold tacos on the side of the road. He was like the Mexican Fonz,” Jesse said. “He was handsome and jacked and always had on a pressed white T-shirt and slicked-back hair. The way the food was presented was all super-rough, but the flavors were incredible. We went there all the time and started trying to duplicate his flavors.”
The food truck has a simple menu, selling fish tacos, crispy pork carnitas tacos, ceviche, poke and other daily specials. It is a similar style to the restaurant Jesse owns and operates in Charleston, S.C., aptly named 167 Raw. Jesse didn’t go to culinary school. He studied finance at The College of Charleston, where he would regularly cook for his friends.
“I would always complain about there not being a good place to get great seafood in Charleston. The idea was to bring what I had learned on-island down there,” he said.
In 2014 Jesse signed a lease for the Charleston space. It took almost a year to renovate the building. When it opened there were only four seats by the chef’s counter, a cash register and a fish case.
Within eight months they had to renovate the space again in order to fit more seats. The hybrid fish market soon became a full-on 24-seat restaurant.
“At night we would turn the lights low and do a special dinner menu. We started building a following with locals and it evolved from there,” Jesse said.
Soon to come is a new 70-seat spot in Charleston.
“The concept stays the same. We are always going to be 167 Raw,” Jesse said. ///
Kevin Stanton is an artist and graduate of MassArt, living and working on Nantucket.