Trusted Partner Profile
Wild Grill Foods has been processing seafood since 2010 on the outskirts of Seattle, Washington. Founder Patrick Sullivan sought to deliver “fish in a familiar form” of burgers and sausages to consumers intimidated by the challenge of cooking seafood at home. With their attention to quality and safety, Sitka Salmon Shares is proud to work with Wild Grill Foods to produce delicious salmon burgers.
MAKING SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING
Patrick’s son Tanner says his father always had an eye for creating value from unlikely sources. Prior to founding Wild Grill Foods, Patrick innovated a market for chaff, a byproduct of hay production in Oregon’s fertile valleys. “Instead of cutting it down to the ground or burning it, my dad saw an opportunity and found a home for it,” Tanner says. That home was cattle ranches in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan as feed for premium cattle breeds, including those used for Wagyu beef.
So why start a seafood company? Tanner says it all started with his mother. “My mom is French and she cooks a lot. She told me ‘I’m tired of you guys feeding cows, we should feed people.’” With help from a longtime family friend, Wild Grill Foods was born.
Tanner, who is the production supervisor at Wild Grill Foods, didn’t expect to join the family business. “After I finished school, I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in coming back and working in the field of business,” he says. His dad started him at the very bottom of the company, learning every detail of production so he could communicate their process to potential customers. “My dad taught me everything,” Tanner says, which has allowed Patrick to hand off day-to-day operations to Tanner and his brother, Rori. “When we’re making burgers for you guys, it’s Rori and I managing the production crew and the office crew. With our family we have all hands on deck to help.”
FISH IN A FAMILIAR FORM
Tanner says access to high-quality seafood has been a driving force at Wild Grill Foods. “On the West Coast and East Coast, people are very familiar with seafood. All kinds of finfish.” Tanner says that access to quality seafood drops off the further from shore you get. “It’s expensive to get there and sometimes people are afraid to cook high-quality seafood.”
Wild Grill Foods offers an array of sausages and burgers to their everyday customers, but Sitka Salmon Shares wanted a one-of-a-kind product for our members. The first step was meeting with Culinary Director Grace Parisi to develop recipes that would complement the unique flavor profile of salmon.
Next, the burgers are made from our own wild-caught keta salmon. Tanner has a lot to say about our salmon. “If we compare these burgers to, say, cars, you guys have the Rolls Royce,” Tanner says. “It’s like the cleanest keta with great flavor—not fishy—and we’re only using fillets. It’s the best of the best fish.”
The final step involves the actual production process, which produces a great tasting, consistent burger. I ask him about the process, joking about people not wanting to know how sausages get made, but Tanner can’t wait to tell me. “We use one of the highest-end pieces of equipment,” Tanner says.
Equipment matters because many processors just blend their ingredients into a paste and stamp them into patties. Not at Wild Grill Foods. “With our burgers you can see actual pieces of corn come through and big pieces of fish.” Tanner says preserving the texture of the ingredients is what makes their product unique.
BUILDING A WILD COMMUNITY
Tanner is happy to partner with a company that shares his commitment to quality and provide access to delicious seafood countrywide. “I want to say thank you to your members for taking a leap of faith with our product.” Like many small businesses, Wild Grill Foods has experienced a rollercoaster during the pandemic—fighting supply chain snarls, labor shortages, and inflation.
It hasn’t been an easy couple of years. Packaging costs skyrocketed and skilled workers had to stay home to care for children or loved ones. When the virus necessitated the cancellation of in-person classes, many parents found themselves without the weekday childcare that schools provide. “We lost some really great employees and that was brutal.” Tanner even had to postpone his own wedding as a result of the pandemic. “I’ve had a COVID engagement that has lasted for almost two years,” Tanner says.
Steady demand from seafood lovers has allowed them to continue what they do best. “Our company is a little niche and we fly under the radar. It’s hard work and long hours, but at the end of the day we get to see our product make people happy.” When a shipment of our fish arrives, Tanner is at the facility as early as 4:30 a.m. to oversee production. His weekends are spent backpacking, fishing, and planning his wedding.
By staying true to their roots, Wild Grill Foods has a great formula for success in the future. Congratulations to Tanner and the whole crew on turning our wild-caught salmon into delicious, grill-ready burgers.
Know Your Author
Dr. Jonathan Wlasiuk is the director of research and writing at Sitka Salmon Shares. He has taught at universities throughout the Great Lakes and writes about the social and ecological impact of business decisions. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.