Over Six Decades in the Making
Four generations ago, a dream turned into a reality. Superior Fisheries on Cherry St. in Grand Rapids was born. Business was good with a variety of offerings, including fresh fish, seafood, and freshly fried fish & chip baskets, but the space quickly became too small for operations. In 1976 a few lots of property in the country were purchased where our soon-to-be new plant: Superior Seafoods Company, would be born.
As time passed, growth and change continued. In the early 2000s, Superior Seafoods officially became Superior Foods. This name change signified an expansion that has helped define who we are. Since then we have seen Superior expand with the addition of its three brands (Superior Select, River City Meats, and in 2022 – Black Pearl Seafoods). Along with this, we have grown our geographical reach, especially with our retail business. Fast forward to the current day and we are anticipating the addition of our new deli production facility that will be opening down the street from us on Broadmoor avenue in the spring of 2022!
Through all of the change and growth, though, our mission principles remain the same: to provide quality products, resulting in an experience that is nothing less than Superior.
The Superior Story
Chapter 1: The Beginning – Superior Fisheries is Born
Paul Osterhaven starts a small retail fish market located on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids. At Superior Fisheries, the ability to buy fresh fish in West Michigan comes to the city.
Chapter 2: The Big Move
Superior Fisheries outgrew its current space on Cherry Street and moved to Wealthy Street next to Bartel’s Meats. Bruce and his brother-in-law Harry Start worked for Paul here.
Chapter 3: The “Breakup” (Don’t worry, it works out)
The year is 1962. Bruce made the decision to go in a new direction, along with brother-in-law Harry Start and Michigan Fisheries is born. Their location was the NE corner of Michigan & Diamond.
Chapter 4: The Buyout
Superior Fisheries was still around, but Paul was looking to get out of the business and was in the process of selling it to Bartel’s Meat Market, who occupied the space next door on Wealthy. He joined Bruce and Harry and combined Superior Fisheries with Michigan Fisheries to create Superior Sea Foods Co.
Chapter 5: Bruce’s Vision of 4243 Broadmoor
Six more years pass and Superior Sea Foods outgrows its home, once again. In 1976 the land where our current plant sits (4243 Broadmoor Ave.) was purchased. At the time, this area was considered “the country”, as it was a few miles from downtown and many questioned Bruce on his decision to build there but he stuck to his vision and took the risk regardless.
Chapter 6: Business at Broadmoor Begins
In the spring of 1978, construction was completed and Superior Seafoods (notice, the spelling change) moved into its own space “way out in the country” at 44th st and Broadmoor Ave where we are still located today! Everything was “state of the art” for its time and this facility offered room for lots of growth, for both space and product offerings!
Chapter 7: The Oyster Haven
“I don’t know of another person, among my thousands of acquaintances in the fishing industry, who by adding one letter to his name can come up with an appropriate name for a modern seafood restaurant.” In 1979 the former building off of Fuller is gutted and converted into a very distinctive full-service restaurant with their signature salad boat (bar). The retail market concept remains alongside the restaurant and is upgraded with a larger space. This unique combination of a retail seafood market and the sit-down restaurant made it a one-of-a-kind place throughout Midwest.
Chapter 8: Move over Arby’s, We’ve Got the Meats, Too!
In the early 1990’s Superior took a huge step in becoming a leader in meat processing by receiving USDA certification for beef, pork, and poultry products. This made Superior the ONLY processor that was USDA certified for meat and FDA inspected for both meat and seafood processing in the entire Midwest. In fact, this accomplishment still holds true today!
How about that 19 lb. monster lobster!
Chapter 9: “Fishy Tale”
In 1997 Jim (our current President and CEO) is promoted from General Manager to President and Paul is promoted to Treasurer/Vice President. Around this time, Bruce thought that it would be good if ownership was officially transferred to the next generation. So that transfer began. The payment schedule was for 20 years to purchase all of the stock. Jim and Paul paid it off in only 15 years for a 60/40 ownership split.
