By Bernadette Starzee
Ken Homan began working at Braun Seafood Co. when he was 6 years old.
“I started out putting lids on bait containers, for a penny apiece,” he said.
Ken’s father, Jim Homan, ran the family-owned business in those days, when it was primarily a bait and oyster packager. The company dates back to 1928, when it was founded in Cutchogue by charter boat captain George Braun.
In the 1960s, Braun Seafood hitched its cart to Peconic Bay scallops, which were exploding in popularity.
“My dad was known as the scallop guru,” Ken says. “We handled the production, packaging and shipping of most of the scallops in the area. My father developed markets across the East Coast and beyond, even shipping internationally, and scallops boomed through the ’60s and ’70s.”
But in the early 1980s — shortly after Homan graduated from business school — a brown tide wiped out the scallop crop and the company had to reinvent itself to survive. It did so by branching out into new seafood products and sales channels.
“As they say in business school, ‘Diversify, diversify,’ he continues.
Braun Seafood expanded its wholesale distribution of fish and shellfish to local restaurants, as the Hamptons increasingly became a high-end destination. To accommodate the growth and to support future expansion, the company expanded its Cutchogue facilities, adding larger fresh fish and shellfish coolers and a cutting room to process the ever-growing amount of seafood coming through its doors. An 18,000-gallon live lobster holding system was also constructed.
Homan and his cousin, Wayne Phillips, took the reins from Jim Homan in 1988, the year the company opened a retail seafood market in Cutchogue. A restaurant, now called Braun’s Kitchen, followed in the early 2000s.
Today, Braun Seafood sells seasonal fresh fish, lobster meat, scallops, crabs, mussels, clams and oysters, and assorted frozen seafood such as shrimp, tuna, scallops, swordfish, crab and lobsters to more than 600 restaurants, fish markets, caterers and other food establishments throughout Long Island and beyond.
The company procures seafood from a variety of sources, from local baymen to the Fulton Fish Market at Hunt’s Point, to which Braun personnel travel with a large refrigerated truck three times a week in the wee hours of the morning, in order to meet customers’ demand for seafood variety and volume.
Sales to restaurants represent about 70% of Braun’s business, and when restaurants were locked down early in the pandemic, it seemed like it could be akin to the scallop crisis all over again.
“I was worried we might not make it,” Homan says. “But we kept selling to the fish markets, who were very busy, and then restaurant takeout got busy. A lot of people left the city and came out to the North Fork full-time, so our retail business exploded, and since some of our trucks were idle we started using them for home delivery of retail orders.”
Braun’s Kitchen remained shuttered until recently, with the company diverting staff to the retail and wholesale businesses. But the restaurant, which operates year-round, reopened in November 2021.
In addition to salads, sandwiches, appetizers and seafood platters, Braun’s Kitchen features entrees like pan-seared scallops with roasted shiitake mushrooms and Peconic Bay chestnut risotto; and seafood and tomato fregola with prawns, calamari, mussels, white fish, fregola pasta and tomato broth. Produce from East End farms, including Homan’s own Peconic Bay chestnuts, figure prominently in the menu.
Braun has about 30 full-time employees and hires about 20 seasonal workers each summer. Besides Homan, who serves as president and frozen seafood purchaser, and Phillips, who is responsible for the South Fork territory from Water Mill to East Hampton, the leadership team includes long-time employee Keith Reda, who is general manager and fresh seafood purchaser.
Homan’s son, James Cody Homan, who goes by Cody, has also joined the family business, handling the Western South Fork territory, from Hampton Bays to Center Moriches. Cody went off to college and law school and then worked in Manhattan, but felt a strong pull from the North Fork — like his father before him.
“I always knew I would eventually come back to the North Fork,” Ken says. “A lot has changed since I was little, when it was a sleepy farming and fishing community and I was the only kid in the first grade.”
He continues, “Our company has developed along with the community … but our goal is still the same: To supply our customers with the freshest and the best fish possible.”
Learn more and see what’s on offer at braunseafood.com.
This story first appeared on DansPapers.com.
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