“Fish doesn’t sell itself, it needs to be sold!” – Jim in an interview with the Grand Rapids Press in May of 1998.
Chapter 10: More Than Just Seafood & Meats!
In the mid-2000s, Superior Seafoods officially became Superior Foods. With this name change came an expansion of our product offerings that included more fresh products and a better variety of imported items. We also purchased Zagolli’s Inc LLC from Scott Zagers (our guru of ingredients and flavors, still with us today) and started to offer deli items using his recipes and creating many more, including staples like our lobster mac & cheese and our dips/spreads!
Chapter 11: The Evolution of Transportation
When Superior started back in 1974 we had a “fleet” of 5 delivery vehicles. They were small, pickup-style trucks with refrigeration units on the back. Sooner than later, there was a growing need for more vehicles! We decided it was best to move from simple and small, to larger with more capabilities – business was booming! Today, we have 26 power units in our fleet between straight trucks and tractors (16 straight trucks and 10 tractors). We shuttle 9 trucks throughout the state of MI on a daily basis. Our fleet directly distributes as far west as Chicago, IL, and as far east as Harmony, PA. We even have a truck that makes a trip down to Atlanta, GA three times a week!
Chapter 12: Simply Superior
We decided that we wanted to create our own private label for the dips and spreads we were producing. The name we decided on was “Simply Superior”. Unfortunately, that name was short lived because of trademark issues. A few years later we settled on a new name which we still use today, Superior Select.
With Superior Select, the possibilities are truly endless!
Chapter 13: Sons & Brothers
In 2011, Bruce’s son, Paul, decided to retire. According to our records, he officially started August 1st of 1970, but in actuality, both he and his brother Keith were working some weekends breading fish when the business was Michigan Fisheries (back on Michigan and Diamond). At that time they were only about 10-12 years old when they started doing this. Bruce, the businessman that he was, didn’t consider “child labor laws” to be very important when it came to his own kids. “Child labor laws? What’s that?” – Bruce.
Chapter 14: Fish Lads
In the early 20-teens, the downtown development authority asked Jim if he wanted to be involved with putting a fish market into the Downtown Market on Ionia St. Already having a full-time job and not wanting a conflict of interest with Superior customers in Grand Rapids, Jim hired Jeff Butzow, a veteran of the seafood industry, to run the show at what would become Fish Lads. Over the next few years, Jeff continued to put his blood, sweat, and tears into the business and eventually took over full ownership. Fish Lads has become a staple of the Downtown Market along with its sister deli and fresh meat counter, Carver’s Meats, which has expanded the offerings of Fish Lads over the last few years.
Chapter 15: The Certs – SQF
In 2015, Superior officially gained our SQF (Safe Quality Foods) Certification after spending more than a year preparing and close to a million dollars in facility upgrades. Obtaining a Safe Quality Foods Certification is the standard by which the food industry in retail, and in food service, protects consumers and ensures that what they are buying and eating is from companies that are concerned with the wholesomeness and quality of their foods.
Chapter 16: The Birth of River City Meats
For over 80 years we have served the food service industry, and in 1982 we started offering the industry’s best beef. Our meat is marbled perfectly; aged and tendered to meet the highest standard. Your standards don’t stop there and neither do ours. You ask every patron how they like their steak, we ask every chef that same question. We take the best beef and custom cut it to your specifications, making your meat and menu uniquely yours. Everything you want, nothing you don’t.
Chapter 17: Expansion
In March of 2021, we broke ground on our deli/RTE (ready to eat) expansion project. This facility has allowed us to really focus on the value that RTE products bring to our product line. We now have the capabilities to co-pack, private label, and produce our own items and labels on a larger, more efficient scale.
Chapter 18: Black Pearl Seafoods
The Black Pearl brand has been one of the most recognized and trusted names for many years in the seafood industry. Superior Foods is now the proud, exclusive provider of Black Pearl Seafoods. We are grateful and excited for the opportunity to grow, invest into, and continue building the legacy that started back in 1985 known as Black Pearl.